If 2016 was the year of the political upset, 2017 is the year of political change. With Donald Trump taking over the presidency on the 20th January, the world is braced for a shake-up of the new world order established after the Second World War and subsequent Cold War. The relations of the two largest actively militarised powers in the world are set to change, with Trump favouring engagement over disengagement with Russian premier, Vladimir Putin. The future of NATO and relations with Western allies will come to bear in the first few months as the Syrian civil war continues to play out. Trump favours a non-interventionist view in Middle Eastern high politics, as shown by his comments on the Iraq and Libyan war, but many may see refusal to intervene and uphold international values and law as a dereliction of duty of the office of President. Domestic politics in America will be played out on a week by week basis. The Republican Congress will be key to determining whether Trumps most populist policies gain traction.
'Great political shifts are occuring....'
We are set to see a snap election in Northern Ireland in February given events earlier this month that brought an end to the power sharing agreement of Northern Ireland’s executive branch. The Good Friday Agreement provides for an agreement between the two largest parties, in this case the DUP and Sinn Fein. Failure to reach agreement going forward means there is effectively no executive in place, and thus no government, meaning an election must be called. Martin McGuinness, the now former Deputy First Minister, resigned from his post following the First Minister’s refusal to resign over policy mistakes that amounted to millions of pounds of losses from the public purse.
March is the month of Brexit and the Dutch election. Brexit negotiations are set to begin, but don’t expect to hear much from either side, the process is set to take two years and negotiations are likely to either be focused on a great deal of bargaining or a simple exit from all EU institutions and conventions, with no provision for deal making which is a threat either side may soon regret if played. Expect to see a lot of Brexit Minister David Davis, and some notable mentions from Prime Minister May and Chancellor Phillip Hammond as events progress. Uxbridge & South Ruislip MP and Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, is likely to give announcements and be partaking on multiple visits abroad to show the mettle of Britain’s relation building with other states – something Britain must do if it is going to make a success of Brexit come what may from the negotiations.
The Dutch election is also set to be keenly watched by both EU and international observers, as anti-EU and anti-immigration Party for Freedom led by Geert Wilders is set to become the government of the Netherlands which in turn is likely to upset the balance of relations in the EU. This could represent a slowdown of integration between states in the EU, although I feel Brexit, the euro-crisis and populist national politics will mean the EU will seek to reflect before integrating further in the short term.
British Local elections in May, whilst not determining the government of the EU, do act as a barometer of public opinion of national party performance. Expect to see gains for the Lib-Dems as they set themselves apart from other parties as the ‘pro-EU’ party, picking up votes from Remain voters and those not supportive of Brexit negotiations depending on what is happening at the time. This will also be a vital time for Labour, as Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party sets out to gauge its performance and ability to make in-roads at the next General Election. Conservative performance is likely to be strong, subject to government stability at the time. How UKIP performs is anyone’s guess truly. What does the future hold for the party whose main objective has been met? With Nigel Farage no longer at the helm, the party could suffer a reversal of successes felt in previous council elections.
May holds the French Presidential election, with the run off between Francois Fillon and Marine Le Pen set to enter the second stage of voting, with Fillon likely to take the prize. Fillon is the former Prime Minister under Sarkozy and nominee for the Union for a Popular Movement Party, equivalent in part to our Conservative Party. Marine Le Pen represents the National Front, a party that UKIP itself refused to associate with given the far-right leanings prevalent in Le Pen's policies. A win for Fillon is very likely here, but we can never be sure and events as always will determine the outcome. It is worth noting that France is not as euro-sceptic as the UK, so expect campaigns to focus on areas surrounding France’s economy and immigration.
Finally the German elections are likely to take place in September or October after the school holidays come to a close, to ensure higher turnout. Angela Merkel has announced that she will run, and thus represents one of the original set of international leaders that are characterised by their neoliberal leanings – favouring soft power over hard power in international and domestic political matters. Merkel again, is expected to hold on to her position as Chancellor and will be critical to ongoing Brexit negotiations, as European leaders seek to influence EU negotiators throughout the process.
If you’re not on board with it all and just want to go back to the pre-2016 days, many will want to join you. The reality is though, that great political shifts are occurring and at the pace they're going, we’re all just going along for the ride. Godspeed.