As of February 2020, the percentage of female Members of the European Parliament (EP) is 39,5%. This is the highest percentage the EP has reached since its establishment in 1979. For the 2019 European Elections, eleven Member States had legally binding gender quotas regarding the make-up of electoral lists, including sanctions in case of non-compliance. Several Member States’ gender quotas are gender-neutral, aiming to avoid the under-representation of both women and men. Among them are Slovenia and Spain, who required gender-balanced electoral lists, with each gender represented by at least 40% of the candidates on the list. Three Member States required lists in parity; one of them being Luxembourg, who required a 50-50 gender balance on the list, with financial sanctions for non-compliant parties.
To ensure that candidates from both sexes are placed in positions on an electoral list with a good chance of winning a seat, some Member States required the alternate ordering of men and women on the list (‘zipping’). This is the case of Belgium, France, and Portugal, among others. In Member States without legally binding electoral gender quotas, political parties sometimes voluntarily introduce quotas for the nomination of candidates; this is the case in The Netherlands and Sweden, for instance.
The percentage of women in the national parliaments of EU Member States in 2020 was 28,6% overall, which is also at its highest level ever but remains inferior to the representation of women in the EP. In The Netherlands and Germany, two countries slightly above the average (33,3% and 31,5%, respectively), there are several political parties that voluntarily implemented quotas for the nomination of candidates, but not all parties have such internal rules.
The figures above and the various approaches show that countries make their own choices as to whether or not to enact legally binding quotas. Debates in Germany and The Netherlands illustrate that this is a discussion about conflicting fundamental rights, on the one hand equality of men and women, and on the other hand the freedom of political parties. In the latter, equality is considered as a matter of subsidiarity, in which this fundamental right is seen as a ‘task’ to be exerted by the most appropriate body, i.e., a political party.
However, the question needs to be raised whether subsidiarity is the right answer.
Let’s dig a bit deeper into the German and Dutch debates. In 1994, the German legislation added a second sentence to Article 3 (2) of the Constitution, reading as follows: “Men and women are equal. The state shall promote the effective implementation of equal rights for women and men and shall work towards the elimination of existing disadvantages”. While equality has been declared a state responsibility, Germany has not implemented this clause into its electoral law thus far. Meanwhile, several political parties have voluntarily implemented gender quotas for their candidate lists. However, this has not yet led to gender parity and the under-representation of women is leading to growing concerns. Recently, a national discussion began on whether this is a task of the political parties or whether the state has to act. Should a parity law or a reform of electoral law be introduced, including binding regulations on adequate representation of women?
Although the Dutch Constitution is also clear about equal rights for women and men, gender equality has not been incorporated into electoral law. It is considered to be a matter of subsidiarity: political parties are responsible for effectively putting into practice women’s representation on candidate lists. Although all major parties spoke out in favour of proportional representation of women, others have not done so, with the result that equal representation in the Dutch parliament has, so far, not been reached.
The figures of political representation of women in the European and national parliaments, and the German and Dutch cases lead to a clear conclusion: subsidiarity is not the solution. Well-designed electoral quota laws are essential in increasing women’s representation in politics. Having a gender equality clause in a Constitution is not optional. It requires effective pursuit and implementation. Equality is a fundamental right.
Moreover, the Council of Europe states that a ‘balanced participation’ of women and men in political and public decision-making is a condition for justice and democracy, and that the representation of either women or men in any decision-making body in political or public life should not fall below 40%. The EU has been committed to the same goal since the beginning of this century. The Union considers “achieving a gender balance in political representation and participation as a matter of justice, equality and democracy”. Even closer to our centre-right political family: In Christian Democratic theory, political philosopher Jonathan Chaplin and others state that equality and justice are at the centre of the discourse on equality and inequality, and thus especially on equal rights.
So, what are we waiting for?
 The Dutch elections of March 2021 have increased this figure to 39%.
The author welcomes any comments or requests for further information. Hillie van de Streek can be reached on her LinkedIn profile.Hillie van de Streek European Union Gender Equality Political Parties
Hillie van de Streek
Equal political participation of women and men: Subsidiarity is not the solution
07 Apr 2021
A closely watched trial was opened last Monday against suspects in the murder of journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kušnírová. The police have yet to identify who commissioned the murder and on what motive, but the investigation is gradually unravelling the kleptocratic functioning of the state apparatus, which uses mafia-style practices for its enrichment. The still incomplete facts that the investigation has revealed show a gruesome picture of linkages between mafia-type oligarchs and the justice system, police and the ruling social democrats’ party. This is the picture of contemporary Slovakia, which was considered until recently to be one of the better democracies of the Visegrad Group. However, its reality today is rather reminiscent of the Balkans in the darker period of the 1990s.
The brutal murder of two innocent people two years ago triggered an unprecedented wave of citizens’ protests whose pressure resulted in a partial government and police reshuffle and replacements at the top of the police force. People’s fervent desire for change and the struggle for a decent Slovakia found their positive reflection in last year’s presidential and European elections. However, it cannot be said today that the same positive wave has survived in the run-up to the parliamentary elections at the end of February. Just the opposite, it risks being transformed into a devastating tsunami, as Slovakia could become another EU member state with a far-right government.
In only a few weeks, Slovaks have the chance to halt the alarming trend of injustice, arrogance, intimidation and attacks on minorities becoming the new normal.
This risk can be explained by the fact that the street protests grew silent over time and the hope for change has been replaced by skepticism in the wake of political developments. The main reason is the fragmentation, lack of readiness to cooperate and strong egos, as well as the lack of political experience among the leaders of the democratic opposition.
The opposition consists of Christian democrats, liberals, the party of independent personalities, and three new parties which all compete for leadership of the opposition camp, more so than for voters. The latter group of parties includes that of former President Kiska – Za ľudí (For the People), which has no clear-cut party profile, and over which hangs a shadow of unclear financing of its founder’s presidential campaign. Then there is a conservative-liberal party SPOLU (Together), which will run together with another new party, Progresívne Slovensko (Progressive Slovakia), the party on whose ticket President Zuzana Čaputová initially ran. Their programmes are almost identical, calling for a fair and functioning judiciary, better education and health care. All of them declare support for the EU and NATO. However, looking at the demands for strengthening the nation-state at the expense of EU institutions which have been trending in Central Europe and elsewhere, concrete initiatives are missing.
Three scenarios are possible:
1. A government composed of socialists and neo-Nazis
In this scenario, the Social Democrats (SMER) remain the strongest party. Their chairman, former prime minister Robert Fico, plays the gamble and toughens the tone of the campaign by raising fears of immigration and smearing political opponents. His negative rhetoric is close to that of the increasingly stronger neo-Nazi party of Marian Kotleba. They use the motto of restoring order in the country, which implies spreading fear and hostility towards minorities. A possible coalition partner is also the nationalist Slovak National Party whose chairman is a great admirer of the Kremlin and who, as the speaker of the National Council of the Slovak Republic, has long represented a security threat to Slovakia’s interests. To secure a majority, they could be helped by the populist party Sme Rodina (We Are Family), a member of the Identity and Democracy Party. It seems that this party could be tipping the scales in the formation of the coalition. Needless to say, such a government would be a disaster for both Slovakia and the EU.
2. A government of change
In this scenario, the democratic opposition somehow manages to achieve a majority and overcome its differences. That would mean a chance for real change in Slovakia. But the problem is that this opposition is fragmented and focuses more on its internal matters than on the real problems of the country. It lacks a leader capable of unifying six prospective coalition parties. It is former president Kiska who styles himself into that role, reminiscent of the anti-corruption President of Romania, Johannis. However, Kiska’s problem is his inability to convince voters that he is serious about making a transition from the office of the President to that of a Prime Minister. And there is also the question of whether the rest of the opposition would accept him as their leader.
There is a real danger of a standoff if neither side achieves a majority. This is also because of the possibility that, for the first time since the 1989 revolution, no ethnic Hungarian party would cross the parliamentary threshold. This is due to the fragmentation of the Hungarian community, but also to the punishment of the MOST-Hid party for participating in the current coalition alongside nationalists and socialists. This would mean a period of increased turbulence and uncertainty for Slovakia, as well as further fragmentation of the political spectrum. It would also mean a costly waste of time for the country which has been plunged into a deep political and moral crisis. The country needs to rebuild its democratic institutions and return to the reform path of the first decade of this millennium.
