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Is Europe really heading to the right?

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This month’s elections for the European Parliament show three things: Firstly, while the powers of the EP are growing, election turnout keeps on falling. Secondly, although we are in the midst of a serious economic crisis, voters are picking moderately right of centre, not the left wing. Thirdly, although many people were worried about what obscure politicians new member countries would send to Brussels, the voices of protest this time around dominated in the west.

And then there is maybe also a fourth effect. The project of Irish businessman Ganley to form Libertas, a pan-European “anti-Lisbon Treaty” party, has crumbled. The faction didn’t even get a seat.

What neoliberalism?
The biggest surprise, of course, was the decline of the left, which did not win in any one of the six big member states. The number of its seats will shrink from 217 to 159. “It was a tough night,” said Martin Schulz, who leads that side and is a member of the German Social Democrats. (Especially tough for Schulz: His chances of representing Germany in the European Commission have decreased significantly.)

Seriously, if the European left is unable to lure voters with promises of security in a time of crisis and while in political opposition, then when else can it hope for to succeed? It is most obvious in France, where Sarkozy’s UMP defeated the opposition 28% to 17% (and Daniel Cohn-Bendit’s Greens had nearly 16%). In Germany Angela Merkel’s Christian right defeated the leftists by a long shot (38% to 21%). In Italy Silvio Berlusconi won 35% to 26%. In Poland, the left wing only watched as the governing liberals and opposition National Conservatives battled it out.

The Berlin Tageszeitung, which is not the biggest fan of the right wing, advocates that Germans should favour “neoliberal ideas” over a strong state: “It might sound banal, but when companies and banks are on the verge of bankruptcy, people vote for parties that they consider to be more competent in economics. The crisis has turned people into conservatives. For the SPD this is a catastrophe. It hasn’t succeeded in mobilising its voters, no matter how much it tried to present itself as the defender of the working class.” That is one explanation, but Sarkozy is promising job protection, “a social-capitalist economy”, and he has stolen a foolproof topic from the opposition: the threat of Turkey joining the EU. Even Berlusconi is talking about the protection of workers from foreign competition. And didn’t all of Germany witness how the chancellor “saved Opel”? Neoliberalism is not winning. Instead, the right has shifted to the centre.

12 horrible rightwingers
There is one other explanation: Maybe the EU leftists have overdone it with their negative campaigns. This was not just a Czech speciality (although the ČSSD should be forced to eat eggs for a full week as punishment for insulting voters’ intelligence with the poster depicting Zahradil, Topolánek and George Bush that says, “We created the crisis together”). The German Social Democrats were unusually aggressive with posters such as “Financial sharks vote (you should understand, ‘neoliberal’) FDP”.

Socialists especially deserved defeat for one of their lowest moves: a European list of “the 12 worst candidates”. The worst thing about it is that it mixed apples and oranges: You had the revolting Holocaust denier Nick Griffin from the British National Party next to people like Hynek Fajmon from the ODS, who suffers from the strange but harmless delusion that the Czech crown is something like the British pound. Then there were politicians whose only sin was their critique of post-communists, for instance, Peter Šťastný from the Slovak SDKÚ, along with the Romanian Monica Macovei, who was the “EU Woman of the Year 2008”.

Eurosocialists ought to apologise for putting Macovei next to the racist Griffin. As minister, she pushed to fight corruption and introduce stricter laws about conflicts of interest (many in Brussels say that it was thanks to her that Romania succeeded at the last minute gain entry into the EU), but her attorneys dared to accuse former PM Adrian Năstase, a former communist, today an influential Eurosocialist, of corruption (but the parliament did not remove his immunity).

It seems only fair, that nine of the 12 candidates on the “blacklist” succeeded in the EP elections. Unfortunately, Griffin was among them.

We are not in the mood
It would be nice to believe that scare tactics did not succeed in the EP elections. But in western countries (Great Britain, the Netherlands, Austria) anti-immigrant parties fared very well. The crisis has had the effect that the east has aligned itself closer to the EU and rejected the Eurosceptics; the west did not reject the EU, but it did turn against its Eurofederalists. Croatia will be lucky if it gains EU entry. The union is not in the mood right now for further expansion.

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