Donald Trump's populist wave sweeps through Europe

World leaders react to the announcement of Donald Trump as the 45th president of the United States. Time

BERLIN — As Western Europe gears up for a string of elections over the next year, right-wing parties are seizing on Donald Trump's victory as proof that a strong nationalistic stance against trade and immigration will propel them into power.

A wave of populism already has spread to Eastern Europe, where countries that include Croatia, Hungary, Poland and Slovenia have rightest governments.

Farther west, Austria next month could elect Europe's first far-right head of state since World War II. Norbert Hofer of the Freedom Party narrowly lost a race for the largely ceremonial post in April, but a new election was ordered because of alleged irregularities in counting mailed-in ballots.

France, Germany and the Netherlands, which hold general elections in 2017, also have seen a U.S.-style shift in support from mainstream parties to anti-establishment nationalists. The trend comes amid growing anxiety over weak job prospects tied to globalization, as well as a migrant crisis seen as a threat to security and a drain on social welfare benefits.

Many Europeans blame the problems on decades of membership in the European Union, which they feel is oblivious to their concerns about the free flow of labor and migration within the 28-nation bloc.

"People are sick and tired of politicians who refused to listen to their worries about rising immigration, the loss of law and order, taxes being spent abroad while domestic needs are rising, trade agreements that harm employment at home," said Geert Wilders, a Dutch lawmaker and leader of the Netherlands' far-right Party for Freedom.

"We are witnessing a Patriotic Spring, in America as well as in Europe," he told USA TODAY. "Our people have the same worries as the American people. The Trump victory proves that change is possible. There is no doubt this will encourage the Dutch people to vote for change as well."

Wouter Dol of the Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy, a group that helps young democracies organize elections, said Wilders paints himself as a political outsider like Trump despite being a seasoned politician with more than a decade of lawmaking experience.

Netherlands

Wilders is expected to mount a serious challenge to Prime Minister Mark Rutte's conservative-liberal People's Party for Freedom and Democracy in March elections. "The traditional parties have not been sensing the temperature of society very well," said Dol.

Trump's backers identify with his vow to reject the political elite and take back control of American institutions and policy that he claims have been undermined by years of corrupt and inefficient government. "The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer," Trump declared in his victory speech early Wednesday.

Similar themes fueled the frustration that led to Brexit in June, when British voters defied nearly all the polls and expert predictions by rejecting more than 40 years of EU membership. Indeed, when Trump visited the United Kingdom the day after the vote to open a new golf course in Scotland, he said: "They took their country back, just like we will take America back." In August, he joked of calling himself "Mr. Brexit." In October, Trump said he would deliver "Brexit times five."

"This is part of a worldwide phenomenon. It's in the U.S., Europe, but also in Russia, Turkey, China," said Michael Wohlgemuth, director of the Berlin office of Open Europe, a research organization. "There's pretty much a similar pattern everywhere you look, and a lot of it is about identity politics," he added.

Europe's nationalists and far-right leaders were among the first to congratulate President-elect Trump on his upset victory over heavily favored Hillary Clinton.

"What great news. Democracy is still alive," Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán wrote on his Facebook page.

In Italy, the head of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement party, Beppe Grillo, said in a blog post that the result showed many people who opposed Trump were "anchored to a world that no longer exists." Grillo is a former comedian-turned-populist who has piled pressure on the center-left government of Prime Minister Matteo Renzi ahead of a December referendum on constitutional reform.

"Voters across the Western world want nation-state democracy, proper border controls and to be in charge of their own lives," said Nigel Farage, the interim leader of the U.K. Independence Party and one of the architects of Brexit. "Prepare for further political shocks in the years to come."

France

One of those shocks could come in France next spring. Polls in French media show Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Front, will comfortably sail into the second round of a presidential election for the first time, although she might not emerge the ultimate winner. "Nothing is immutable," Le Pen said after Trump's win. Her father, party founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, said on Twitter: "Today, the United States, tomorrow France."

Approval ratings for France's current president, socialist François Hollande, are abysmal in the wake of a string of terror attacks.

Emilia Palonen, a political scientist at the University of Helsinki whose research focuses on European nationalism, said that while the continent's far-right groups have reacted with glee to a Trump administration, they won't necessarily benefit from it. She said there's always the chance that backlash against Trump could weaken U.S. and European ties, especially if he makes good on his promise to withdraw support for NATO if the military alliance's members don't meet their funding obligations.

"It's not all one-way," she added. "Trump has learned a lot about populism from his European colleagues." She mentioned Orbán's decision to build a razor-wire wall along Hungary's borders to deter migrants, a heavily criticized move that echoes the president-elect's desire to construct a "great, great wall" along the southern U.S. border and make Mexico pay for it.

Germany

In Germany, where Chancellor Angela Merkel must call an election before October, Wohlgemuth from Open Europe said that despite recent gains in state and local elections by the right-wing and anti-EU Alternative für Deutschland party (AfD), Germans are unlikely to vote to "pull up the draw-bridge" next year.

"Nationalism and Germany in a post-World War II world do not go together very well," he said. "You won't see AfD as part of any government. We believe in principles and values and not emotional rhetoric."

Ronald Gläser, a recently elected AfD lawmaker in Berlin, said his party shares some "convictions" with Trump, such as its belief that "the global warming ideology is a dangerous religion."

Gläser said he hoped Trump would make good on a proposal to reduce U.S. forces from around the world and make America more isolationist. "Germans don't want to be spied on by the National Security Agency, and we don't appreciate American wars overseas."


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