2017 was described as the year that right-wing populists would take charge in Europe, echoing the election of President Donald Trump in the United States. But it has not played out like that at the polls.
Centrist Emmanuel Macron scored a crushing victory in France, and the far-right UK Independence Party was all but wiped out in Britain as the ruling Conservatives lost their majority.
Analysts think Trump may in fact be hindering Europe’s populist right.
British Prime Minister Theresa May was the first foreign leader to visit Trump in January. Media on both sides of the Atlantic focused on the warm reception as the two leaders held hands on the grounds of the White House, but the encounter may have cost May at the polls.
Britain suffered a series of terror attacks before last week’s election, the latest at London Bridge, which killed seven people. Initially, Trump offered the United States’ support, but he later used Twitter to criticize the mayor of London. That led many voters to question Britain’s approach, said Ian Dunt, editor of the website politics.co.uk.
“It’s not a tangible thing, but you just get a sense of the national debate swinging back around a little bit, becoming more wary of America again,” he said.
Le Pen’s defeat
In April, Trump appeared to endorse French far-right candidate Marine Le Pen after the terrorist shooting of a police officer in Paris. Macron soundly defeated her. Polling suggested many French voters disliked Le Pen’s praise of Trump, said Catherine De Vries of the University of Essex.
“It did play a role in the sense that it hindered her chances because of the example that Donald Trump was setting in the United States, which was not necessarily perceived as positive,” she said.
Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris climate agreement also alarmed Europe.
“And I think many voters are now realizing and asking themselves: Would voting for anti-establishment right-wing candidates in Europe do them any good?” De Vries said. “I don’t think it’s the end of right-wing populism. I do think that they’re not necessarily the only mobilizers of anti-establishment sentiment. And they just find themselves in competition.”
That’s competition with a new political breed: populist yet centrist. But not all of Europe is converted.
Trump remains popular in the east, in countries like Poland. The president will visit Warsaw next month. No visits are planned for Paris or Berlin — and his proposed state visit to London is on hold.
Analysts say it is a mark of the growing gulf between Washington and Western Europe.