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After Le Pen, here are the next three European elections to watch

The United Kingdom and Germany both have crucial races coming up.

French far-right presidential candidate, Marine Le Pen exits a voting booth before casting her ballot in Henin Beaumont, France, Sunday, May 7, 2017. CREDIT: AP Photo/Francois Mori
French far-right presidential candidate, Marine Le Pen exits a voting booth before casting her ballot in Henin Beaumont, France, Sunday, May 7, 2017. CREDIT: AP Photo/Francois Mori

One of the most tumultuous and closely watched European elections in recent memory came to an end on Sunday when centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron bested right-wing nationalist Marine Le Pen in the second round of the French presidential contest.

Le Pen’s bid for the presidency was the latest, and perhaps the most significant, test of strength by a European right-wing populist since the heady days of 2016, when U.K. voters approved a referendum to leave the European Union and the United States elected President Donald Trump.

If Le Pen had won Sunday’s vote — or if she had faced off against left-wing candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon in the election’s second round — the European Union would likely be headed toward an unprecedented collapse. Instead, her defeat at the hands of a pro-Europe market liberal gave the continent’s political union both a stay of execution and a dire warning: Right-wing nationalists might not be strong enough to claim the French presidency just yet, but Le Pen still fared much better than her father had in previous campaigns.

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In that regard, Sunday’s vote fits the pattern established by Austria’s presidential election in December and the Dutch parliamentary vote in March. Right-wing nationalists in all three countries have now proven themselves powerful enough to shape elections, but not strong enough to seize control of the government.

Europe faces more tests ahead. Here are the next three elections that will shape the future of the EU.

June 8: The U.K. general election

Prime Minister Theresa May announced in late April that she was calling for a snap election in the hopes of consolidating the Conservatives’ parliamentary majority. A stronger grip on parliament would boost May in her negotiations with Brussels over the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union.

But if the stakes are high for May, they’re even higher for Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, whose party is bleeding working class support. If Labour fails to mount an effective defense over the next month, the United Kingdom could be headed for an era of virtually unchecked Tory dominance. In effect, the British left could eventually find itself without a national party.

June 10–18: The French legislative elections

Macron isn’t a total political novice, but he launched his presidential run without an established party behind him. Now he needs to cobble together a parliamentary base in order to enact his agenda.

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Pollsters give his young party, En March! — founded in 2016 — a decent shot at doing well in June’s legislative races. At the same time, Le Pen’s National Front will likely use the next month to retool its image in the hopes of gaining an even sturdier foothold in French electoral politics.

September 24: The German federal election

Europe has a safe haven in Berlin. Though longtime Chancellor Angela Merkel faces a stiff challenge in Social Democratic (SDP) candidate Martin Schulz, their showdown is the furthest thing from a referendum on the EU. Like Merkel, Schulz is a staunch proponent of continental unity.

The same day that Macron cruised to victory in France, Merkel’s center-right Christian Democrats pulled off a strong showing in German regional elections — a positive sign for Merkel in September. But regardless of whether the Christian Democratic right or the Social Democratic left triumphs, there seems to be little risk that the center will fail to hold. Germany’s answer to the National Front, the AfD, has seen its electoral fortunes plummet over the last few months and has responded by devolving into infighting.