By Tim Potier
After Donald Trump’s election victory in November, following on from Britain’s Brexit vote, many thought this boded ill for the future of the European Union. President Trump has certainly been true to his word in the month since he took office. Nevertheless, as we approach the first of three key European elections in 2017, in the Netherlands, the European project seems to be stronger, and I rather suspect that the naysayers have reached their peak.
Revolution usually has a brief lifespan. The electors of the United Kingdom and the United States have, on behalf of the rest of the western world, delivered their final warning to their political masters. It seems to have had the desired effect. Mainstream politics and politicians have shifted slightly to a more nationalist variant, and I sense that the hysteria of 2016 has begun to settle down.
The fact remains that most voters in the West, whether they place themselves slightly to the left or to the right, occupy a very broad centre.
President Trump’s first month in office will have shocked many in western Europe, who will not desire such upheaval in their countries. This, coupled with the ugly words and sentiments that Brexit has unleashed, has only served to reinforce the value of a benevolent venture, European unity, that the continent has not seen the like of in its entire history.
This might appear somewhat wide of the mark, after all Europe has been united, at least to an extent, in the past, but the key difference between then and now is the degree to which such is consensual.
We can each of us write a long essay on the areas in which we would like to see improvement / reform within the European Union. We should never attempt to portray any institutional framework as in any way perfect.
There was a time, until fairly recently, when the European Union regarded itself as almost beyond reproach, but that was until, aided by the euro, the EU impacted itself so directly on our lives and thus ceased to be a remote club that many nations simply happened to be a member of.
In this respect, this has been one of the great achievements of the European Union: that it can now stand alongside national government with such legitimacy and confidence.
Naturally, for all member states, the EU has required their own respective compromises, but if one pauses and reminds oneself of a continent in ruins, following the upheavals of the first half of the 20th century, it is truly remarkable what its members have achieved in a few short decades.
My own country Britain’s decision to leave the European Union is a terrible mistake, which my generation and those that follow are in danger of having to spend their lives fixing. The damage to our standing within Europe, as well as our reputation, is incalculable and extends far beyond the utility, no doubt, of a few trade agreements with third countries during the coming decade.
In the end, I am convinced that Britain will vote to return, probably sooner than many of you think, but, at least, for the rest of my lifetime, we will not be able to hang our head so high.
Geert Wilders of the Freedom Party in the Netherlands, Marine Le Pen in France and the lesser-known Frauke Petry of Alternative for Germany, will soon discover that President Trump has contributed to a decline in their support rather than any uplift.
The continent of Europe is still haunted by spirits that it hoped it had exorcised. These nations do not want to return to what they fought so courageously to defeat.
Since November many commentators have speculated on whether Marine Le Pen might actually win the French Presidential election in the spring.
Truthfully, I would not be surprised if she ended up failing to reach the second round. Francois Fillon may not survive as the candidate of the centre-right, there is every possibility that he might be forced to step down, thus giving the opportunity for any replacement candidate, along with the rising star of French politics, Emmanuel Macron, to edge Le Pen in the first round.
The Dutch parliamentary elections, on 15 March, will probably not see Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party top the poll in the end. Any failure by the Freedom Party to come out top will represent a massive setback for Le Pen and other chauvinist voices across the continent.
I expect, therefore, 2017 to be the year the European project gets back on track, the UK becomes increasingly marginalised and calm begins to settle again across the western world.
Dr Tim Potier is Principal Lecturer in Law at Coventry University