Tuesday, June 09, 2009

The European elections

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How should we read the European Parliament elections?

To begin with, elections to the European parliament are usually fought country by country as local referendums entirely on national issues and despite the growing power of the European parliament in the daily life of all EU citizens, its role is hardly mentioned in these campaigns, which therefore are extremely boring and so abstention is normally very high.

In Spain's European parliament elections, for example, it usually happens that the party in power is roundly defeated by the mobilized base of the opposition party who come out en masse because they see an easy win, this happens because the party in power's voter base, seeing nothing much at stake, leaves them hanging in the wind. This is what has happened this time too.

This particular victory of the Partido Popular has had the perverse effect of consolidating Spain's conservative leader, Mariano Rajoy, who is considered so unattractive that even most of his own party think he has no chance against president Zapatero in the general elections three years from now.

If Partido Popular had lost the elections, this would have probably led them to change their candidate for the general elections, and since they have several candidates that are more charismatic than Rajoy, this victory may cost them dearly. So as you can see that in a European-wide election it is hard to see the forest for the trees.

The disaster in waiting

Probably the most dangerous result of this election has been the literal collapse of Britain's Labour Party under the leadership of Gordon Brown, which came in third behind the ultra-right UK Independence party (UKIP). If this leads to an early election before the the Lisbon Treaty is ratified it might lead to the British either leaving the EU or actually being expelled from it. Here is how the Financial Times columnist, Phillip Stephens lays it out:
Hang on in there, Mr Brown. Europe needs you for a while yet. The alternative could be a Conservative prime minister leading Britain towards the European exit. Such are the whispered anxieties in continental capitals, and among pro-Europeans in Britain, as Gordon Brown’s troubles stir speculation about an early general election.(...) the leaders in Berlin, Paris and elsewhere have selfish reasons for hoping that the present British government can stagger on until next year. They have spent the best part of a decade designing, redesigning and patching up an agreement to remake the European Union’s institutions. Once it was called the European constitution; now it goes by the name of the Lisbon treaty. But, horror of horrors, with the end at last in sight, David Cameron’s Conservatives are threatening to wreck the project.(...) The timing of the government’s demise could mark the difference between a serious argument about Britain’s relationship with Brussels and a rupture that would set in train its eventual departure.(...) It is clear to all that Mr Cameron wants to derail the process of European integration. His decision to withdraw from the European People’s party, the European parliament’s mainstream centre-right group, is a step in that direction. By aligning with a hotchpotch of small far-right parties, Mr Cameron has downgraded his party’s relationship with its French and German cousins. To move Britain to the sidelines of influence is one thing. To threaten to blow up the Lisbon accord is another. This is what Mr Cameron proposes by pledging to campaign for its rejection in a British referendum. And this is where the timing of the general election really matters.(...) Mr Cameron might argue that earlier versions of the treaty were rejected in referendums in France, the Netherlands and Ireland. But these were not conscious acts of government. Withdrawal from the EPP is a Tory shot across the bows of European integrationists. Wrecking the Lisbon treaty would be a declaration of war.(...) One thing is certain: neither Britain nor Europe needs an autumn general election. Nor, unless he wants to sleepwalk towards Europe’s exit, does Mr Cameron.
So the British results are the only ones that might have direct and historic consequences.

What happened to the European Social Democrats?

Most of the left's classic battles have already been won in Europe, from strong labor unions, a sturdy social net and free health care, right down to even "free love": all of these have been adopted by the center right. What have the social democrats got left to sell?

Here is how columnist Henryk M. Broder described in in Der Spiegel
Germany, and a large part of Europe, has in recent decades incorporated vast swaths of social democratic values into their societies. The Social Democrats have lost their unique selling point. With the exception of the business-friendly Free Democrats, Germany's parliament is full of politicians who are, in some shade or another, adherents of the social democratic worldview. The Christian Social Union (the Bavarian sister party to Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union) is to the left of the SPD on some issues. Merkel's CDU is sometimes greener than the Greens and the far-left Left Party continues to cozy up to Germany's mainstream parties. When almost all the parties on offer are center-left, there is no longer a compelling reason to vote SPD. On the contrary, there is nothing wrong with taking a look at those who offer something a bit different -- not unlike the way loyal Aldi shoppers take an occasional look at what rival supermarket chain Lidl is offering.
In general the problem right now with the European left is that they have not shown that they have a coherent critique of the system, which is what the voter of the left really wants from them. Until they produce that critique or the ultra-right makes more significant gains that frighten them sufficiently many left wing voters will simply abstain. It is interesting to note that the one figure of the left who did well in the elections was the French "Green", Daniel ("Danny the Red") Cohn-Bendit, who campaigned solely on European issues with a strong progressive message that would be far to the left of any mainstream American discourse.

