Week ahead: Populist wave still a risk ahead of French vote

The wave of populism hitting Europe is still in focus as markets assess the risk of the far right's rise in France. But so too are key readings on the euro zone economy and on Britain as it gets closer to triggering its divorce with the EU. VIDEO: REUTERS

(REUTERS) - From the Netherlands to France. With a populist win averted in the Dutch election, investors now weigh the likelihood of Marine Le Pen's advance in the upcoming French vote.

Polls put centrist reformer Emmanuel Macron ahead of the far right's National Front. But economic data could move the needle in the weeks ahead and beyond.

"Even if the National Front does not accede to the presidency and Marine Le Pen loses out at the second round as the polls currently seem to suggest, her legacy will continue to linger. The National Front, I think, is a test of the rising degree of populism here in Europe. And if the new French president, whoever that is, fails to deliver the kind of growth and economic reform, and rising living standards which I think the French and many other European countries desire, then the populism wave could yet come back into the agenda." said Peter Dixon, global financial economist at Commerzbank.

On the economic front, UK inflation and retail sales numbers will offer a snapshot of the state of the British economy ahead of the official divorce from the EU.

Data pointed to the quickest rise in consumer prices in almost 4 years, last month.

A further increase could push the Bank of England to turn more hawkish after some signs it might be already moving in that direction.

"I think we are going to see the continuation of the same trends which is particularly for inflation to pick up because we have recovery in commodity prices and, particularly over here in the UK, we have the weakening of sterling and that's obviously going to ave an impact on imports." said Laith Khalaf, Hargreaves Lansdown Senior Analyst.

Euro zone PMI data will provide evidence on whether the bloc is still on a growth path.

In the meantime, the EU finance ministers are to meet in Brussels.

The Greek debt likely to be a key topic of conversation. Yet again.