Germany: Populists threaten EU break-up

Germany: Populists threaten EU break-upGerman deputy chancellor Sigmar Gabriel warned on Thursday the EU could break apart if populists win the French and Dutch elections this year.

"The French presidential elections this spring are bitter fateful elections for Europe," Gabriel told the Bundestag lower house of parliament.

"After Brexit last year, if enemies of Europe manage again in the Netherlands or in France to get results then we face the threat that the largest civilization project of the 20th century, namely the European Union, could fall apart," he added.

He was referring to the Dutch parliamentary poll in March, where Geert Wilders, the rightwinger, is set to do well, and the French presidential election in April, where Marine Le Pen, leader of the National Front, heads the opinion polls.

Gabriel this week pulled out of challenging Merkel for the chancellorship in Germany’s autumn parliamentary election in favour of Martin Schulz.

The speech by one of Germany’s most senior politicians highlights widespread concerns in Berlin about the EU’s political instability in the face of rising populism, especially among core states such as France and the Netherlands that were among the bloc’s six founding countries.

It was Gabriel’s last Bundestag speech as economy minister before taking over as foreign minister. He is also handing leadership of the centre-left Social Democrats to Schulz, the former European Parliament president.

Gabriel in the Bundestag spelt out his concerns about the political risks to the EU.

“The authoritarian answers are advancing and the liberal and social democratic ones are in retreat. Hostility to Europe has reached a dangerous level,” he said.

He also pointed the finger at the U.S. president Donald Trump, warning: “It is clear that the palpable tendency towards protectionism in the world is a most dangerous road.”
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