The election of Donald Trump, much like the Brexit vote, rocked the world. Donald Trump’s candidacy, campaign and election were unprecedented in so many ways that many had written him off as a joke in the year and a half between his campaign announcement and election night. When the world woke up to Trump’s victory on November 9, Europe felt nervous. Most European countries have multi-party system in which a “populist” alternative, claiming to represent the interests of average people versus the political elite, has existed for decades but was never very popular. However, the times we live in have bolstered these party’s membership, as well as their election chances. European political establishments have had to grapple with the fact that, after the Brexit vote and Trump’s election, anything is possible. This ragtag band of populist alternatives wants to seal up Europe’s borders, scrap the EU for parts, and, for better or worse, “Take their countries back”. But who are these Trumpian politicians that have been so emboldened by our president’s successes? And how close are they to victory in their home countries?
Nigel Farage: Former Leader of the UK Independence Party
Nick Farage was one of the most ardent supporters of the myriad of campaigns that successfully won a referendum to remove the UK from the European union. He has been active in Eurosceptic politics since before it was considered a serious possibility. Having spent his younger years as a British Conservative, Farage was one of the founding members of the United Kingdom Independence Party all the way back in 1993. A whole 23 years later, Farage’s dream came true: In the July referendum, Leave had beaten remain 51.9% to 48.1%. Brexit’s stunning transition from a far-fetched scenario to popular demand convinced many pundits that Trump’s election was completely feasible. Farage bills himself as a man of the people and flaunts his years a banker as proof he isn’t part of the political establishment. Sound like someone you know?
Geert Wilders: Leader of the Dutch Party for Freedom
Geert Wilders (Pronounced Heert Vile-ders) is the leader of the Dutch PVV (Party for Freedom) and has been the most recent benefactor of the Trump effect. His party, which opposes Islamic influence in Europe and has proposed to close mosques, close up the country’s borders, and leave the EU, is now the second-biggest in the Netherlands. For Geert, this victory is bittersweet; some polls had the PVV becoming the biggest party, and the other parties in the election will likely come together to deny the PVV any role in the government. Despite picking up 5 seats his party remains 13 seats behind the Netherland’s dominant party, the center-right VVD, though this is a much less narrow lead than before. While Geert couldn’t secure the kind of victory Trump or Farage did, his party’s gains have proven that the populist fervor translates into continental Europe. When it became clear that the PVV wasn’t close to total victory, Geert exclaimed on Twitter about the current Prime minister: “Rutte has not seen the last of me yet!!!”
Marine Le Pen: President of France’s National Front
One of the next tests the populist surge in Europe will face will be France’s Presidential elections, which will start in April and last until May. The first round will be between multiple major French parties, and of those the top 2 winners will go into a runoff election. In 2012 and 2007, the two parties that made it to the finals were the French Socialists and the UMP (now known as “The Republicans”). However, this year, the system will try to stave off a charge by National Front’s Marine Le Pen. She’s the daughter of Jean-Marie Le Pen, the leader of National Front from 1972 to 2011. Under Jean-Marie, National Front was derided as an anti-semitic and far-right extremist party. In the final round of the 2002 French elections, Jean-Marie was crushed 82 to 18 percent. However, Marine has, since taking the head spot at the party, tried to reform the party’s image. The Trump-wave seems to have given her a shot at the presidency. Polls vary wildly: Some show her being very competitive, and others show her with no chance. Does that remind you of anything?
Frauke Petry: Chairwoman of the Alternative for Germany Party
If there’s anywhere where populist gains could come to a screeching halt, it’s in Germany. The German electorate has never shown any favoritism towards excitable or brash rhetoric since World War 2. However, current Chancellor Angela Merkel’s extremely welcoming refugee policy may have angered some Germans, and may allow the Frauke Petry and her party, Alternative for Deutschland, to establish themselves in the German government. Currently, the AfD, founded in 2012, controls no seats in the German Bundestag, but they have a chance to change that in the September federal elections. The AfD is anti-immigration and Eurosceptic, and in a country that remembers more than any other the authoritarianism of Nazi rule, Petry’s chances at strengthening her party are by far the biggest longshot on this page, and represents the biggest challenge of the European populists.
These politicians hope to capitalize on the resounding electoral success of our current President. Only time will tell us if the political insurgency Trump began will withstand the challenges put forth by the infinitely more liberal European political landscape. If Trump’s election marked a transition between eras of American history, the future unfolding around us will reveal whether that transition spills into the rest of the Western world. As Brexit sits just over the horizon and the Dutch populists enjoy newfound success, who’s to say what might shake the world next?