Tuesday, June 9, 2009
Europe's New Right Rises
Neither the failure of uncontrolled free-markets to provide economic opportunity for the majority of Europe's poor and working-class families, or the historic recession that cost millions of jobs and loss of wealth were able to deliver victory to left-wing electoral parties in the most recent EU parliament elections. In fact, the left received what can only be described as the closest thing in politics to an "ass whooping".
Right-wing parties in the U.K., Spain, France, Germany and Italy all claimed big victories. Latest EU projections showed center-right parties were expected to take 263 seats, with center-left parties heading for 163. Far-right groups in Britain, Austria, the Netherlands and Hungary also saw gains running on overtly racist, and anti-Islamic platforms.
The emergence of the political right in Europe is actually not that perplexing in light of middle-twentieth century history. During the Great Depression, left parties throughout Europe fell to right-wing fascist parties in Germany and Italy for example. Economic insecurity therefore is not a guarantor of a left-ward shift in favor of more egalitarian programs and policies in government; some of the most regressive regimes have emerged in times of crisis.
Like the fascists of the 1930's, the political right's popularity is largely a result of traditionally left-wing economic policies that include nationalizations and bailouts for major companies.
What Went Wrong?
But the recent political defeats of the European left could have been avoided. Firstly, the European left parties are extremely fragmented. In France for example, the French Socialist Party has split into a handful of smaller opposing left parties, none with any viable strategy to win a national election.
Another problem for the left in general, but governing center- left coalitions in particular, is the inability to articulate a bold agenda for the future beyond social democracy. Center-left coalitions have essentially been relegated to mild defense the post-world war II social-welfare system, in an era where neoliberal reforms and globalization have dominated the economic discourse.
The inability of leftist electoral parties to present a distinct agenda for economic, environmental and social transformation, not only in Europe but around the world, has provided an opportunity for right-wing nationalists to win big.
Reason for Optimism?
Although the European left took a beating in the last election, voter turn-out was at a historic low. Only 43 per cent of 375 million eligible voters cast ballots for representatives to the EU legislature. It is clearly not too late for the European left to organize and begin to formulate the kind of agenda that will not only win elections, but deliver fundamental changes that can improve the lives of the poor and working class families fighting through this terrible recession.
The only remaining question is whether they can unite to get it done?