Monday, May 26, 2014

European elections (2): austerity and nationalism

The conservatives/Christian Democrats of the European People's Parties (EPP) came out in the lead in this weekend's European Parliament elections. Whether the EPP's lead candidate for the Presidency of the EU Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, will actually win the office is not yet clear. The selection is formally made by the EU Council of governments, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister David Cameron may insist on a different President. Even though Juncker is from their European conservative party.

In the following, I look at some of the national results, based on the results as of this writing as reported by, among others, European Parliament results BBC News, which as of this writing shows 740 of the 751 EP seats determined. The EU's website's European elections 2014 page has background information on the functioning of the EP. The final, official accounts may vary somewhat from what I'm using here.

The strong showing of the far right nationalists in Britain and France is certainly notable. But it's hard to say how much of that vote represents a protest by pro-Europe voters who are upset with austerity policies is hard to say at this point. I suspect it's small. Because those parties are blatantly nationalistic and xenophobic.

The critical economic issue at stake right now is the continuance of Merkel's brutal and destructive austerity policies. The conservatives/Christian Democrats, the Social Democrats and the liberals are generally committed to austerity, perhaps better described as austericide. The Greens, who are seated to the right of the Social Democrats in the German and Austrian parliaments, are pro-Europe and anti-austerity. So are the parties associated with the European Left Party, mostly notably right now SYRIZA in Greece.

So the results of the EP election is to leave pro-Europe/pro-austerity policies with a clear majority. It's worth noting that with the Social Democratic base in particular, party loyalty probably won out over opposition to austerity in some non-trivial amounts. And the Social Democratic campaign did stress the need for jobs and public investment, though without opposing austerity and without getting out of the general realm of neoliberal cliches, in which "education" and "public investment" are largely empty slogans.

But the Greens and the Left did offer clear criticism of austerity policies while maintaining a definite pro-Europe position. So, on the whole, only the Green and Left votes can be counted as clearly pro-Europe/anti-austerity votes. The Five Start Movement in Italy should probably also be regarded as a pro-Europe/anti-austerity vote.

Germany: The good news here is that Merkel's conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) got the fewest votes it ever has in a European Parliamentary election; the bad news is that the CDU still got the highest vote percentage. A Público headline linked below calls it a "Pyrrhic victory." But out of 96 European Parliament seats, the CDU won 34, the Social Democrats (SPD) 26; since the SPD supports Merkel's Herbert Hoover/Heinrich Brüning austerity economics, that is more than a three-fifths vote for the Hoover/Brüning policies that are wrecking the eurozone and the possible the EU as well. The SPD improved their voting percentage, which their current leadership is virtually certain to take as a sign of approval for their participation in the German government as the junior coalition partner to the CDU - along with their endorsement of Hoover/Brüning austerity policies.

The Free Democratic Party (FDP), the liberal party (which means hardline "free market" in Europe) won four seats, still maintaining themselves (barely) as a viable electoral alternative. Their four seats would have to be counted as pro-austerity, as well, making a two-thirds majority for pro-Europe/pro-austerity policies.

The Greens got 12 seats, the Left Party seven. Both parties were pro-Europe and critical of Merkel's austerity policies, making only 20% of the seats pro-Europe and anti-austerity. The Left Party still can't seem to get traction, even with the stagnation of wages in Germany. The Greens are nominally more conservative than the SPD - they are seated to the right of the SPD in the national Bundestag - but on the urgent European policy issue of Merkel's austertiy program, the SPD supports it and the Greens and the Left oppose it.

The nationalist, far-right Alternativ für Deutschland (AfD) also won seven seats, with a somewhat lower popular vote than the Left Party. This will produce no small amount of hand-wringing in the German media, justifiable as far as it goes. It's not clear to me to what extent voters attracted by the AfD's anti-EU stance could be won over by parties to the left of the CDU. Not a lot, I'm guessing, because both the Greens and the Left Party took a distinctly critical but pro-EU position in this election, the Left Party more so. The AfD is basically pulling votes from nationalist righwingers for whom the CDU is rightwing enough.

France: The results of two years with a Socialist majority in Parliament and a Socialist President, François Hollande, are downright depressing. Maybe a party whose voting base is composed of workers and union members was ill-advised to adopt Hoover/Brüning austerity policies and a foreign policy of jumping into any war in Africa or the Middle East that they can find.

Hollande's Socialists came in third, with 13 seats out of a total 71. Sarkozy's conservative UMP came in second with 20 seats. And the far-right National Front (FN) party of Marine Le Pen came in first, with 24% of the vote and 24 seats. The liberals took seven seats and the Greens six, with the Left grouping taking four seats. The combined seats of Socialists, conservatives and liberals represent less than a majority for pro-Europe/pro-austerity parties; the FN's 24 seats would be anti-Europe and I assume in practice pro-austerity. With the Greens and the Left counting as pro-Europe/anti-austerity, that sentiment pulled a smaller percentage in France than in Germany.

