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From EU reformer Emmanuel Macron to EU troublemaker Viktor Orbán, some of the Union’s most vocal supporters and critics are facing tough electoral challenges at home in 2022 that could in turn shake up political dynamics across the Continent.
European hopes for closer cooperation with Washington will also likely get put on the backburner as the U.S. descends into a midterm election come November — a major test for Joe Biden that could see one or both houses of Congress change hands away from his Democratic party, dealing a blow to the president’s ability to pass legislation.
POLITICO pulled together a brief guide to some of the key elections in Europe to watch in 2022.
Portuguese legislative election — January 30
What’s at stake: Socialist Prime Minister António Costa is hoping to hold onto power in this snap election, called after his minority government was defeated in a key budget vote.
Who to watch: Costa’s most serious rival is Rui Rio, president of Portugal’s main center-right opposition party, the Social Democrats (PSD). Costa’s Socialist Party (PS) is still well ahead in opinion polls, at around 37 percent to the Social Democrats’ 30 percent, but that gap has slowly narrowed in recent months and such results would mean both parties would need to team up with others to form a majority coalition. During the budget vote that triggered the election, Costa lost the support of two left-wing parties that had allowed his government to stay in power, the Communist Party and the Left Bloc. Rio has expressed an openness to enabling a Socialist-led government after the election, but Costa has rejected negotiating with the center right.
Meanwhile, the far-right Chega (meaning “enough”) party, which previously had just one seat in parliament, could become the third-largest party there, polling at around 7 percent.
Serbian general election — April 3
What’s at stake: Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić has been the most prominent political figure in Serbia over the past decade, but critics both inside and outside the country consider him to be too dominant. Academics, rights activists, Western diplomats and opposition politicians say he has presided over serious backsliding on democracy, freedom and the rule of law. The country held a parliamentary election in 2020, but Vučić announced a new one would take place early — even before a new government had been finalized after the last vote. Analysts have said this call for an early election appeared to be a strategic move by Vučić to bolster legitimacy after opponents boycotted the prior ballot. It’s also set to coincide with the presidential vote.
French elections — presidential votes April 10 and 24, parliamentary votes June 12 and 19
What’s at stake: Emmanuel Macron is set to seek reelection in the presidential vote in April, before the country decides on a new parliament come June. Even if Macron wins a second term, the parliamentary vote will be crucial to implementing the changes he seeks, but the defeats suffered by his centrist La République En Marche party in local elections since he took office don’t bode well for them in June.
Who to watch: Polls predict Macron, who hasn’t formally announced his candidacy but is expected to do so at the beginning of the new year, will make it past the first round of voting. Who he will face in the second round is the question. Marine Le Pen of the far-right National Rally had long been pegged to become his top rival once again in a repeat of 2017, but her popularity has been threatened by the rise of another far-right figure, TV pundit-turned-politician Eric Zemmour, as well as conservative Les Républicains candidate Valérie Pécresse, who has surged in the polls, with some now even placing her ahead of Le Pen. Whether Macron takes on Le Pen or Pécresse, he’s still currently expected to win, but at a much narrower margin than he won in his first election: 57 percent to 43 percent if against Le Pen, and 53 percent to 47 percent against Pécresse, compared to the 32.2 percentage point victory he secured in 2017.
Hungarian parliamentary election — expected in April
What’s at stake: Hungary’s long-time right-wing populist leader Viktor Orbán faces his toughest election since returning for a second stint as prime minister in 2010. For the first time, his opponents have united in an effort to oust him from office by backing a single candidate.
An opposition win would change the political temperature in Budapest but also the dynamics in EU meetings with other member countries, where Hungary has often played the role of the rebel. It would also have geopolitical implications given Orbán’s ties to Beijing and Moscow. A new government would likely align more closely with the EU, the U.S. and NATO. Victory for Orbán, however, would cement his power and allow him to continue building an alliance of far-right and Euroskeptic forces across the Continent.
Who to watch: Orbán’s Fidesz party will face off against the diverse coalition that makes up the United Opposition, led by Péter Márki-Zay, the conservative mayor of the southern city of Hódmezővásárhely. Polls have predicted a neck-and-neck race, with Fidesz at around 48 percent support as of mid-December, just ahead of the United Opposition on 46 percent. To win, Márki-Zay will have to keep his largely left-wing coalition onside, without alienating more conservative voters who could be tempted by Fidesz. Actually governing would also require him to juggle his alliance’s competing interests and worldviews.
Slovenian elections — parliamentary vote April 24, presidential by October
What’s at stake: Janez Janša, a close Orbán ally, also faces an electoral challenge in the spring before the country later chooses a new president. Current President Borut Pahor is not eligible for reelection due to term limits.
Who to watch: Janša entered his third term in office in March 2020 amid the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic, having cobbled together an alliance of four parties after the collapse of the previous center-left government. But his own coalition soon started to crumble with the departure of the Pensioners’ Party (DeSUS) last December, citing the government’s handling of the pandemic as well as concerns about media restrictions and other rule of law issues. Such concerns have also raised questions about the prime minister’s political future.
Janša’s main rival is Tanja Fajon, leader of Slovenia’s Social Democrats (SD) and currently a member of the European Parliament. The SD trails Janša’s right-wing populist Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS) in the polls, but Janša’s opponents hope that by banding parties together, they’ll be able to defeat him.
Northern Ireland election — May 5 or sooner
What’s at stake: This vote could come sooner than expected: Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader Jeffrey Donaldson has threatened to withdraw from the region’s power-sharing government and trigger an early election due to the ongoing dispute between the U.K. and EU over post-Brexit trading arrangements in Northern Ireland. The so-called Northern Ireland protocol aims to maintain the integrity of the EU’s single market post-Brexit while avoiding a politically-sensitive hard border between Northern Ireland, part of the U.K., and the Republic of Ireland, an EU member country. London and Brussels continue to spar over the operation of the protocol amid political controversy in Northern Ireland and complaints from traders in the U.K. about its rules. Dublin has expressed concern that Northern Ireland’s upcoming vote could essentially become a referendum on the protocol.
The Irish nationalist Sinn Féin party is expected to do well in the Northern Ireland Assembly election, potentially replacing the DUP as the largest party, and therefore raising concern among Unionists. With the party also rising in popularity south of the border in the Republic, some analysts say the prospect of a united Ireland long touted by Sinn Féin no longer seems far-fetched.
Swedish general election — September 11
What’s at stake: Magdalena Andersson, Sweden’s freshly sworn-in first female prime minister, hopes to lead her Social Democrats to victory in September’s election, but she’s facing a major threat from the right. Her predecessor, Stefan Löfven, resigned this past November, hoping that installing a new party leader a few months ahead of the vote might create the opportunity for a fresh start with voters for his party and break the recent deadlock in parliament. But Andersson now faces a series of stiff challenges to make that happen.
Who to watch: Andersson’s main rival is center-right Moderate Party leader Ulf Kristersson, and the far-right Sweden Democrats (SD) under Jimmie Åkesson are determined to dislodge her in Kristersson’s favor. The Social Democrats have been leading in the polls, at around 30 percent support as of mid-December, but some of their traditional allies like the Greens are polling below the 4 percent threshold to take seats. Kristersson has pointed out that the loose grouping he leads — three center-right parties plus the SD — only needs one more parliamentary seat than it currently has to take power in September. “I’m looking forward to election day,” Kristersson said recently.
Other elections to watch
Maltese general election — date not set
Austrian presidential election — date not set
Latvian parliamentary election — October 1
Bosnian general election — October 2
U.S. midterm election — November 8