But what Slovakia needs most at this moment, is a return to morality and decency on all levels of public life. In only a few weeks, Slovaks have the chance to halt the alarming trend of injustice, arrogance, intimidation and attacks on minorities becoming the new normal. This is a unique chance. It is also an obligation for all democrats towards Ján and Martina. Their tragic deaths should not have been in vain. They should, at last, help bring about a wind of change.Viktória Jančošeková Crisis Democracy Elections Political Parties
Elections in Slovakia: More of the same kleptocracy or wind of change?
24 Jan 2020
Brexit has consumed, humiliated and frustrated Britain and its political leaders. Amidst the chaos and uncertainty unleashed it is easy to overlook some of the longer-term trends and changes it represents, not least how European the UK is and how Brexit is not a one-way movement of the UK away from the rest of Europe but in many ways has actually moved Britain closer to European norms.
The British might have long struggled to recognise their European identity, and many still reject it. However, Brexit has confronted the British with some of the realities of that identity. That reality is that the past forty years has seen the UK’s politics, constitution, economy, society and place in the world grow more European. This is a reality many UK governments have accepted and quietly worked with in searching to build and shape the UK’s relations with the rest of the EU.
It’s also a reality that has been on display in a General Election defined by European-style multi-party politics; commitments to welfare spending that would put the UK closer to European norms than US ones; and a growing realisation – if not acceptance – of Britain’s economic and security interdependences with the rest of Europe.
Many of the formal EU-centred links might now be severed or altered by a UK withdrawal. However, future negotiations about the UK-EU relationship mean those links could once again be formalized or reconstituted in new ways. Calls for this will be helped by Britain’s new-found pro-European voices who have been created, or in some cases brought out of the shadows, by the UK’s vote to leave.
The British might have long struggled to recognise their European identity, and many still reject it. However, Brexit has confronted the British with some of the realities of that identity.
Close alignment between Britain and the EU, however, should not be taken for granted in a post-Brexit environment. As recent debates about the UK’s withdrawal from the EU have highlighted, on both the Right and Left some continue to hope that withdrawal will allow the UK to diverge significantly from European standards.
Such efforts, however, will run into the problem of the Europeanised state of Britain and the ever-present strategic need on the part of the UK’s government, businesses and civil society to engage closely with the continent to which the country is forever bound. The success of the EU and the UK’s need to shape it will therefore remain two of Britain’s leading concerns.
Does this mean the departure of a Europeanised Britain will inevitably lead to it rejoining? This is unlikely because the UK’s terms of membership would not be the same as now. Opt-outs from the Euro, Schengen, some areas of Justice and Home Affairs matters, and the British rebate are unlikely to be offered. The feelings of regret this creates could boost pro-European sentiments. But accepting such conditions will make for a very difficult sell in any referendum on rejoining.
As the Norway and Switzerland examples also show, support can also decline if the EU’s approach to future negotiations and relations appears abrasive, bullying or overbearing. It is important not to overlook how corrosive this could be on UK public support for links with the EU.
This should not be taken to mean that the UK and EU cannot negotiate a new relationship where the UK can continue to come to terms with its overlapping European and global identities. Negotiations have so far focused on the UK’s withdrawal. The future relationship remains an undiscovered country.
Nor does this mean the UK has to withdraw to become more European or recognise how European it is. Our forthcoming research into whether Brexit has made Britain more European might be taken to mean a non-EU Europeanised UK will pose no problems and that Brexit should not be resisted or regretted.
However, in an emerging multipolar world Brexit carries significant economic, political, constitutional, security, defence, social and diplomatic risks for the UK. It will also cause significant ongoing problems for the EU to have to manage relations with a Europeanised but estranged UK struggling to come to terms with the fallout of Brexit. Far easier to face this with the UK inside the EU.Tim Oliver Garvan Walshe Brexit Democracy European Union Euroscepticism Political Parties
The Brexit election and the making of a European Britain
12 Dec 2019
The European Liberals and particularly the former head of the ALDE Group in the European Parliament, Guy Verhofstadt, have made their reputation on the criticism of nationalist and populist politicians around Europe, including Salvini, Farage, Orbán and many others. Almost no European-level political party escaped their criticism for democratic backsliding, violation of the principles of the rule of law and other common European values in certain EU member states.
The truth is that the European Liberals – whose group in the European Parliament now calls itself Renew Europe – have a black sheep in their ranks too. That black sheep is the Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš and his ANO party.
On Sunday, 23 June 2019, Prague saw the biggest public demonstrations since the 1989 Velvet Revolution. The three-hour-long public protest saw more than 250,000 people attend, with many others following online via a live stream. This demonstration was a peak of the gradually growing public dissatisfaction with Prime Minister Babiš and his newly appointed Minister of Justice Marie Benešová.
The prime minister is accused of data manipulation and essentially stealing two million Euros in EU subsidies in the famous Stork Nest affair, as well as a massive conflict of interest. The new minister of justice was nominated right after the Czech police announced that it had obtained sufficient evidence to submit the criminal case against the prime minister to the court. And already two audit reports by the European Commission have confirmed that.
Nonetheless, Babiš has refused to step down, and his government survived a vote of non-confidence on 26 June 2019. Nevertheless, the justice minister – despite refusing to step down herself – agreed to negotiate with representatives of civil society about the future reform of the judiciary.
There is a possibility that the rule of law in Czechia will be severely challenged in the coming months and years, as we have seen in Poland and elsewhere around Europe. The Czech civil society group ‘One Million Moments for Democracy’ responsible for organising the citizen protest is demanding that neither the prosecutor general, nor any other any high-ranking prosecutors be fired at the will of the Minister of Justice.
The government may still make such moves or try to otherwise block the legal case against the PM.
Additionally, the legal battle between Andrej Babiš and his Agrofert corporation is going to take place in the upcoming months and the private interests and wealth of the prime minister would go first at the expense of the Czech citizens. One can expect that with an increase in pressure by the European Commission and European courts Babiš will become increasingly Eurosceptic in return. There will be another heatwave in Czechia in autumn, so it seems.
Now, how does all of this come together and vis-a-vis the European Liberals?
Andrej Babiš and his ANO party have been proud members of the ALDE Group in the European Parliament, which is now being reformed and renamed in the new Macronian style. The question is: does Babiš’ movement have a place in such a new group that – at least rhetorically – plans to further federalise the European project?
ANO, despite continuously defended by the ALDE Group and Guy Verhofstadt himself, clearly violates most of its principles. In fact, ANO in its policies oscillates somewhere between the European Conservatives and Reformists on Eurozone and the Europe of nations concept and Salvini´s party regarding migration.
Therefore, if the Renew Europe Group was to put its money where its mouth is, it needs to discipline ANO in the same way as the other European families started sorting out their own houses. A criminally-prosecuted prime minister who undermines the rule of law, threatens democratically elected institutions such as the Senate, or flirts with the idea of cutting state support to the Czech civil society organisations would not be a good fellow traveller on the way to a renewed Europe.Pavel Havlicek EU Member States Political Parties
The black sheep of the European Liberals
01 Jul 2019
It’s one of the more naïve, but appealing, narratives circulating around disbelieving Brussels at the moment. Britain – sick of the convulsions of this never-ending Brexit – will eventually allow pragmatism to win out.
Parliamentary compromise (however tortured) will restore Britain to its rightful place in the EU, or in a worst-case scenario, to a cashmere-soft Brexit complete with a customs union and possible membership of the single market. Teresa May will resign with the Tories destined for the opposition benches amidst an in-house civil war.
But this is a delusion. Rather than cause a British (or English) political revolution, Brexit will actually solidify existing British political structures. Brexit – soft, but real – will strengthen Tory rule. This is disturbing, but inevitable.
As the Fabian Society have pointed out, Labour is becoming increasingly concentrated in major cities with higher levels of ethnic diversity and young adults. But, even more importantly, in areas most commonly defined as ‘working class’ there has been a noticeable swing to the Conservatives since 2005.
Although, the current ‘first past the post’ system mitigates against dramatic upheaval the longer-term implications are clear. Limited potential for future electoral gains for the Labour Party in urban areas (for example, Labour already holds 23 out of 27 seats in Greater Manchester) coupled with the potential for the Conservatives to gain traction, if not seats at first, in staunchly Labour, but Brexit supporting areas.
