What a difference 2016 makes.
With Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi the latest political casualty of the populist wave surging across Europe and the United States, a photograph from April is going viral that shows just how much the political situation in the West has changed in just a few tumultuous months.
The White House photo (shown above), taken in April at a G5 Summit in Hannover, Germany, shows Renzi along with President Obama, former British Prime Minister David Cameron, French President François Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
That clique is all but gone.
Renzi said Sunday he intends to resign after a referendum on constitutional reforms he had backed was soundly defeated. Renzi had said he would resign if the referendum failed, turning the vote into a question on Renzi and the Italian political establishment as a whole.
Cameron resigned in July after Britain voted to leave the European Union, and was replaced by current Prime Minister Theresa May. Cameron had campaigned for Britain to remain in the E.U.
In France, Hollande announced last week he would not seek re-election in the French presidential elections in April -- the first president to do so since the creation of the French Fifth Republic in 1958. Hollande’s approval rating stands at just 4 percent amid a spiraling refugee crisis and a high unemployment rate. Hollande is likely to be succeeded by either Republican Party candidate François Fillon or the National Front’s Marine Le Pen. The French left-wing has yet to choose a candidate, but experts say whoever is chosen will face an uphill climb.
President Obama will see out his full two terms in office, but his preferred successor – fellow Democrat Hillary Clinton – was beaten by Republican Donald Trump, who is expected to seek to undo much of Obama’s legacy. Obama also had backed Renzi’s constitutional reform when Renzi visited the White House in October, as well as Cameron's push for Britain to remain in the E.U.
On Monday, the White House downplayed the significance of the developments in Europe.
"I would warn against painting with an overly broad brush about the potential consequences of this outcome [in Italy]," Press Secretary Josh Earnest said. "There certainly is a not entirely unreasonable tendency to want to loop together the outcome in the U.K. and even the outcome of the U.S. presidential election with this outcome, but each of these is ... different."
Of the five leaders, only Merkel’s position remains relatively secure for now. However, the chancellor still faces a tough battle to keep hold of her job for a fourth term in late 2017. While many analysts expect her to ultimately win, Merkel’s approval ratings have dropped sharply throughout 2016 in part as a result of her open-door policy for Syrian refugees. She faces stiff opposition from the populist, right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) party.
Should Merkel lose, it would mean none of the leaders in the April picture will hold office this time next year.