Macron-mania swept Europe’s political elite in 2017, and French voters went along for the ride. The first sign that Emmanuel Macron could ignite a new post-partisan enthusiasm in French voters: he packed out rallies just as President Trump did. Macron took his promise to build an electoral movement from the ground up all the way to the Elysée Palace, all before he turned 40. Helped by the flaws of his predecessor François Hollande and the scandals of his challengers Francois Fillon and Marine Le Pen, Macron also took control of the French National Assembly and assumed the lead role on reform of the European Union.
Anything Macron can do, Sebastian Kurz can do younger. Many 31-year-olds aim high by taking on a mortgage, getting married or having a child. Sebastian Kurz took over his political party, the Austrian ÖVP, renamed its election list after himself and won at the ballot box, ultimately becoming Austrian prime minister as a Christmas present to himself. Can he lift Austria from its current status in the European Council as Germany’s lapdog? Can he become the model for other right-wing leaders hoping to fend off populist surges? He’s given himself every chance.
With the United Kingdom’s “Global Britain” ambitions parked until the end of any Brexit transition deal, and the United States rapidly withdrawing from global trade wheeling and dealing, it was the European commissioner for trade who assumed the role of global trade leader. She’s finalized mega-deals with Canada and Japan, is close to inking the biggest deal ever with the Latin America trade bloc known as Mercosur, and will start negotiating with Australia and New Zealand in 2018.
It can be a fine line between political power and a jail sentence: just ask Silvio Berlusconi. So far, Babiš is walking it successfully, despite efforts to have him jailed for EU subsidy fraud. The billionaire is the new Czech Prime Minister and is altering the EU’s balance of power on several fronts: as the eighth liberal-aligned leader, he’s now given the ALDE political group equal-top billing at the European Council, and as a Euroskeptic, he tilts the Visegrad Group from constructive to obstructive in its approach to Brussels.
Young, gay, and of Irish-Indian heritage, Varadkar has never faced an election as a candidate to lead the country. Those are just some of the ways Varadkar is unusual for an Irish taoiseach. His successful Brexit maneuvering put Ireland at the center of the EU’s toughest challenge, just weeks after he lost his deputy prime minister in a whistle-blowing scandal and fended off a no-confidence motion by the opposition Fianna Fáil party on whom he relies for supply and confidence votes.
Opponents threw the kitchen sink at Donald Trump in the first year of his presidency. Robert Mueller, a special investigator, is closing in on his confidants and his approval rating are low, but through it all Trump has maintained the loyalty of his base, racking up conservative court appointments and dominating the news cycle with a consistency no president in modern times has matched.
Thalys high-speed trains
With Amsterdam and Paris winning the right to host the European Medicines Agency and the European Banking Authority respectively after Brexit, the high-speed train service that connects the two cities via Brussels — which happens to be the home of those EU agencies’ overseers — has never had such good business travel prospects.
Close, but no cigar. Carles Puigdemont went from local journalist to Catalan president to center of world attention in late September and early October, as part of a doomed effort to declare Catalonia independent from Spain. Scenes of ballot box violence may have shocked the world, but Madrid succeeded in ensuring that the results could not be verified. He may have come out well in the recent regional election, after losing his job and fleeing to Brussels, but as the year comes to a close, it’s still unclear whether he can return to his country.
The Catalan regional election may not have a clear winner. But there is no doubting who came out worst. The Spanish prime minister is a three-time loser. Not only did he lose his gamble, failing to put to rest the Catalonia problem with a snap election that gave separatists another absolute majority; the party that got the most votes was his rival on the center right, Ciudadanos. Meanwhile, Rajoy’s Popular Party was pummeled, going from having 11 lawmakers in the regional parliament to just three.
The liberal alternative to Trump; the back-up leader of the free world; Queen of Europe; Time Person of the Year. There are few accolades that haven’t been showered on Germany’s Chancellor Merkel, but the love from voters was in short supply at the national election in September. Her party finished first, but with a dramatic reduction in votes, leaving her struggling to form a grand coalition with the reluctant Social Democrats. Merkel limps on in caretaker mode as we close out 2017.
Where to start? Never has so much political capital been wasted with so few bad decisions, a cynic might say about May’s error-ridden premiership. The leader who promised a “strong and stable” government has delivered anything but. EU Brexit negotiators have remained one step ahead all the way. Her Cabinet is engaged in weekly public skirmishes. For political survival, May relies on the votes of the cantankerous Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland, which is an expensive and unreliable ally. While she ended the year receiving a round of applause from fellow EU leaders for surviving all this, most would say 2018 can only get better for May.
Schulz started the year as European Parliament president, the EU’s third-wheel presidency. Sensing bigger political opportunities at home in Germany, the bookshop owner-turned-socialist leader quit Brussels and took over as his party’s challenger to Merkel. After a brief honeymoon with voters, Schulz went on to deliver his party’s worst-ever national election result. He may yet pull a rabbit out of his hat during coalition talks in the coming months, but in 2017, his momentum was all in one direction: downward.
Central and Eastern Europe
Well, Slovakia really. But the small Central European country is the perfect example of how the EU’s newest members have seen their prospects fall as the Franco-German axis expands into the Brexit vacuum and rising nationalism in the region is met by calls for a multispeed (read Eastern and Western) Europe. Bratislava made a play for the European Medicines Agency, only to be passed over for Amsterdam. Then, its finance minister, Peter Kažimír, tossed his hat into the ring in the race for Eurogroup leadership only to have it thrown back in his face.