This isn’t science fiction, or even political fantasy. It’s the new politics of the vulnerable, disconnected masses. Nor is this unique to Britain, electoral maps and traditional voting patterns have been eviscerated in states as diverse as Italy and the Netherlands in recent years.
A Tory party – with an engaging and coherent leader (if this exists) – should be able to act as an umbrella for all Brexit supporters from the hard right to the more malleable centre. Will Jacob Rees-Mogg and his European Research Group (ERG) friends really prefer the principled isolation of Westminster to the Conservative high table? The Tories are too fond of power for that. In fact, the composition of the “Independent Group” in Westminster shows that while the Tories may splinter, Labour might lose a whole branch.
The absence of a coordinated Remainer group in the Conservatives also renders their overall strategic position relatively clear. Hard Brexit or soft Brexit is up for discussion, but Brexit it will be. Those who will leave the Tories over Europe have, in fact, already left. Closet Remainers, such as Phillip Hammond, will never jeopardise party unity for Europe.
They simply don’t care enough about Brussels to make that leap. Moderate, pro-European Tories – such as Ana Soubry and Nick Boles – have already been written out of Conservative Party history. Ken Clarke stands as a noble and proud throwback to a different age, and a different Tory party.
Finally, any sort of Brexit – be it May’s deal or anything softer – will allow the Tories to make a coherent election pitch lifted straight from Labour Party policy: we delivered Brexit but simultaneously protected jobs and trade in the long run. This isn’t really coherent policy or even good for Britain, but its clever politics and would make the most of Teresa May’s dreadful period in charge. This approach will also allow the Ulster Unionist’s to sing loudly of the United Kingdom’s territorial integrity.
Of course, in a political context, the fissures of Brexit aren’t that unique. The Suez crisis of 1955/56 was marked by Conservative Party splits (including a ‘Suez Group’ whose emotionally charged nationalism echoes clearly in today’s ERG), divided families and ultimately the fall of a once well regarded Tory Prime Minister. But Suez, driven by an almost visceral need to sustain a global role, ultimately failed because of economic realities and American pressure.
But Suez is more important because it shows a pathway forward for the Conservatives. Suez did not spell electoral disaster for the Tory party or for the British economy. Under Harold Macmillan (ironically one of the staunchest initial backers of military action in Suez) the Conservative Party successfully retained power in 1959 with a larger majority. Increasing middle-class mobility, economic growth and a recast Anglo-American alliance (albeit with Britain as very much the junior partner) sustained a relatively harmonious political landscape for the Tories up to the early 1960s.
Clever Conservatives should now prioritise delivering a cashmere Brexit; soft to the touch but warm enough to repel the chill from the political extremes. This is not the best solution for Britain, nor for Europe. But Brussels has resigned itself to Britain leaving and now understands that Britain in Europe is no longer possible.
It’s simply too destabilising for the entire European project. Nobody in Brussels believes that Jeremy Corbyn’s instincts lie anywhere other than in a dated view of the EU blocking his socialist revolution. In that context, for both Britain and Europe, there can be no turning back.Eoin Drea Brexit EU Member States Leadership Political Parties
Why a cashmere Brexit will save the Tories
09 Apr 2019
One year ago, Slovakia was shaken by the brutal murder of investigative journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kušnírová. Prior to his untimely death, Kuciak was working on the links between the Italian mafia and Slovak government officials, focusing on the misuse of EU funds.
In particular, Kuciak was working on the case of an oligarch who has, time and again, emerged from various scandals unscathed simply because he had “buddies” in the government, the police, and the prosecution. Now, all of the evidence is pointing to the conclusion that the oligarch is behind the murders. The outcome of this investigation could bring results that might cause a major earthquake throughout the Slovak political scene.
The socialist government, who is responsible for the current state of the country, is seen as an unbending force that is taking the country in the wrong direction, most notably for its failure to modernise the country, for its complicity in corruption, and for the controversial declarations made by former prime minister of Slovakia, Robert Fico, regarding Slovakia’s ambition to be among the core members of the EU. After its successful EU presidency, Slovakia enjoyed a solid pro-European image when compared to other Visegrad countries.
Today’s image of Slovakia is largely that of a corrupt-ridden country. In the latest Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index, Slovakia was ranked as the sixth most corrupt country in the EU. Slovakia has become a country where journalists, civic activists or ordinary citizens who expose corruption scandals are intimidated or, in the worst cases, silenced. Presently, Slovakia is in the grip of the kleptocrats, and after almost 15 years of EU membership, the foundations of democracy and the rule of law are still very fragile.
The murders of Kuciak and his fiancée have mobilised Slovaks to take to the streets and protest under the slogan “For a Decent Slovakia”. These protests were the largest rallies since the fall of Communism. The gatherings eventually led to the resignations of Prime Minister Fico, the minister of the interior and the president of the police force.
Nevertheless, Slovakia has not yet witnessed any genuine policy changes. Fico’s puppet has since been appointed Prime Minister and Fico himself has since escaped from politics by running to be a judge of the Constitutional Court. By being appointed as a new president of the Court, Fico would obtain 12 years of immunity and a status that would allow him to review the constitutionality of laws and measures that his own government drafted and pushed through parliament.
The Socialists’ coalition partner, Andrej Danko, a nationalist and the parliament’s speaker, has a different passion – he loves the Kremlin and its regime, and is openly critical of the “uselessness” of sanctions against Russia. He is a frequent guest of Chairman of the State Duma who is on the EU sanctions list.
After US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo concluded his visit to Slovakia, Andrej Danko flew to Sochi to meet Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov, where he stated that “[Slovak] politics should not, as it had been under Communism, be oriented to only one side, and that we should talk to both the Eastern and the Western countries.” That sounds familiar: In 1990, Slovak politicians remained undecided regarding the anchoring of the country towards the West, which resulted in the exclusion of Slovakia from EU and NATO accession talks.
This year, Slovakia is celebrating its 15th year as a member of the EU and NATO and the 30th anniversary of the fall of Communism. These milestones are a testimony to Slovakia’s failures, but also to its ability to rise again and realign its course to the right path.
In two weeks, Slovakia will be put to the test in terms of maintaining democratic process and on its ability to return to the right path, through the presidential elections. Fico’s presidential candidate will be European Commission Vice President Maroš Ševčovič, who still recently had the ambition of leading the European Socialists into the European Parliament elections in May.
Last week, however, Fico and his SMER party blocked a parliamentary vote on the appointment of judges to the Constitutional Court. As a result, Slovakia has been plunged into a constitutional crisis – the Constitutional Court is left with only four sitting judges, instead of its normal composition of 13.
Fico has blocked the election of new constitutional judges because he fears that even if he were to be elected by Parliament, President Kiska would not appoint him to the Constitutional Court as its member, let alone its chairman.
It seems that he is waiting for a new president ‘of his choosing’. The problem is that Maroš Ševčovič has been avoiding the question of whether, if elected President of the Republic, he would appoint Robert Fico to the Constitutional Court.
What is at stake in this case is not Ševčovič as a person, but rather the future of Slovakia. It is a question of what principles will prevail in Slovak politics: Will it be those of liberal democracy with its checks and balances, or will it be an even further concentration of power in the hands of a modern-day kleptocracy?
Last Thursday, peaceful demonstrations took place in several Slovak and European cities in memory of Ján Kuciak and Martina Kušnírová. Let’s hope that this encourages all Slovak democrats to vote in the upcoming presidential elections with a mindfulness of the very needed opportunity to realign with the path of justice, morality and decency in public life to be restored.Viktória Jančošeková Democracy EU Member States Leadership Political Parties Society
Is Slovakia heading towards a political earthquake?
26 Feb 2019
Alarm bells are ringing in the juste milieu of Europe’s capital: Steve Bannon, the man who allegedly made Donald Trump President, is coming to town to shake up our already fragile political landscape, install an Alt-Right foundation and so help create a pan-European national populist movement, with a united ‘supergroup’ of up to 200 MEPs in the next European Parliament.
My advice is to stay calm, take a closer look at Bannon’s record and then assess the chances of such a formation ever to emerge. That is because Bannon is not ten feet tall intellectually, because he has a weak understanding of European politics and above all, because there are a couple of important obstacles to a unified pan-European right-wing movement.
