Key political events in Europe throughout 2017 pose significant risks not only to economic recovery in the region, but also to the very existence of the European Union.

While the global economy has shown signs of recovery, political uncertainty in Europe now tops the list of potential disruption to investor and consumer confidence. Inevitably, this risk event will affect the Thai economy through global financial markets, fund flows, and Thai exports.

The results of these elections will also reflect whether the European citizens still support political and economic integration in the form of the European Union. Economic inequality across Europe, which is partly a result of the introduction of the common currency, remains at the center of the conflict among among member states and could eventually lead to an end of the euro.

Elections in France, Germany, and Italy must be closely watched as the three countries make up 65% of the entire Eurozone economy. Indeed, the results of these elections will dictate the future of the EU.

 

France – Frexit is unlikely even with Marine Le Pen’s victory

Uncertainty in the upcoming election in France on April 23rd, and May 7th have been causing a ruckus in the financial markets. Particularly, the gap between yields of 10-year French government bond and German bund reached a record high in the past 4 years on the day that Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Front, reiterated her plan to pull France out of the EU (Figure 1).

Nonetheless, latest polls by the Financial Times as of April 3rd suggest that Le Pen has a high probability of entering the second round of election but stands little chance of winning the final round to become the next president.

She will likely lose out to Emmanuel Macron, a former minister turned independent presidential candidate. Besides, even in the case of Le Pen’s becoming the next French president, it will be difficult to hold an exit referendum because such a move would have to go through parliament process. A survey by Ifop in July 2016 also shows that more than 67% of the French public will choose to stay in the EU.

 

Germany – Anti-refugee rallies pose a challenge for Angela Merkel in her bid for the fourth term as chancellor.

Angela Merkel, the current German chancellor, will face a tougher competition than before, as she struggles to lead her country through the European economic crisis and rising popularity of extreme-right politics. Also, her approval rate has suffered from brewing anti-refugee sentiments. So far, campaigns on refugee restriction have won the Alternative for Germany (AfD) local elections in some regions.

However, nationalwide popularity of the AfD remains limited. The key rival to Merkel is, in fact, Martin Schultz, the former EU Parliament President and the leader of Germany’s Social Democrats (SPD) party. His pro-EU stance means the case of Germany leaving the EU is not an immediate concern right now.

Italy – The rise of Five Star Movement (M5S), a far-right political party, could mean Italexit.

 Since Matteo Renzi, the former Prime Minister of Italy, resigned after having lost in a referendum to reform the parliament in late 2016, the Eurosceptic M5S has been gaining popularity among Italian voters.

At the same time, Italians’ support for the euro has been on a steady decline, down to 41% at present, according to Eurobarometer. Anti-EU sentiment in Italy has been on the rise partly due to its chronic economic problems especially in the banking sector, where NPL level is as high as 18%. Italy is one of the European countries that have suffered from the introduction of the common currency and the regulations set by the EU.

For example, using the common currency that is tied to a stronger economy like Germany, the weak Italian economy could not rely on exports to speed up recovery because the euro remained too strong. Moreover, the Italian government cannot bailout its troubled banks due to restrictive EU rules. The rules mandate that equity shareholders and debt holders of a failing bank must take at least 8% loss…

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