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Thursday, May 14, 2015

Europe takes a giant leap to the Right. (Part I)

One of the most interesting political trends I've been watching on the international scene recently has been the growth of right-of-center political parties in Europe.  This development does not follow a trend, as Asian countries seem content to continue the trend of hopping from one extreme to the other, and South America is on a decidedly leftist run at the moment (trying to gauge African politics with a western yardstick is a dangerous game, so we'll just leave the African nations out of today's discussion).  From my optic, and with some countries is can be difficult to judge; a number of new political movements have shown up on the scene, who really skate a thin line between fascist and eco-terrorist.  Teaching a modern European politics class in college must be an interesting job.  But a quick analysis of the major players in Europe show a definite swing to the right.  The Christian Democrats of Angela Merkel seem as entrenched as during the best Helmut Kohl days.  In fact, the popularity of the right in Germany may be the only hope for the opposition, as new right-of-center and extreme right parties threaten to draw votes away from the CDU.  To put it simply, the CDU may not be conservative enough anymore.  Everyone seems to be watching France with baited breath, as Marine Le Pen shows no sign of weakening.  In fact, the other players involved appear to be hoping for some screw-up on Le Pen's part.  She does live on the political edge, and she doesn't appear to speak with a delay (so as to think through everything she says beforehand), but let's face it; everyone expects a mistake sooner or later.  Her political party, the National Front (FN), did very well in the last European Union Parliamentary election, and polls show her consistently on top of her two rivals (but by the smallest of margins).  Some things are certain: the Socialists (PS) will not abandon Francois Hollande, who was lucky to squeak out a win against Sarkozy when all the elements were in favor of a PS blowout.  Many expect Sarkozy to emerge as the UPM candidate, completing a remarkable "phoenix-rising-from-the-ashes" comeback, and I agree.  Le Pen and Sarkozy may split the right vote so evenly that Hollande gets a second term.  Regardless, its impossible to deny that the French electorate has moved to the right.

The conservative government of Mariano Rajoy continues to face the tremendously difficult job of rebuilding the Spanish economy.  The fact the his People's Party (PP) has managed to stay in power this long is more a case of the electorate remembering what an unmitigated disaster the last government was.  But Spain is not a lost cause, as the country has been registering very encouraging growth.  But unemployment remains an issue, and with local elections coming at the end of the month, and the national election occurring before the end of the year, its very possible that the Spanish electorate could flip the players once again.  I don't think so.  I believe a number issues, with immigration and crime being near the top, will keep the PP in charge in Madrid.  Portugal also has a right-of-center government, which is trying to tackle an economic situation which is one of the worst in the EU.  Portugal has benefited from low oil prices, low interest rates and the low performance of the Euro, but debt and a struggling banking sector continue to blunt recovery.  Portugal will have national elections in either September or October.  It will be interesting to see if the current government tries to push through any additional reforms before the election, which might result in a negative response by the electorate.

I'm not ambitious enough to tackle the subject of the Belgian government.  Its a solid candidate for a posting all on its own.  The Netherlands is a fascinating country, politically.  The right-of-center "People's Party for Freedom and Democracy" (VVD) won the last election, but the left-of-center "Labour Party" (PvdA) is not far behind.  The recent trend in Holland has been to the right, and there is no reason to believe it will end.  Immigration is a big issue, with many Dutch fearing the Islamization of their society.  The government in Denmark is right-of-center, with the Liberal Party (V) leading a coalition that includes the increasingly popular far-right Danish People's Party.  Denmark is an interesting society, though, as the monarchy, highly limited by the constraints of the constitution, is obliged to perform ceremonial functions and not much else, similar to other European monarchies.  But Queen Margrethe II will not hesitate to make her opinions known; in fact, if she moved to increase her own power I would be surprised if she were not supported by the Danish people.  The monarchy is Holland is just as popular, where former Queen Beatrix continues to be adored by the Dutch.

In Scandinavia, Norway and Finland continue a recent trend towards conservative governments, while the Swedish refuse to break their tradition of left-of-center politics.  The continued growth of the conservative parties in Norway has been surprising, although the immigration issue is huge in both Sweden and Norway.  Many consider Norway to be the wealthiest country in the world, with the highest standard of living (Luxembourg, Lichtenstein and Switzerland might disagree); Norwegians are beginning to show a desire to protect the benefits that they believe they deserve as native Norwegians.  Speaking of Switzerland, the Swiss People's Party has a strong hold on the reigns of government, and just happens to be a right-wing political party (not simply "right-of-center"); this is not surprising as the Swiss have always appeared to associate their famous neutrality with Nationalism. Austria has been electing conservative governments for over a decade, and the trend continues to move to the right.  The issue of immigration has threatened to cashier the current government, in favor of a political party with even more right-wing credentials.  The Austrians don't screw around.


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