Bannon is only Bannon
Of course, Bannon’s track record looks impressive: After all, he is the man who made Breitbart the social media flagship of the Alt-Right, who turned around the faltering Trump campaign in August 2016 and became chief strategist in the White House. But this is also the Steve Bannon who was spectacularly fired by the President for crossing the presidential family, and after mobilising Breitbart against the White House, was also fired from Breitbart.
This is the Steve Bannon who went on a European roadshow, but mostly disappointed his potential fans. And, most importantly, this is the Steve Bannon who is intellectually consistently overrated. Watching his arguably most important docu-propaganda film ‘Generation Zero’ of 2010, my first impression is that it is less scary than confused and bordering on the absurd.
Bannon doesn’t get Europe
The botched attempt to install a continental version of Breitbart, masterminded in late 2016/early2017 by Steve Bannon himself, is a good example. Breitbart London is thriving (albeit without Bannon) whereas in Germany and France, it never managed to gain a foothold. Neither were US Alt-Right bloggers and trolls able to have any significant impact on the French presidential election, despite high-flying plans and announcements.
Besides the profoundly different cultural context between Europe and America, the most important obstacle is just that most European nationalists are also viscerally anti-American. Even the fact that Trump is, in absolute terms, arguably the most un-American of Presidents doesn’t change this. In his mannerisms, he still represents the ‘ugly American’ Europeans love to hate.
And look at the way Bannon talks about money in the Brexit referendum: “When they told me the spending cap was £7 million, I go, ‘You mean £70 million? What the fuck?!’ £7 million doesn’t … buy you Facebook data, it doesn’t buy you ads, it doesn’t do anything….Dude! You just took the fifth largest economy in the world out of the EU for £7 million!”
Money just doesn’t play the same role in European politics as in the US, and thinking that it does simply means profoundly misunderstanding Europe. The fact that Marine Le Pen asked Bannon to speak to her Rassemblement National, doesn’t mean that someone like Bannon can seriously charm the rank-and file European right winger.
There is no such thing as nationalist internationalism
Bannon compares his initiative to George Soros whose Open Society Foundation has supported liberal causes across Europe for more than two decades. That’s a daring comparison, not only because of the different intellectual qualities of the two gentlemen, but most of all because Soros’ open-border liberal activists will always form a much more coherent group of people than any bunch of spin doctors, bloggers and other digital natives whose point of reference is the nation state.
Translated into European party politics (and this is where Bannon is ultimately aiming), this means that a unified pan-European movement, let alone a nationalist group in the European Parliament, is so much harder to create than more centrist or leftist organisations.
Does anyone remember Declan Ganley, the English Irishman who ‘won’ the first Irish referendum in 2007 against the Lisbon Treaty, and whose pan-European Libertas Party became the bane of Brussels ‘elite’ cocktail parties before the 2009 European election? Ganley didn’t manage to get a single MEP elected and is utterly forgotten today.
Make no mistake, of course the national populists are strong in the European Parliament, and bound to get stronger in 2019. But they are today split into 4 groups: The Tory-led European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) with an uncertain future after Brexit; The Europeans for Freedom and Direct Democracy (EFDD) – essentially 5 Stars and Farage, therefore also unsustainable; the Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF) with Wilders, Salvini, Le Pen; and a ragtag bunch of ‘untouchables’, often extremists.
They have achieved practically nothing in the past term, except nuisance, several financial scandals and making alliances between the others more difficult. It’s true that, for example, Hungarian and Polish illiberals generally get along beautifully – of course, except for the Russia question and mainly because they are not direct neighbours.
Imagine Hungarian and Romanian nationalists, or German and Polish ones in one group. It would not be operational for long. Then consider how on economic philosophies and financial solidarity, northern and southern nationalists are literally at opposite ends of the spectrum in Europe.
Even on migration: they may agree on keeping migrants out but the last weeks have shown how populists and conservatives in Rome, Vienna, Munich and Berlin completely disagree on what to do about those migrants that are already ‘in the system’- and there will always be some!
The only thing national populists in Europe can really agree on is weak European institutions and strong external borders. That is, plainly, insufficient to make a truly political force out of the pan-European populist movement that Bannon, or Viktor Orbán, for that matter, have been talking about.
To summarise, Bannon is less brilliant than he’s made out to be, therefore he is unable to grasp Europe’s complexities, and he also underestimates the difficulties in forming one coherent right-wing movement, let alone party. That doesn’t mean that with some financing, which he has apparently secured, he can’t do harm through tweets and memes.
But the great Bannon shakeup of Europe is unlikely to happen. Of course, I may be completely mistaken. And of course, in any event, we should calmly make the case for Europe (which is what we’re doing at the Martens Centre, day in day out). But somehow, I fail to be nervous about Bannon in Brussels.
Photo source: ReutersRoland Freudenstein Elections Euroscepticism Political Parties Populism Transatlantic
Steve Bannon is coming to Brussels; don’t hold your breath!
24 Jul 2018
Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says: I’ll try again tomorrow! Mary Ann Radmacher
In May 2019, about 400 million EU citizens are called to elect a new European Parliament: A Parliament which may seem physically remote from most of them but whose decisions increasingly affect their daily lives, as its decision making powers have consistently grown over recent decades.
In this context, it seems completely logical to me that, as a Dutch citizen, I should be able to elect by direct universal suffrage a Spanish member of the European Parliament, or that a Greek could elect an Estonian – just as in most EU member states, I can elect at least part of the representatives to national or regional legislative assemblies on the basis of values, principles and political programmes, irrespective of where precisely they hail from.
This is why the growing importance of the EU in general, and the growing competences of the European Parliament in particular sooner or later had to lead to a debate about transnational lists in European elections, too. It began in earnest in 2009 with the own initiative report of Andrew Duff (MEP) in the AFCO committee of the European Parliament. At the time, all major political parties applauded the idea of the introduction of a pan-European constituency. The core of his proposal was to create a legal basis for members to be elected to primarily defend European values, not some narrow locally or nationally defined interest.
But at the time, too many questions marks remained open and there was no time also for the national legislations, election lists and national campaigns to adapt to a new proposal. Nevertheless, the underlying logic of the Duff report was perfectly reasonable – and remains so today, even though basic elements such as the Europe-wide constituency have been blocked by the European Council.
Fortunately, after the Duff report failure, most of the European political families, based on an ambitious interpretation of the Treaty of Lisbon, adopted and promoted the so called Spitzenkandidaten (lead candidate) process without any formal decision by the European Parliament and rules elaborating on this process.
The Spitzenkandidaten are so important in this context because they help to polarise, politicise and personalise the European elections, thereby at the same time increasing the democratic legitimacy of the Commission President and the Parliament. This success story shows that, if the political will exists, ‘Just do it!’ is sometimes the right formula. And learning by doing often really works.
In 2014, the issue of transnational lists resurfaced, with much the same result as before. And sure enough, in the run-up to the 2019 elections, this year the debate started again. The goals were the same as before: Further closing the gap between the citizens and the European Union and fostering democracy by giving more decision making power to the citizens – all long-standing expectations by citizens from the EU institutions.
But the overall situation has changed fundamentally: While the economic and financial crisis is over, populism and anti-European behaviour are still on the rise, fuelled by the migration crisis. Brexit is coming. Again, the same reluctance as in the past has halted progress on transnational lists.
The EPP political family is, in principle, a strong defender of this idea, as we were in the Spitzenkandidaten process that was also new in 2014. But it seems that the incomprehensible technicalities of the difficult and complex proposal were the factor that really made the idea of transnational lists fail again this time round.
The proposal, as it was, threatened to fuel Euroscepticism and parliamentary candidates more known for their harsh, noisy and loud statements than for the European spirit. The proponents of this project also lost the media battle, increasing fears among moderate Europarty candidates of losing the battle against Euroscepticism, endangering their future jobs.
The debate will continue: Europe always needs more time to digest bigger changes. One only needs to remember the debates on a common currency before finally adopting the Euro: They took 17 years. The next proposal, for the 2024 elections, must be better prepared, easier to grasp and tabled in time for national parliaments to adapt their legislation for the European elections.