Austria: With 18 MEP (Member of European Parliament) seats, the Christian Democratic Austrian People's Party (ÖVP) won five seats, the Social Democrats (SPÖ) also five with a second-place vote percentage, followed by the anti-Europe rightwing Freedom Party (FPÖ) with the Greens winning three seats on a 14% vote, and the protest party Neos polling wining 8% of the vote.

Cyprus: With six seats at stake, the conservatives, the Left and the Social Democrats each won two, with the vote percentage in that order from high to low.

Greece: Alex Tsipras' pro-Europe anti-austerity SYRIZA party (technically a coalition of parties) won the largest vote at 30% to conservative New Democracy's 26%. The Social Democratic Party, one of the two major parties until the 2009 debt crisis exploded, got one seat. At the moment, they seem to be on the verge of being replaced completely by SYRIZA. They discredited themselves radically in knuckling under to Merkel's austerity policies, which have damaged Greece more severely than any other country. The far-right and violence-inclined Golden Dawn party, frequently described (not without reason) as a neo-Nazi party, took third place. (Grecia vota contra la austeridad y le da la victoria a Syriza Público 26.05.2014))

With 21 seats total for Greece, SYRIZA gets 7 seats and the Communist Party 1, the conservative ND 6, Golden Dawn 2 and another far-right grouping 2, the Social Democrats 1 and a closely allied new center-left-liberal party Potami 1, and another anti-Europe party 1.

Ireland: The conservatives came out ahead, with the Left and the liberals following in that order. The reporting I'm seeing on the Irish outcome at the moment is somewhat confusing, but the anti-austerity position represented by second-place Sinn Fein is clearly significant: "A near meltdown for Labour, the junior coalition partner, and a swing to Sinn Fein that left that party jubilant, led the [conservative] Prime Minister Enda Kenny to concede: 'Sometimes in politics you get a wallop.'" (David McKittrick, Election results 2014: Sinn Fein profits as voters reject austerity policies The Independent 26.05.2014) This continues a trend we've seen as well in the "periphery" countries Greece and Italy, in which the Social Democrats' embrace of Herbert Hoover/Heinrich Brüning austerity politics has boosted the support for newly-rising left parties, SYRIZA in Greece and the Five Star Movement in Italy.

Italy: From the BBC News European Parliament results: "EU projected result as of 08:49. Centre-left PM Matteo Renzi won a strong 40% [31 of 73 seats], Beppe Grillo's Five Star [17 seats] achieved 22% and ex-PM Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia 16% [17 seats]." This was a significant fall in Five Star's vote from last year's national election.

Portugal: The Socialist Party (social-democratic) won seven seats, the conservative party (which is confusingly named the Social Democratic Party in Portugal) won six, the Left three.

Spain: Five years of crisis and austerity policies can evidently shift voters' perspectives. The two leading parties in the 2009 EP vote, the conservative People's Party (PP) and the Socialist Party (PSOE), came in first and second respectively as they did in 2009. But with a notable difference. The PP's vote in 2009 was 43%, 27% in 2014; the PSOE's 29% in 2009, 24% in 2014. In 2014 out of 54 seats, the PP wins 16, the PSOE 14, the Left six, the liberals three, the Greens two. While it was an electoral shock to the PP and PSOE, the pro-Europe/anti-austerity votes can't be said to be that strong in these results.

One hopeful note in Spain is that the leader of the PSOE, the pro-austerity and neoliberal Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, announced that he will step down as party leader in July, with the new leader to be selected in primary votes. [Update 05/28/2014: what Rebalcaba initially proposed is that the Secretary General of the party, his current position, be selected by a special party convention of delegates. The next lead candidate for the party for national elections would be selected later in primary elections, in his proposal.] This gives the PSOE base a chance to push the leadership away from the neoliberal, pro-austerity course. (Iñigo Aduriz, Rubalcaba sitúa en julio su despedida y delega en su sucesor la convocatoria de primarias Público 26.05.2014)

See also:

Juncker gegen Schulz: Personalpoker nach EU-Wahl Salzburger Nachrichten 26.05.2014

ÖVP verteidigt ihren ersten Platz - FPÖ und Grüne gewinnen stark - Neos bei acht Prozent Standard
25. Mai 2014

SPD legt deutlich zu, Union bleibt stärkste Partei-Liveticker Die Welt 25.05.2014

Elecciones europeas 2014 Público

Pírrica victoria de Merkel, subida del SPD y un escaño para los neonazis, según los sondeos Público 25.05.2014

Jairo Vargas, Alexis Tsipras, el peligro real para la Europa de los mercados Público 24/05/2014

Syriza gana en Grecia y Le Pen en Francia EFE/Público 25.05.2014

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

No comments: