Thursday, December 31, 2015

European Leaders Face a Difficult 2016

Europe’s top leaders survived 2015’s tumultuous events, but each approaches 2016 with considerable unease. Holding the EU together, dealing with immigration and terrorism, along with the continuing economic stress in much of Southern Europe, will test the most able of leaders and their abilities to work together.

Great Britain’s David Cameron won a surprising strong parliamentary re-election in May, but now faces a referendum on the UK remaining in the EU. Polls indicate opinion is closely divided. And, Scottish nationalism has never been stronger or more likely to exert independent demands.

France has survived two major terrorist attacks, but after the second on November 13, the country appears as changed as the U.S. was after 9/11. President François Hollande has shown considerable leadership dealing with terrorism, but his popularity is still in the low 30 percent range (he had a modest rally effect of about 10 points). The nationalist and anti-immigrant National Front Party just did remarkably well in regional elections, and its leader, Marine Le Pen, is the frontrunner in recent presidential polls. Although, he’s not facing re-election until 2017, his ability to lead is considerably circumscribed.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel

Time Magazine’s person of the year, Angela Merkel, faces a political challenge in her own country, described by many as the most serious since she came to power in 2005. She has lost at least 10 points of her approval ratings since she became the primary spokesperson for welcoming Syrian and other refugees into Europe and especially Germany.

Along with managing a still nascent backlash among German voters, the refugee crisis is adding additional strain on the EU, with anti-EU parties gaining adherents in several countries and many leaders, especially in Eastern Europe, not anxious to cooperate with Germany or EU immigration distribution proposals.

Vladimir Putin now sports a 90 percent approval rating as the Napoleon of the Volga. But his popularity is based on an aggressive nationalism that is causing a considerable challenge to the West in holding an alliance together to contain his current actions and deter his possible next ominous initiative.

Barack Obama, who begins his last year in office, had a good 2015 in terms of his foreign policy goals (Iran, Cuba, climate change), but still struggles to find an effective strategy related to Russia, immigration or ISIS. The American presidential race features a Republican frontrunner who’s a nationalist, nativist and non-interventionist and has already established war of words with David Cameron.

EU unity is not a natural state, and 2016 will test the talent of its advocates to hold it together and the U.S.’s alliance with it.

See The Buzz: European 2015 Elections May Decide Future of EU

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