Most importantly, Europeans need to increase their knowledge of each other and of the EU institutions: More education on Europe in schools, extending the Erasmus programme, introducing free Interrail tickets for 18-year-olds. I believe we will see the day in which it is not only possible, but a normality for European voters that French can vote for Latvians, or Irish people for Swedes.
Meanwhile, it is up to us in the big European party families to maintain and nurture, with a special kind of courage and persistence, the enthusiasm for an ever closer Union – because to that, there is no alternative.Juan Magaz Elections EU Institutions European People's Party Political Parties
Transnational lists: a wonderful idea in an EU without wonders
27 Apr 2018
During the 2018 February plenary session, the European Parliament voted on its future composition after the departure of the United Kingdom from the EU. Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) decided to redistribute 27 of the current 73 UK seats among several EU member states which have been previously under-represented. The full-list of the proposed allocations can be found here.
The house also debated whether some of the remaining available seats should be taken by MEPs elected from an EU-wide electoral constituency and through a ‘transnational list’ which would complement the national lists in the 2019 European elections. The European Parliament (EP) eventually voted against the proposal for transnational lists.
What happens to the UK seats if there is no actual Brexit?
The current 73 UK MEPs have been democratically elected for a full mandate until May 2019. These seats will not be available to the UK after the withdrawal from the EU becomes legally effective (expected on 29 March 2019). The EP proposed text specifies that in case the UK is still a member of the EU at the time of the 2019 elections these changes will not take place.
The idea of transnational lists is great because I would be able to vote for candidates who would represent the European Union interests, correct?
Not really. This is already the case with the traditionally elected MEPs who are sworn to represent the European Union’s interests while also remaining accountable to their national constituencies. Current MEPs sit in pan-European political families which are at the centre of the everyday work of the Parliament.
The political engagement of every MEP within his European political family is key for his successful committee and legislative file work. Historically, most traditionally elected MEPs have guarded the Union interest and advanced pro-integration legislation whilst serving as a link between the national electorate and the supranational institution. Why destroy this link with transnational MEPs?
But don’t you want to see a new type of Parliamentarians?
Transnational MEPs would actually have to choose a European political family to align with and sit together with the ‘traditional’ ones or become independent. These ‘new’ Parliamentarians could demand additional legitimacy from their political family due to their allegedly upgraded mandate but would essentially have exactly the same rights and obligations as a traditional MEP. Becoming independent would leave them with limited speaking time, visibility, resources and overall ability to influence legislation which would be the exact opposite of the ideal pan-European delegate.
What about making the MEPs more visible and strengthening the connection between voters and elected Members?
This is precisely why having transnational lists would be a bad idea. The question can be answered with a series of open questions. How would a Member who has been elected with a different number of votes from different member states be held accountable? With which national electorate would they spend time during the weeks designated for constituency work?
In what language would they communicate to their electorate? If the delegate eventually opens offices in his/her native member state and interacts with a local audience, what would be the point of having a transnational mandate?
The old proverb “One who is everywhere is nowhere” would apply fully in this case.
Why not have a truly European race for votes in a European-wide constituency?
The European-wide constituency was previously proposed in 2015 as part of the reform to the Electoral law of the EU. The file is still pending in the Council of the EU which is effectively stopping its development because of a lack of member state support. Even if the EP had voted in favour of transnational lists for 2019, this probably wouldn`t have been implemented in practice as the decision requires the unanimous approval of European heads of state or government (European Council).
Having a single constituency for the 2019 elections which is based on proportional representation remains practically impossible. Such changes would have to be agreed beforehand with national/regional parliaments and implemented in national electoral laws on very short notice. Practical issues remain regarding the feasibility of hundreds of candidates campaigning across the EU in a 30-day time period to audiences with diverse political, linguistic and cultural backgrounds.
Globally there is no country or federation with such a huge number of eligible voters which produces proportionally elected Members from a single constituency. One might argue that the Spitzenkandidat process brings about an informal EU-wide constituency which actually works because it produces a single winner (see below).
So I guess being against transnational lists makes you anti-European?
Quite the contrary. Rushing in transnational lists in 15 months would produce an unbalanced process which could achieve an anti-European effect. The system would naturally give an advantage to bigger member states as they would cast the biggest number of ballots and most likely produce additional ‘bonus’ seats for Germany, Spain, Italy and France.
An attempt to balance such a system with national, gender and maximum member quotas would take a lot of time and additionally cause party/voter frustration. Such a hasty top-down decision would backfire and be seen as an elite-driven initiative for institutional legitimacy which would further discourage voters and cement the `second order` status EP elections.
The short time-frame for actual campaigning and communicating such a change would create very polarized voter groups (convinced anti-EU and strong pro-federalist segments) and ultimately produce extremely diverging MEPs who wouldn`t represent true transnational sentiment.
How about engaging more EU citizens and contributing to the formation of a European demos?
The million-euro question about active citizen engagement on a regional, national and European level remains indeed open. However, we shouldn`t expect supranational institutions to be the only inventors and promoters of a European identity which may turn out to be artificial. The European Citizens` Initiative has been operational for more than 5 years and has produced disappointing results. This is a good example of how a top-down idea promising citizen involvement defeats its own purpose.
The sensible goal for the 2019 elections would be to promote the lead candidate process (Spitzenkandidat) in which the European political families campaign their manifestos along with their leading candidate who they nominate for President of the European Commission. This is a workable solution which de facto produces a European-wide constituency as it is best suited to present a single winner from an extremely large number of votes.
The 2014 EP elections were the first in which the new Commission president was elected with the support of the winning party and not appointed after a high-level political compromise behind closed doors. This achievement essentially gives European political parties a campaign face and makes the small but necessary step for politicizing EP election campaigns further.Dimitar Lilkov Brexit Elections EU Institutions EU Member States European Union Political Parties
Q&A: why introducing transnational lists in the 2019 European elections is a bad idea
15 Feb 2018
Populism is haunting liberal democracies. Not poverty, unemployment, stagnant productivity, climate change, migration, Russia, China, but populism seems to be the what the mainstream political parties are mobilizing against. Fighting what we can’t even define is a mistake. However, the mainstream parties (MSP) are losing ground to new competitors. We should dismiss the shallow reasons like the economy and migration and address the deeper ones, both emotionally and rationally.
What is populism is unclear
There are three features attributed to populism: first, populism creates two antagonistic camps, typically people vs. elites. But two camps are also us vs. them, rich vs. poor, makers vs. takers, locals vs. foreigners.
Second, populism addresses problems emotionally and suggests there exist simple solutions. These solutions may even work on the short term, but not on the long term. Populisms speaks to emotions and addresses instincts.
Thirdly, if in power, populists would prefer efficiency over checks and balances, would be anti-pluralistic, create the personality cult and suppress views other than their own. They would be antidemocratic so as to prevent free and fair elections and suppress a free and pluralistic media.
Across all three features it is hard to draw a sharp line between populists and non-populists. Politics is about defining differences, short-termism is the recognized malaise of politics in general and, in the context of fighting fake news, the pluralistic media space is under attack by the anti-populists as well.
A sharp identification of populism is hard and, as Krastev wrote, in the end it is self-declared anti-populists that define who is populist and who is not.
The different meanings of populism
Despite its vague definition, the term is used a lot, because it effectively shames political opponents.
To the left, populism means fascism-light. The problem is that some try to push the idea that centre-right is a kind of populism-light. It would be dangerous to abandon centre-right values to avoid such accusations.
To the right, populists are the bad guys that have rude antidemocratic answers to problems the centre-right actually acknowledges.
To the technocrats, populists are those who can talk to people and rally voters that they can’t.
Mainstream parties are in trouble for other reasons
Some are deeper trends and some are superficial triggers. The latter are (1) Economic crisis and stagnation for the working and middle class. (2) Migration and other security issues. These two destroyed the output legitimacy of existing parties. And (3) due to general security and prosperity there are few incentives to vote rationally.
In my opinion, the real, deeper reasons for the decline of MSP and the rise of the so-called populists are the following:
First, the “nanny state” keeps promising free lunches. The scene for populism was set up, unfortunately, by exaggerated social policies. Pitting 99% vs. 1% was not called populism but social justice.
Promising to tax the few of the rich elite and give to the many who are needy is not considered populism either. Populists can out-promise the social democrats and no wonder the latter are hit the hardest by the rise of populism. The centre-right should recognise populism in socialist policies.
