Events of 2016 will shape the challenges of 2017

To put it mildly, 2016 has been a pretty eventful year politically with Brexit, the election of Trump, a failed coup in Turkey, the downfall of Renzi as well as slightly inconclusive elections in both Ireland and Spain.

As we hurtle to the close of the year, many interested or active in politics will be hoping for some sort of respite over the festive season before what could be an even more eventful year in 2017. Whatever 2017 as in store for us will be based largely on what 2016 has thrown up with a few elections and issues already known.


One of the first issues to be dealt with will be the fallout of Matteo Renzi’s resignation in Italy following his referendum defeat, Renzi’s former Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni has taken over temporarily with Renzi expected to lead his centre left bloc into fresh elections early in the year. There he will face off once again with whatever coalition Silvio Berlusconi can cobble together and the looming challenge of Beppe Grillo, the former comedian and leader of the populist Five Star Movement who is intent on pulling Italy out of the euro.


Theresa May is expected to trigger Article 50 in March thus beginning a two year negotiation process determining the terms of the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union. May’s team will be headed by Boris Johnston, Liam Fox and David Davis who will face off against Michel Barnier, Guy Verhofstadt and Didier Seeuws. The remaining 27 Member States of the EU have agreed to negotiate as one and the position of Ireland will be an extremely sensitive one in areas such as North/South relations, common travel, trade and the Irish diaspora.


The French people will go to the polls in April and again in May to elect a new President to succeed the woefully unpopular François Hollande who will not be running again. As it stands the favourites to reach the run-off election on the 7th May are François Fillon of the centre right Les Républicains and Marine Le Pen of the far right Front National. In such a scenario many expect and hope the remaining moderate voters will do what they did in 2002 and rally together to keep out Le Pen. However, the Front National has been working hard to portray themselves as the true party of the working classes and they are a far more palatable or at least more PR savvy entity now than in 2002. Other potential run off candidates include the youthful Emmanuel Macron formerly of the Socialists and Manuel Valls, the former Prime Minister who is expected to win the Socialist primary on the 22nd January.


Europe’s longest-serving incumbent head of government, Angela Merkel, will go before the people for a fourth time in the autumn of 2017. With recent polls giving her a 59% approval rating, it is expected that she will return to lead another Grand Coalition between the Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats. The only other feasible alternative seems to be a three party coalition of the Social Democrats, the Greens and the former Communists of Die Lienke. For this to happen would require the Social Democrats to significantly improve their poll ratings.

The Netherlands

The Dutch are due to vote in a General Election on the 15th March with another right wing populist, Geert Wilders, set to lead his Partij voor de Vrijheid, PVV (Party for Freedom) to the largest amount of seats. Wilders is seeking the de-Islamification of the Netherlands as well as a sharp withdrawal from the EU. While the PVV is set to be the largest party, it is expected that outgoing Prime Minister Mark Rutte of the Liberal, People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD), should be able to cobble together another coalition to keep Wilders out but this is far from certain.

Across Europe

In the EU, Presidential elections will also be held in Hungary and Slovenia while the Czechs will hold Parliamentary elections in October. The migrant crisis has been a big issue in all three states and it will likely feature heavily in the campaigns.

Elections will also be held in accession countries including Albania and Serbia and it will be interesting to see if traditionally pro-European parties are able to maintain dominance and also to what extent the Russians exert influence over the elections.

New challenges

For many, 2016, was an annus horribilis politically but regardless of one’s political leanings, the fall out of the political events of 2016 will dominate the events of 2017. It cannot be forgotten that in addition to all the planned events above, we in Ireland find ourselves in a very delicate political situation. The minority Government has confounded many critics by lasting six months so far, the global and local challenges presenting in 2017 are likely to be even more difficult.

Regardless of what comes, I’d like to wish everyone all the best for the holiday season and every good wish for the New Year.

Senator Neale Richmond is the Government spokesman on EU Affairs in Seanad Éireann.

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  • Harlequin

    Also: Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Let’s hope they still exist this time next year.

  • Kevin Breslin

    So Syria’s Migrant Crisis doesn’t make the list … no no it’s Europe’s migrant crisis, because heavens forbid we actually recognize that the vast majority of migrants are far away from Europe.

    Seriously people get Migrant Crisises raging at a some scary headline in the Daily Express from a middle class pasty faced suburban house with pet dog … it’s a First World Problem by Cowardly Conservatives.

    It’s insulting to call it definitive.

  • Kevin Breslin

    The earliest shaping will be an inflation bombshell in the UK and to a lesser extent in the EU.

  • Anthony O’Shea

    Fianna Fail got a pretty harsh and somewhat surprising bloody nose last week when it tried to upset Simon Coveney’s housing Bill. It is unlikely they could take another hit like that having spent much of the past year essentially in control of government albeit from the opposition benches. The public service Industrial relations situation is quickly becoming a crisis alongside housing so it might be a pretty safe bet that there will be another Dail election in 2017; maybe to coincide with fresh Stormont elections now that Arlene has played into Sinn Fein’s hands.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I think the Irish dimension, which has caused much heat on the green side of the water this year but not really yet over here in mainland UK, will start to be debated and discussed in the politics over here around Brexit a bit more in 2017.

    Relations with the ROI obviously affect N Ireland more than the rest of the UK, but actually the main reason the rest of the country may take an interest is the point you mention about the EU negotiating as a block – a block that of course includes the ROI. The needs of the ROI, if taken account of by the EU negotiators, might well help the UK avoid being subject of a very punitive stance from the EU. The potential damage to the ROI economy may well be our best card to play if we do indeed push for a softened, fudgy form of break generally, that avoids the ‘cliff edge’ scenario.

