Europe in 2015: Watch the Politics
The Eurozone economy will grow at barely 1.5% annually in the next two years. GDP treaded water in 2014 after two years of contraction. In such an environment, incomes stagnate, job prospects remain scarce, and pessimism gets entrenched. Voters will understandably use the ballot box to vent their frustration. Seven pivotal countries will hold general elections in 2015.
In three of those countries, rescue programs are still in place: Greece, Spain, and Portugal. Political campaigns will test the citizenry’s faith in European solidarity, limits of national sovereignty, and broader issues of EU identity. The Greek election in particular (to be held in January) will focus on the very rationale of the country’s participation in the monetary union.
In three other countries, euro-skeptic parties will play center stage in polling campaigns: Finland, the UK, and Denmark. Even though the last two economies do not share the euro, their electorates have nurtured ambivalence toward closer integration within the EU for years. The case of Finland is a bit different. As many as a third of Finns simply disapprove of financial burden-sharing with weaker Eurozone states.
This brings us to Poland. The Poles profess stronger pro-EU sentiments than most other Europeans. Partly, this is because the country’s economy is doing relatively well but partly because the country has benefited hugely from EU financial transfers. These are visible to voters as new highways, airports, and agriculture support. Yet even in Poland, the staunchly pro-EU coalition government may be shaken up by the autumn poll.
Strong showing by EU-skeptical parties in all these elections will put pressure on Brussels-based political leadership. Whether through the European Council (composed of heads of government) or the EU Commission or the EU Parliament, 2015 politics will weigh negatively on closer European integration. Ambitious initiatives, such as tax reform, financial regulation, or fiscal support will be absent or watered down. We may even witness official doubts over the dictum that the “ever-closer union” knows no alternatives. Political risk will weigh more heavily on the continent.