Second, the cultural crisis, globalization, creeping multiculturalism and a slow disappearance of family traditions: populists claim to be defenders of what conservatives used to defend. The centre-right should not give this topic up.
Third, the communication revolution, the internet and social media removed the traditional gatekeepers and quality checks from the information space: a grand coalition of “responsible” journalists and “rational” politicians used to keep “populist” ideas at bay. Not anymore.
Fourth, increasingly technocratic governing: there is a divide between the reason of the elites and the instincts of ordinary people. Hayek warned about an “intolerant and fierce rationalism” which is now pitting the liberal world order against instincts such as religion and patriotism. Politics is increasingly apolitical and technocratic. On the other hand, the “populist” parties excel at playing people’s instincts.
Fifth, increasingly technocratic MSPs: advancing to the top are not only people who inspire, who can rally voters, but increasingly people who are good at petty office battles, effective networking, elbowing and lacking people skills.
How to fight “populism”
Populists are very good at finding what people see as a problem. The centre-right needs to acknowledge that. The centre-right can be just as authentic and emotional in the demonstration that it cares about these issues and can be more trustworthy, reliable and rational with the solutions. This way, the contradiction between the emotional and the rational could be resolved.
The centre-right should break the dangerous association of populism with rightism. It is a trap set by the left and the progressives to make the conservatives and the true liberals abandon their policies and not to be “like populists”.
There are no politically incorrect problems, there are just undemocratic solutions. It is not the identification of problems that makes one a “populist”. Our solutions should be democratic, based on the rule of law and human rights. But they should nevertheless tackle problems such as migration or populism.
The centre-right should not shy away from calling leftist policies populist. Leftism has populism at its core. Socialists are therefore losing more to populists than centre-right.
How not to fight “populism”
First, fighting populism should not be a priority. Most people do not care about populism, they care about jobs, healthcare, their standard of living. Second, the principle “no liberty for the enemies of liberty” is wrong.
Hoping that controlling speech on social media would curb “populism” is naïve. Finally, stick to subsidiarity: Jan-Werner Müller is wrong in suggesting that “it is a matter of urgency to think about the way in which supranational institutions such as the European Union should try to defend liberal democracy from populists”. This would only strengthen the “patriotic” movements against Brussels.
“Fighting populism” is an empty call-to-arms against the competition. Instead the centre-right should be addressing issues that people care about and populists made so obvious. By passionately listening and rationally looking for solutions, not compromising on democratic principles and conservative values.Žiga Turk Centre-Right Political Parties Populism
The war on populism is the wrong war
17 Jan 2018
The inability of the British government to gain Ulster Unionist support for “regulatory alignment” between Northern and Southern Ireland is baffling many in the Brussels bubble. “Why is this so important?” they ask, as Irish diplomats take on an unusual prominence which makes every Irish person slightly uncomfortable.
But to understand why the border matters so much to the Republic of Ireland it is first necessary to understand the position of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and to acknowledge that their loyalty to the wider United Kingdom is total and absolute. It is this loyalty, this requirement to assert their “Britishness” in any way possible that is determining their current actions.
Alas, centuries of Anglo-Irish conflict have seemingly failed to leave any hint of understanding on Tory decision makers.
The stated vision of the DUP, as per their official website, is to “maintain and enhance Northern Ireland’s constitutional position within the United Kingdom”. Nowhere in this “vision” do the concepts of improving Northern Irish relations with either the Republic of Ireland or the European Union feature. In this context, it is probable that the only thing by which the DUP was really blindsided in recent days was Prime Minister May’s continuing belief that they would agree to any proposed deal that threatened their direct equality with the rest of the UK.
Alas, centuries of Anglo-Irish conflict have seemingly failed to leave any hint of understanding on Tory decision makers. Just over a century ago, Bonar Law led the Tories in full blown support of the Ulster Unionist opposition to the 1912 Home Rule Bill.
His infamous message to Belfast – “Whatever steps you may feel compelled to take, whether they are constitutional, or whether in the long run they are unconstitutional, you have the whole Unionist Party, under my leadership, behind you” – showed just how far political manoeuvring can undermine civil democratic society and buttress insular, sectarian views: views which later exploded into action as the Irish War of Independence in 1919 and the partition of Ireland in 1921.
On this issue, Prime Minister May is caught in a classic Unionist-Brexit dilemma. Following the traditional Bonar Law, the Tory position will keep the DUP happy (and maintain her power in Westminster) but destroy the Good Friday agreement and place in jeopardy a decades long (and very hard won) peace process. To place the interests of peace first, Mrs. May would probably have to resign, the Tories to lose DUP support and ultimately face the uncertainly of another general election.
By 2021 and the centenary of the partition of Ireland we could be back to where it all started: strife in Ireland because of Tory party politics.
The Irish fear, as evidenced by their quite aggressive diplomatic efforts over the past weeks, is that British misunderstanding of North-South Irish relations will always result in a “solution” solely in the interests of Westminster power politics and not in the interests of either Northern Ireland, its people or the island of Ireland as a whole.
Contrary to much comment in the British media, the agenda of the Irish government is not to promote the idea of a “United Ireland”. Public support for this concept in the Republic of Ireland is far from overwhelming.
Rather in promoting a more open, connected Northern Ireland, the Irish government is desperately seeking to allow normal society, a society where army checkpoints and senseless violence are not the norm, to continue to flourish. For this to occur, a soft border allowing the tens of thousands of daily interactions – both personal and business – to occur unhindered is an absolute pre-requisite.
Anglo-Irish history is, as historians know, full of many cruel ironies. But perhaps the cruellest yet is that by 2021 and the centenary of the partition of Ireland we could be back to where it all started: strife in Ireland because of Tory party politics.Eoin Drea EU Member States Leadership Political Parties
Tory party politics and strife in Ireland
05 Dec 2017
The rule-of-law procedure against Poland, opened in January 2016, has painfully tested the safeguards supposed to protect the EU’s fundamental values. It is now obvious that the protective mechanisms need to be strengthened. For in their current form, tested in real life for the first time, they have not dissuaded the present Polish government, led by the nationalist Law and Justice party (Prawo i Sprawiedliwość, PiS), from seriously and continuously breaching the rules. All interested EU parties—that is, willing member states and institutions—should acknowledge this and start preparing modifications both to Article 7 of the Treaty on European Union, which includes a sanction mechanism, and to the European Commission’s Rule of Law Framework, so that the EU’s internal defences are strengthened for future needs.
Read the full article in the December 2017 issue of the European View, the Martens Centre policy journal.Konrad Niklewicz Democracy EU Member States Political Parties
Safeguarding the rule of law within the EU: lessons from the Polish experience
20 Nov 2017
The Czech parliamentary election took place on 20-21 October 2017. The election resulted in a victory of protest parties. Their triumph was more resounding than expected. The election outcome is clearly part of the revolt against the established elites that is spreading across the West. Consequences for Czech internal and external policies remain unclear.
Bafflingly, the populist triumph in Czechia occurred amidst economic growth of almost 3 per cent. Unemployment rates are at a historic minimum, 2.9 per cent, currently the lowest in the EU. 200 000 jobs are not filled, and salaries have been rising in line with the increased demand for labour. It was also the issues of salaries, not immigration, that dominated pre-election debates.
Whether an economic protest on that part of the population which feels left behind, or a cultural one against globalisation, or simply better communication by the various protest parties, support for those who profess challenging the establishment has never been so high.
Nine parties were elected to the Chamber of Deputies. This means a highly fragmented parliament. Composing a government that commands at least 101 deputies in a 200-member house will be an exercise fraught with difficulties. The four protest parties that made it to the chamber of deputies received 134 mandates. Astonishingly, they took the first, third, fourth and fifth position among the nine parties.
The ANO (Yes) movement of Andrej Babiš won by a landslide, receiving 78 seats. Babiš is a highly controversial figure. He is a billionaire who came to his riches during the privatisation process in the 1990s. He runs his movement as a private company (some people say he ‘owns’ his movement) and tolerates no internal dissent. He has been able to attract considerable new talent to politics–including a number of capable women–at a time when the other political parties continued complaining that no-one wanted to go into politics any more.
