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A controversial EU deal signed back in October that allows for mass, unlimited deportation of Afghan nationals who have failed to gain asylum within the EU system has come into force at the worst possible time for the troubled union.

With Brexit and a wave of anti-establishment, pro-nationalism sentiment sweeping through key European countries such as France and Germany, the next few years will be a critical litmus test for the continuing survival of the European project. Critical elections in France, Germany and Italy between 2017-18 could either upend or solidify the political order in one of most successful peacetime unions the world has ever seen.

Angela Merkel, often seen as the guiding hand on the tiller, has recently announced her intention – after much deliberation – to run for a third term as German Chancellor. The German federal elections of 2017 will see her run against an increasingly powerful anti-establishment and anti-immigrant party, Alternativ fur Deutschland (AfD). Founded in 2013 and with just over 20,000 members, AfD is proving to be a politically savvy campaign and uncovers an anti-migrant sentiment that is expanding slowly but surely in Europe’s most powerful economy. With 7 major parties on the ticket -the majority of which share progressive, green or socialist values – Merkel’s Christian Democratic Party (CDU) remains the most powerful. But Merkel’s handling of the migrant crisis – in accepting more migrants as a principle – went directly against public opinion and following the allegations that Russian state-sponsored forces directly influenced the outcome of the recent US Presidential election, all eyes will be on Germany in the New Year. If Merkel can win what she has recently – and regularly – described as the hardest election she will ever face, the boat that is the European project in an ever-choppier sea of dissent may remain even-keeled and forward thinking. If Merkel is uprooted, severe shockwaves will undoubtedly spread outwards from the most powerful state in Europe.

François Hollande, Prime Minister of France, last month announced his intention to stand down before the next general election. A keen socialist leader, Hollande has proven to be bitterly unpopular in France, with his average approval rating sitting at around 4% as of November 2016. Stepping down before next year’s election opens the race up to – amongst others – the far right, Farage-like Marie Le Pen of France’s National Front (FN) party. As the name suggests, the FN represents anti-immigration, nationalism and protectionism values and is gaining popularity in France.

Matteo Renzi, the Italian Prime Minister will formally resign following the resounding ‘No’ of the Italian Referendum of December 2016, in which  59.11% of the Italian public voted against financial reform. Just over two years in office and a seemingly ‘Golden Boy’ image of tearing up the rulebook and refocusing Italian government, industries and public, Renzi was a flash in the pan, but an important premiership nonetheless.

Against a backdrop of an increasingly desperate – at worse genocidal – situation continuing to unfold in Syria, public opinion appears to be strongly with those seeking evacuation and protection; European leaders should be identifying and latching onto this sentiment. It is telling of the political mood across Europe that so many European leaders are having to balance commitments to the EU with ensuring public opinion at home remains high, by passing rulings such as these. European democracy really is on a knife’s edge at this point in time and may remain this way for the next few years.

While Europe should be seen to be managing the refugee crisis in a thoughtful, sensitive manner, the Afghan migrant ruling instead sends a more complex, but wholly deflating message.

To learn more about the upcoming European elections, feel free to use the following links:

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