A Turning Point for Europe

The rise of European populism in 2016 gave new urgency to longstanding efforts to unify European Union and eurozone member states around shared social, political, and economic goals. Following the French and German elections this year, Europe may have a new opportunity – perhaps its last – to do just that.

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FLORENCE – After the annus horribilis of 2016, when the United Kingdom decided to withdraw from the European Union and Donald Trump won the US presidency, the first months of 2017 have given Europeans new cause for hope.

In the Netherlands’ recent general election, the anti-EU populist Geert Wilders fell short of expectations, and suffered a relative defeat at the ballot box. And in Austria’s presidential election last December, the pro-European candidate, Alexander Van der Bellen, defeated the far-right nationalist Norbert Hofer.

Many observers saw these elections as referenda on European integration itself. But the true test of European solidarity will come next month in the second round of the French presidential election, in which the far-right National Front’s Marine Le Pen has only a slim chance of beating a more centrist candidate such as Emmanuel Macron or François Fillon.

Pro-European forces owe their political lifeline, in part, to the tragicomic first 100 days of the Trump administration, and to the fact that economic growth is returning to the continent. But what they intend to do with their new lease on life remains to be seen.