Babiš resembles Beppe Grillo, the leader of the Italian Five Star Movement, by espousing an eclectic, in fact unidentifiable, political programme, and by regularly contradicting himself. Like another Italian politician, Silvio Berlusconi, Babiš has been able to accumulate economic, media and political power. Like Berlusconi, he is a master of marketing, and like Berlusconi, he is being investigated by the police for fraud, a fact that does not disturb his voters.
Like Emmanuel Macron’s En Marche, Babiš’s ANO has bulldozed through the middle of the political spectrum, crushing the left parties and damaging the right. But unlike any of these figures, Babiš is suspected as having acted as an agent of the communist secret police before 1989.
Although he served as finance minister in the outgoing centre-left government, Babiš regularly claims that he is not a politician. He prefers handing out doughnuts to writing political programmes. His public rants match, in their tone, anti-establishment rants that you could overhear in any Czech pub on any day or night.
The Pirate Party, a newcomer to the chamber of deputies, ended up as the third party, having obtained 22 mandates. Their political programme is just as unidentifiable as ANO’s, although it does bear marks of multiculturalism and anarchism. The Pirates appealed distinctly to the young voters but their true colours remain a mystery, perhaps even to themselves.
The Freedom and Direct Democracy (SPD) party also received 22 seats. Led by the son of an immigrant, the straight-talking Tomio Okamura, the party takes inspiration from other European far-right movements. It promotes a referendum on Czechia’s membership in the EU, a legal ban on ‘Islamic ideology’ and close ties to Russia.
Finally, the Communists (KSČM), the fourth protest party, received only 15 mandates. This is a historic defeat for the Czech Communist Party who traditionally attracted most of the protest vote.
In a strange way, this defeat for the Communists symbolises the defeat of the political establishment in this election. Ostracised by other parties, the Communists have not taken part in any of the post-communist era governments at the national level. Their stances–an anti-NATO rhetoric and a mix of internationalism and anti-German sentiments–have made the party a predictable anti-systemic force in Czech politics. In this election, many of their supporters moved to the centrist ANO and to the far-right Freedom and Direct Democracy.
As for the political mainstream, the eurosceptic Civic Democrats (ODS), linked politically to the British Conservatives and the Polish Law and Justice party, surprised many by taking as many as 25 mandates, a marked increase from the 2013 election. The governing Social Democrats lost 35 mandates and ended up with just 15. This is a horrible defeat for a party that, along the Civic Democrats, used to form the backbone of the Czech post-communist era politics. Like elsewhere in Europe, the Social Democrat vote was swallowed by the far-right and the radical centre.
Also two pro-European centre-right parties linked to the European People’s Party did badly, barely scraping in to the Chamber of Deputies. The Christian Democrats (KDU-ČSL) and the liberal-conservative TOP09 received 17 mandates in total, as compared to 36 mandates in total in 2013. The Mayors movement, unattached to any EU-wide political movement, received 6 seats in this 2017 election.
Creating a governing coalition will be a gargantuan task, given the level of animosity against and among the protest parties and the rebellious mood in the new chamber of deputies. A lot depends on how Babiš behaves after he, presumably, forms a government with one or more other parties.
He may turn out a constructive figure, accepting responsibility for the country, its anchoring in the EU and NATO and taking a distance from his business and media interests. Or he turns the country’s economy into a branch of his business empire and joins the chorus of national populists who take pleasure in defying ‘the establishment’ and ‘Brussels’ without offering an alternative. It’s an open call.
In the near future, the two Czech EPP parties need to consider again whether they can survive as separate entities. In this election, they were lucky, as both just overcame the 5% threshold necessary to enter the Chamber of Deputies. Such luck may not occur again. Pro-European centre-right forces need to set aside their differences and consider integrating the Mayors movement which has shown willingness to cooperate.
TOP09 might consider widening its appeal beyond urban middle class and entrepreneurs. Finally, both TOP09 and KDU-ČSL need to offer promotion to female politicians in order to appeal to more sections of the electorate.Vít Novotný Elections EU Member States Political Parties Populism
Czech elections: it might not be the economy, stupid!
24 Oct 2017
It has been a challenging year for the European Union. The hangover from Brexit, election fever in a number of European countries, terrorist attacks in European capitals, the perennial existentialist question of quo vadis Europe, and now the Catalan crisis.
After Macron’s victory in France, liberal democratic Europe breathed a sigh of relief. The outcome of the French presidential election and Merkel’s much anticipated victory would restore confidence in liberal democracy, and put the European project back on track. And to a large extent this has happened. It has not been a clean sheet, however.
Germany did not manage to escape the predicament of other European countries: the weakening of traditional democratic parties and the surge of nationalist populism and extremism. The western liberal order has survived for now but the party pillars of the political system have been weakened.
Those that are left behind by change, frustrated and alienated, direct their anger towards mainstream politics.
The centre-left, centre-right divide, for many decades, offered European societies a set of different ideological creeds, policy options, and solutions, within the framework of free market-based liberal democracy. Now, we are witnessing the erosion of this post WWII European political divide.
Structural changes such as globalization, the fiscal conformity in preparation for the monetary union, and the monetary union itself created a policy of convergence between parties. The main victims of this fusion were the centre left parties that travelled most of the political distance towards the centre.
The adoption of centre-right elements in economic policies and structural reforms gave them electoral victories in the short run but in the long run was a prologue of their demise. Mainly because it severed the ties with their party base and their traditional electorate. The financial crisis and the backlash against globalization further eroded the political centre.
Exacerbated economic inequalities, blamed on globalization and automation, have altered societal stratification, creating new haves and have-nots. New waves of immigration have created a demographic and cultural panic. Technological advances created a new divide in society between technologically literate and illiterate, and a new kind of technological unemployment.
Open societies does not mean lawless societies and certainly not borderless states.
Those that are left behind by change, frustrated and alienated, direct their anger towards mainstream politics. The centre-left parties may have become something of an endangered species, but the centre-right parties have come under pressure as well.
The disdain of politics as usual and political correctness has empowered populist leaders and parties from both ends of the political spectrum. From Beppe Grillo, Tsipras, Podemos, and Die Linke, to Trump, Farage, Le Pen, and Orban, all have run against status quo politics. They have tried to manipulate the anger and disappointment in government, the establishment, corruption and nepotism, stagnating salaries, and rising unemployment.
A new dividing line is being formed: on one side are the traditional political formations, and on the other side is an abrasive, anticonformist populism. A populist surge that is based on economic protectionism, an assertive nationalism, xenophobia, anti-immigration and anti-globalization policies.
The populists have also capitalised on the return of identity politics. When threatened, people tend to resort to fundamental values intrinsic to their identity. Germany managed, in the decades following WWII, to place the debate on identity within the European context. Now, AfD, breaking old taboos, brings back the debate to the national level, exploiting the uneasiness of part of the society from the presence of a million refugees on German soil.
The return of identity politics is interconnected with euroskepticism. The incomplete European project is at a critical juncture. The populist demagogues make a case against Europe as being unable to provide policy responses to the challenges of immigration, border security, homeland security, or economic inequalities.
They are questioning, in essence, the wisdom of transferring authority and sovereignty from the nation states to Brussels. The antiglobalization of the populist left feeds euroskepticsm, while the extreme right of AFD and Le Pen resort to xenophobia, protectionism, and nationalist extremism.
We can be patriotic without being nationalistic, we can defend freedom and human rights as well as law and order with equal conviction.
The new political landscape is a minefield for centre-right parties. Populism, extremism and especially right-wing extremism and nationalism have appealed to voters by distorting our ideological agenda. In an effort to repatriate those voters, centre-right parties might be tempted to veer to the right and trail extremism as it sets the agenda. That would be a political folly.
Before repatriating our voters we should repatriate our ideological agenda, reclaim it and project it forcefully. Centre-right parties have to stay the course, defend liberal values, respond to the challenges based on our own ideological arsenal. We can be patriotic without being nationalistic, we can defend freedom and human rights as well as law and order with equal conviction.
Open societies does not mean lawless societies and certainly not borderless states. We can defend the market economy while addressing inequalities. We can address the inequalities resulting from globalization and automation without becoming protectionist and isolated.
