Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

European Union Populists: Is the Genie out of the Bottle?

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

European Union Populists: Is the Genie out of the Bottle?

Article excerpt

THE HAGUE, Netherlands * Another crisis approaches in an already shook-up European Union. Italian voters rocked Europe's boat more this weekend than Austrian voters were able to steady it. With its shaky banks and massive economy, Italy is now in the throes of energized populists who are no friends of EU leaders in Brussels.

And the storm isn't over yet: Europe's unity and common currency face growing uncertainty in a raft of upcoming elections, notably in the Netherlands and France, where the far-right is strong. And like Italy, both are founding nations that were at the cradle of the EU in the 1950s.

"Europe in 2017, we all know, will be a disaster," said Giovanni Orsina, a political scientist at Rome's Luiss University. "We have to expect European paralysis."

Unless EU juggernauts such as France and Germany find ways to turn the tide, it could leave the defeat of the extremist right wing in Austria's presidential election on Sunday as a mere blip on an increasingly muddled screen.

The anti-establishment wave that swept Britain and the United States won another victory Sunday . Italians rejected constitutional reforms championed by Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, who had boldly staked his political future on winning the referendum. To rub it in, Renzi offered his resignation against the backdrop of the starry EU flag.

"Inside this vote, there is a vote of frustration, discontent punishment," Orsina said of the large margin of defeat 60 percent from a robust turnout of nearly 70 percent of the electorate.

That was music to the ears of far-right populists such as Geert Wilders and his Party for Freedom in the Netherlands, and Marine Le Pen and her National Front in France.

"Congratulations Italia," Wilders tweeted early Monday after Renzi's defeat at the hands of Italy's anti-establishment 5-Star Movement and anti-immigrant Northern League.

When the Dutch go to the polls in March, Wilders could well be next to ride the mood of discontent that has trampled the status quo since the June 23 referendum in Britain stunned all powers-that-be and forced Britain to seek an exit from the EU. …

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