An American reading (take care)

Americans may be tempted to see the European social democratic parties representing the same things as the Democratic Party of Barack Obama and the European center right taking the same positions as the Republican Party in the USA: this reading would be erroneous. For one thing, the Republican Party would be very far to the right of any mainstream party in Europe on economic and social issues and also foreign policy.

It is also important to clarify that the USA's Democrats are not really a party of the "left" in European terms. The reforms that the Democrats timidly put forward, like universal(?) health care and reasonably tight financial regulations are defended by European conservatives. The Democratic party is well to the right of the European center on most issues, most of the time.

You could say that the years of Thatcher-Reagan-Friedman have intellectually castrated the left. This is a problem in Europe, whereas the progressive voter in the USA is quite happy with neutered tom cats. DS


The Europhile said...

Great points David...

In a fashion, the MEP's vote with a peevish message. Short term vs long term.

For example, the Pirate Party won 7.1% in Sweden, winning one or two seats...not deluding themselves with the prospect this party can rule the country, but rather, they're punishing the political parties for being assholes....just my take.

Anonymous said...

It's funny you brought up how the Democrats arent really as far left as they are in Europe. Both parties are European-style Liberal parties, the only difference is one is for the rich white people and the minorities they manipulate, and the other is for the working-class white people. They just trade off over a 100 year period.

Progressives have dominated the political scene for most of the 20th century. We owe the state of Western Civilization to it (such as it is). I would reverse your analysis and say that all Conservatives need is a coherent critique of the system and the Left is in trouble.


Anonymous said...

It's pretty stupid to quote "columnist" Broder who is himself a former pseudo-leftist and now a far-right mudslinging racist.

Social democracy is in decline, but that is certainly not because now everybody is like them.

Just because the US is so underdeveloped and only has one nazi and one conservative "party" doesn't mean that the whole world can be measured up like that.

David Seaton's Newslinks said...

Actually the European right is just doing what Clinton and Blair did to their opponents... triangulate them . It happens that Christian Democrats are less market fanatic than the American right. The American right is made up of radical, libertarian fundamentalists and sons of the wild jackass, creationists, anti-immigrant and racists in general. In Europe these odds and sods form splinter parties. Unlike the American variety, many European conservatives are sincerely worried about the effect that unfettered capitalism has on family life and often support things like early closing hours for shops so that parents get home in time to be with their kids, etc.

I think the problem the USA has is with its terminology, the meaning of words like "liberal" and "conservative" have been so bent out of shape as to be meaningless.

Anansi said...

I would agree with that statement. When visiting my family (in rural Michigan) just before the last election I was asked several times what Canadians thought about the election. What I wanted to say was that Canadian "conservatives" were still left of US "liberals" but it just confuses then. My reply usually was that we found it very interesting.

Anonymous said...

Complaining about "unfettered capitilism" is a meaningless term. There is no such thing as unfettered capitilism or even completely free trade (I would say that's the problem but that's just cause I'm one of those libertarians you have nightmares about). It's not about no government. It's about understanding that career politicians only care about keeping their jobs not the people, taxation isnt an "affirmation of citizenship" but a form of control, and marrying government planning and the market is literally fascism. It's understanding the hypocrisy of giving the state "unfettered" power to regulate and calling that democratic. A realist understands that only empowers the wealthy and the powerful and the lackeys who lick their boots, not the working class.

If people are worried about family life then then they should be more afraid of nihilistic moral relativism that you see all day coming out of the Left. I've said it before, how many nihilists vote Republican? Can anyone explain the contradiction in some intellectual cataloging all of the ways in which the government fails the people and then calling for more power to given to the people who messed it up so they can fix it?

The Right won becuase of scandals like the Labor Party, the current economic crisis and fears of getting gunned down by some crazy Islamic zealot and then the guy gets released because a bunch of rich white people are worried about their "feelings". Just accept the fact that nationalism is not going away. The workers of the world arent going to unite, period. That's another reason the Left is getting their asses handed to them. They want to be "citizens of the world" like Obama, if there even is such a thing.


David Seaton's Newslinks said...

Sorry Adam, but few Christian Democrats would agree with you. I'm afraid our economic system puts a lot of stress on family life.

Anonymous said...

Well that's their fault. Being an American conservative is different from around the world.

I'm not trying to be too argumentative, but instead of closing the shop early and not opening it till the next day, why not just hire 2 shifts? They can both spend time with their families. And if they cant afford that I would ask whether or not that's because you have an economy based around keeping the jobs you have, not creating new ones?