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Newsletter January 2022

One election can hide many others

The presidential election is clearly the most important one in the French Fifth Republic. Together with the general elections in June, their outcome will also frame the European political landscape. Which has already been reshaped at the end of last year. First, in Germany, with the arrival of a very pro-European tripartite coalition led by Olaf Scholz, who was sworn in on December 8th. Then, in a less visible way, in Bulgaria, where the pro-European and Atlanticist Kiril Petkov, an opponent of the strongman Boïko Borissov, managed to form a coalition and obtain a majority in parliament on December 13th, with the intention of putting an end to a system of endemic corruption. The same is true in the Czech Republic, where controversial businessman Andrej Babiš was overthrown by a centre-right coalition led by Petr Fiala, who was appointed Prime Minister on December 17th. The country will take over the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union from France on July 1st.

Until then, other decisive elections are expected elsewhere in Europe. In Hungary, Viktor Orbán’s party will be facing the polls on April 3rd. The populist leader, accused of corruption, who has been in power since 2010 and is publicly supported by Donald Trump, is currently neck and neck in the polls for the legislative elections against a broad coalition of opposition parties formed a year ago around a common program and led since the autumn primaries by the europhile conservative Péter Marki-Zay. A possible fall of Orbán would of course have a great political impact on the EU.

Still in April, Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Janša, who is close to Orbán, will face a weakened coalition and the social-democratic opposition of Tanja Fajon, MEP, in the legislative elections. Earlier, on January 30th, in Portugal, the power of the socialist António Costa will be put at stake in early legislative elections after his government was suddenly outvoted. In Sweden, the new head of government, Magdalena Andersson, also from the centre-left, will have to win the legislative elections scheduled for September 11th in order to remain in power. The country will be anyhow taking over the rotating presidency of the Council of the EU in a year’s time.

The political cards will therefore be reshuffled across Europe throughout 2022, beyond France. Perhaps already in Italy, depending on the outcome of the presidential election set on January 24th. And even continuity can hide change. In the Netherlands, Mark Rutte’s fourth government, which finally took office on January 10th, looks significantly different from the previous one. Following a resolutely European line, the new coalition declares itself ready to modernize budgetary rules, to provide the Union with an “intelligent industrial policy” and to build “strategic autonomy”. In the post-Brexit and post-Merkel context, the Dutch political philosopher Luuk van Middelaar even sees in it “a general geopolitical reorientation” of his country, which partly follows that of France.

In the light of the power exercised by these new and often fragile coalitions and at the end of these upcoming elections, it will be necessary to see whether a general geopolitical reorientation of the whole of Europe is taking shape in dots. Its extent will also depend on the outcome of the mid-term elections in the United States in November.

It also remains to be seen, through these successive elections, how much citizen mobilization they generate, to assess the level of campaign debates, of foreign interference, of respect between opponents, the ability to reach a majority, to accept defeat and to give priority to the general interest. From the four corners of the continent, 2022 will indicate the state of health in Europe of representative democracy, which requires all our care.

Let us therefore wish democracy and our Europe a good and healthy year. At the Jacques Delors Institute, we will continue to clarify, deepen and develop the three watchwords that mobilize our European work: recovery, strength, and the sense of belonging, which form the motto of the French Presidency of the Council of the EU. Best wishes for the new year!

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