The Month that can test Europe



Inside 17-days there will be three elections in March 2018. Elections in Italy, Netherlands and Russia are to dominate the news but more importantly it will add to the list of anxieties for Germany's Angela Merkel and France's Emanuel Macron. It will be a battle between the favored and the traditional, the dictator verses the battered and an election to cloud a referendum.


Italian voters will elect the 630-members of the Chamber of Deputies and the 315-elective members of the Senate of the Republic for the 18th legislature possibly the first stable government since 2016 and relieving the present caretaker government. Ironically the list of candidates consists of old faces and fewer new ones as the charismatic but unpopular former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi of the Democratic Party will take on the comeback Unto dal Signore Silvio Berlusconi of Forza Italia, the Napolitan Luigi Di Maio of Five Star Movement and the anti-mafia lawyer Pietro Grasso of Free and Equal party. The winner(s) will inherit the ardent task of battling the weakening of traditional parties and the rise of anti-establishment movements to combat the lagging Italian economy considered the fifth best in Europe and shrinking at 9% per fiscal year. The country has consumed massive debt at approximately $2.8 trillion, unemployment has been a constant problem since 2008-09 financial crisis and many economists have proposed deeper reforms as rescue of banks is a necessity as Italian banks hold more than $220 billion of bad loans affecting investment in local economies. Already forbidden by Brussels to bailout its own banks. Traditionally opposition and smaller parties have been against bailouts citing foreseeable corruption. If banks don’t receive help in this fiscal year of 2018, the problems may be no different from the nightmares of what Greece has endured and will bleed in to the doorsteps of the European Union. Even harder are the tackling of the migration crisis. Italy has had to absorb approximately 600,000-migrants over the last four years due to the Libyan civil war that is plaguing Italian society as friction has developed to publicized crime and murder resulting in the boosting of the fascist party after nearly a century.


There is no doubt that Vladimir Putin will win the 2018 Russia election but there are concerns of how much of a challenge opponents present that include: TV-personality Ksenia Sobchak of Civic Initiative Party, Former University lecturer Maxim Suraykin of the Communists of Russia, Afghan War Veteran Sergey Baburin of Russian-All Peoples Union, Free market economist Grigory Yavlinsky, the only non-Moscowite candidate and Businessman Boris Titov,  Entrepreneur Pavel Grudinin of the Communist Party and the Nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia but the best known opposition and possibly Putin’s main challenger Alexei Navalny was deemed ineligible by the Constitutional Court.

The real analysis of this election lies on how much the present regime fights to win this election no matter how bitter it can get and how much of a battle it will become. During the last few weeks significant language has been circulating in the media about the Kremlin reaching out to several unions, big businesses and local leaders to assist in the voter turnout. After ruling Russia for nearly two decades it appears Putin wants a swift but a clear victory, but it appears this might be difficult. Recent Russian polls conducted has found that provincial legislatures and public support for the Kremlin’s federal and foreign policies are the lowest since 2008. Fiscal problems consisting of sharp drop in oil prices, decline in Industrial output, Western sanctions placed Russia in a recession in 2014. The country has had to close over 280-failing banks close to 33% of the lending sector while the remainder house close to $150 billion of bad loans. All such bad news clouded in the foreign policy successes in Ukraine and Syria are barely keeping Russians at bay. Truthfully Russians desire Putin and his network’s traditional investment in the private and social services sector that provincial governments cannot provide from their own coffers. Putin’s network of energy companies like Gazprom, Rosneft, Lukoil, Surgutneftegas, Rushydro and Tatneft invested heavily in local development projects. In 2017 their investments rose 60% more than previous years. They have kept the local economies and single industry towns functioning. Keeping employment steady if not on the rise while making provincial government agencies obsolete.  There is no doubt that Putin’s state news media not only has had a monopoly on this but has worked to make Putin look favorable in Moscow and in the other Russian provinces. Yet the risks that has been developing for the Kremlin in the last decade may result in a dangerous monopoly by companies that it has given fruit in its own state apparatus. Just how far Putin’s network of companies will back him along with other partners he hopes bring in to the fold in this election remains to be seen.


Netherlands is composed of 388 municipalities, but this has been declining as in 1987 there were 774 municipalities. The sizes of the municipal council has depended on the number of inhabitants. The largest such size has been 200,000 inhabitants per municipality that are consisted of 45 members and the smallest being 9 with 3,000 residents. This will be a key factor to watch as recent trends such as migrants and shift to areas by the Dutch themselves due to employment by better economies in Europe will dictate the shape and even identity of these councils. The far larger concern is the Referendum on Surveillance law which will take place at the same time as the elections. Although this referendum had previously broad Dutch support there have been an outcry from European civil liberty groups that this three-year act consisting of military and civil intelligence agencies that will now have the opportunity to tap large quantities of internet data traffic without needing to give clear reasons and with limited oversight.


With Brexit on schedule a firm Italy will be looked to lifting its weight to influence the health of other European economies as French President Emmanuel Macron’s envisages a deeper European integration, but the far more worrisome factors are how the result of these elections will affect Europe’s relations with Russia that may represent a sharp break with the status quo. If Berlusconi or his allies win and with a close friendship of Russian President Vladimir Putin which will place Italy to play a reduced role in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). With the victory of Putin, Russia’s economic problems will enhance resulting in further corruption. If in the Netherlands a Referendum on Surveillance Law passes and other European nations debate to adopt it, Europe again will be entrenched in two camps; one for civil liberties and the other a police state. All of which can well work to Russia’s wishes and the frustration to the United States.