    But I think overall we are in a weak negotiating position. As negotiations start, this is really going to be about damage limitation. Brexit is a millstone we have put around our own necks.

  • Anthony O’Shea

    Of course Europe could take a completely different angle. It could offer Ireland concessions to offset any economic disruption if it really wanted to give Britain a bloody nose. As it stands the internal Irish border doesn’t really functionally exist, Europe might allow Dublin a lot of leeway in carving out a special arrangement for itself with London where the border is concerned whilst at the same time dishing up plenty of punishment against Britain itself. The question really hinges on whether the North’s future economic prospects are better served hitched to the UK or within Ireland and, is Ireland as one economic unit likely to be more prosperous long term in a European context or a British Isles context.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I agree the EU could do that, let’s see what approach they take. I think we’ll get a bloody nose one way or another.

    As for NI being better off with yet another breakaway, the economics are neither here nor there I’m afraid. Irish Republican actions in the late 20th C, combined with its failure to take responsibility and help society heal afterwards, has ensured no kind of united Ireland will happen for several generations.

  • Anthony O’Shea

    Its not really an Irish Unity issue. Economics straddles borders regardless and the peculiar nature of Ireland/Uk in economic terms begs the question on the future of both North and South in that context. I take your point re the troubles, however it occupies the minds of less and less people as the years roll by and time moves us further away from that awful period.

  • Redstar

    If on this look back at 2016 we can include politicians crimes against fashion surely GAs “Woody” cowboy shirt as pictured in today’s Bel Tel should get particular condemnation

  • Roger

    “thus beginning a two year negotiation process”. Interesting to see if it really does get all wrapped up in 2 years.

  • Roger

    Agree on all that. British Kingdom goes in rather weak despite all the bravado. There’ll be a lot of ‘let’s get it over with’ mentality amongst many of the EU 27, Ireland being an exception. Alas Ireland is a minnow and BK will be in a shark tank. BK’s closest neighbour ain’t no Hoff.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I agree, it’s not an Irish unity issue at all really and that’s been an annoying distraction from the other problems raised by Brexit.

    However, I think you’re very wrong on the ongoing impact and place in people’s memories of the Troubles. There is a huge part of the iceberg of damage below the surface of society and while people want to move on and are doing that, it isn’t all forgotten – nor should it be. There is massive trauma and hurt not far away from the surface.

    People with significant memories growing up of the Troubles are as young as in their 30s still – we will be a majority of the voting public for another 30 years at least. But I am hopeful that the generation of politicians with murder records from the Troubles will be replaced much earlier than that – and it could change things very much for the better to have them out of the picture. However, the cause of a united Ireland has suffered very, very deep damage indeed, not just among unionists either.

  • Anthony O’Shea

    The only certainty we have if events in 2016 are anything to go by is that nothing is certain and predicting the future is a futile exercise.

    I take your point regarding hurt, communities who have been harmed or attacked take quite some time to heal. Not everybody moves at the same pace of course but nonetheless thwy get there eventually. The relationship between Ireland and England today might be a good example of that.

    Hopefully Brexit doesnt mess it up.

  • Sir Rantsalot

    Neale, I’m sure many people are still influenced by the mainstream media. You appear to be one of them. You should educate yourself in what is actually going on by reading ‘the far right’. You will discover that the MSM is a tool of elites and ‘far right’ is a label to try and demonize exposure of the elite controlled ‘ministry of truth’ as a total lie.
    Do you think that the ‘migrant crisis’ just happened because of trouble in the middle east? Just google “The Coudenhove-Kalergi Plan Merkel” Western Europe is being destroyed by this plan. Eastern Europe has resisted. Guess what? Muslims are attacking the Christian people in Germany and France by mass slaughter. Not in Eastern Europe where they have the sense to practice self preservation. The globalist controlled leftist puppet politicians will soon hopefully be removed from western Europe next year. But not before 100s have died and 100s of women have been raped by 3rd word Muslims.

  • Anthony O’Shea

    The mainstream media believe everyone either left or right of centre is extreme. Its the narrative of choice for an establishment that has failed on so many levels.

    But blaming Muslims and exaggerrating threat doesnt help either abd simply fans the flames of prejudice from the very mainstream you wish to challenge.

  • Hugh Davison

    It’s a conspiracy innit?

  • Fear Éireannach

    I think you are not so good at maths, MainlandUlsterman, or are denying the onset of middle age. In 20 years, never mind 30, those 30 somethings will be 50 somethings and very definitely in the smaller part of the population, or even the voting population. And not everyone who recalls the troubles will use them as a guide for behaviour 30 years later, especially as right was hardly confined to one side.

  • lizmcneill

    But they’ve been so good at ignoring Ireland and NI so far, why would they stop now? They’re on a roll, if you listen to them.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    No, you haven’t allowed for two factors: massive skew in voting towards older voters and longer life expectancy. In 30 years, over 55yo voters will outnumber under 55 voters. They may do already, need to check.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    It’s been phoney war stuff so far. The actual negotiations require more definitive positions and red lines. We’ll get more focus and detail on the Irish issue then.

  • Sir Rantsalot

    Anthony, you must be aware that there have been many mass murders in Europe and many single person attacks on the public? Only a fraction are reported in the MSM and usually explained by ‘mental health issues’. All by Muslims, all according to the teachings of their religion, all shouting allahu akbar. The threat is total destruction of European states over the long term by massive immigration and population replacement. Just google about “The Coudenhove-Kalergi Plan Merkel”