Compromising our values and principles will only present us with short term political gains, if it does. It will hurt, however, our fortunes in the long run, as the socialists have discovered.Constantine Arvanitopoulos Centre-Right Elections EU Member States Leadership Political Parties
Centre-right parties: sailing in stormy seas
18 Oct 2017
Watershed. Earthquake. Tectonic shift: the hyperbole is palpable in Berlin, on the morning after a memorable election. But let’s be clear: this election will remain memorable not because of a change of Chancellor. Angela Merkel will lead the next government as much as she has led the previous one. But this election will be remembered for three other reasons:
- First, both big tent parties, Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU/CSU) and Martin Schulz’ Social Democrats (SPD), have dramatically lost votes. Most of the smaller parties have gained in strength, and the new Bundestag will have six parliamentary groups (i.e. seven parties, because CDU and CSU have a common caucus). While there is no desire for radical change in Germany – the economy is doing very well – there seems to be a certain unease with the way both big parties have been running things.
- Second, Germany now has a very self-confident right-wing populist party, AfD, which will be the third strongest force in the Bundestag. That means there will be more provocations, more passionate debate, but also more nonsense in Parliament.
- Third, in a refreshingly clear and early move, right after the first exit poll, Germany’s Social Democrats have taken themselves off the map for coalition talks, saying they will have to rebuild themselves in opposition, and also in order to prevent the AfD from being the strongest opposition party.
Source: The Federal Returning Officer
Here are the three most important takeaways from this election:
1. The only coalition option for the moment seems to be ‘Jamaica’ – a four party coalition of CDU, CSU, Liberals (FDP) and Greens
Even before the election, everyone knew that coalition building would be tricky. But now that the SPD has clearly ruled out remaining in government, there is only one option left. Its nickname refers to the colours of Jamaica’s flag – black (CDU/CSU), yellow (FDP) and green. It also implied, until now, a certain outlandishness which is now gone. But coalition talks will be excruciatingly difficult. In immigration policy, energy and environment, as well as family and gender questions, conflicts between the Greens and the others (especially the CSU) are obvious.
The FDP may turn out to be difficult in questions of the Eurozone. And at the end, any coalition deal will have to be approved by the members of both Greens and the FDP: by no means a foregone conclusion. If this coalition option fails, either the SPD will have to join the government against its will, or there will be snap elections. Both options sound unpalatable, hence ‘Jamaica’ may well be condemned to success.
2. The right wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD’s) success is news for Germany, but will not revolutionise German politics
Contrary to what many of Germany’s scandalised bien-pensants are now saying, Germany is getting what other European democracies (France, Austria, the Netherlands and many others) have had for a long time: right wing populists in the national Parliament. Some in the AfD rehash elements of racist nationalism, and many others are Eurosceptic conservatives, but most of them bear a fundamental grudge against Chancellor Merkel’s migration policy since 2015.
According to all opinion polls made around the election, people did not vote AfD because of economic fears or income inequality. They did so as a protest vote against what they perceived as a government losing control of our borders, a rise in crime and terrorism, and against a very centrist drift of the CDU in recent years. New infighting between and inside CDU and CSU about identity politics and the right amount of social conservatism will be unavoidable.
As to the AfD, there will be ugly scenes in the Bundestag when its politicians claim that Germany’s coming to terms with its past (Vergangenheitsbewältigung) belongs to the past. But the one million former CDU/CSU voters that voted AfD in 2017 will not be impressed if they’re labelled Nazis by everyone else. We will have to live with this paradox for the time being. It makes no sense to frame European politics primarily in terms of ‘open vs. closed’ instead of left vs. right, which is another reason why the SPD’s decision to join the opposition benches is probably a good idea.
3. Changes in Germany’s foreign and European policy will be only gradual – but they will be in the right direction
In a ‘Jamaica’ coalition, Chancellor Merkel will most likely determine foreign affairs even more than in recent years. She will continue to represent the steady hand at the helm in turbulent times, as she emphasised time and again on election night. In the Franco-German couple, the ideas will mostly come from Emmanuel Macron (he has announced a major speech this week) and Angela Merkel will accept some and reject others.
The FDP’s staunch opposition to a transfer union in the Eurozone will limit her maneuvering space. She will definitely reject the notion of a two-speed union, but together with EU institutions uphold the rule of Law in Europe, against individual governments such as Poland’s and Hungary’s. But she will want to avoid the impression of a new East-West conflict between old and new member states.
On European defence, a ‘Jamaica’ coalition is likely to push forward together with France, but incrementally and within NATO, not replacing the Alliance. Sanctions against Russia are set to remain in place – the Greens’ disdain for Putin will likely help Merkel against any appeasing steps that CSU and Liberals might have in mind.
Whether all this is really enough to respond to the urgent need for leadership in Europe, in times of Anglo-Saxon withdrawal through Brexit and Trump, and mounting insecurity in the EU’s neighbourhood, that is the question. But if she wants to form a legacy beyond the 2015 refugee crisis, Angela Merkel will have to push Germany to a more active role in European and international security.
Finally, on this bittersweet election night, most observers agree that Angela Merkel’s fourth term as Chancellor will also be her last. But if she wants to leave her successor, whoever it may be, a fair chance of proving themselves in power, she might have to leave the stage a year or so before the election in 2021.
At the moment, nobody can really imagine a CDU without Angela Merkel, or Germany or Europe without her. And yet, that moment will come. The complicated coalition talks of the next few weeks, and the difficult government afterwards, may yet look harmless compared to the bumpy times of 2020 and beyond.Roland Freudenstein Education EU Member States Leadership Political Parties
Angela’s bittersweet victory: takeaways from Germany’s election
25 Sep 2017
“Brexit and the election of Donald Trump as the new US president have brought the score to 2-0 for populism last year”, according to Member of European Parliament Eva Maydell (Paunova). “The only thing left to figure out is whether we are in the half time or only ten minutes into the game”.
MEP Maydell, together with Martin Mycielski, Founder of the Committee of Defence of Democracy International, and Roland Freudenstein, Policy Director at the Martens Centre, were invited to discuss the resistible rise of populism in Europe, an event named after the title of the latest issue of the European View, the policy journal of the Martens Centre.
The articles gathered under this slightly provocative title, a subtle nod to the brilliant play of Bertolt Brecht, shed light on the interaction between populist parties and conventional parties and make proposals for potential ways forward. They also discuss the role and influence of political communication , as well as the refugee and economic crises, identified as potential breeding grounds for populism.
During the event, the speakers discussed the situation in their respective home countries. According to Martin Mycielski, the disconcerting trend is that populist communication in Poland enforces the perception that “a real Pole cannot be European”. This type of narrative promotes the division of the two identities instead of seeing them intertwined.
In order to tackle the situation, Mycielski proposes to introduce the concept of local ambassadors to the EU. He emphasised the importance of grassroot, local level actions and communication to show people practical and positive examples of what the EU can give them.
Populism is a relatively newer phenomenon in Germany. Freudenstein claimed Germany was “10 to 20 years behind its neighbours when it comes to developing right-wing populism”.
Due to historical reasons rooted in the Second World War, parties such as AfD, the Alternative for Germany, and the PEGIDA movement, have only recently started raising their heads and have rapidly increased in size. Freudenstein, however, thinks it would be unlikely for other parties to form a coalition with AfD after the federal elections later this year.
A problem in tackling populism is that people do not always understand the political solutions offered, as they will benefit Europe and people only in the long-term. When speaking in her home country Bulgaria, Eva Maydell (Paunova) likes to divide her speaking time with experts in certain fields to make the policy actions in those fields more understandable.
Demonstrating concrete outcomes achieved in shorter-term projects is also important, just as well as the established political parties being a little bit more entertaining in their communication, as pointed out by Roland Freudenstein.
MEP Antonio López-Istúriz White gave some sobering final remarks: “Populism is not new in history”, he said, “but today, it is different in its attempts to undermine democracy”. In order not to repeat the mistakes of the 1930s and its symbiosis with extremism, it is time to fight populism at its roots.Democracy EU Member States Euroscepticism Political Parties Populism
Brexit and Trump: 2-0 for populism, says centre-right MEP
31 Jan 2017
Declining election turnouts and popular disillusionment with politics show that our political systems are being put to a test. Citizens are turning away from traditional political involvement (voting, party membership, contacting a local politician) and turning towards other forms of political participation (signing online petitions, taking up ad-hoc causes, organising demonstrations).
With our political systems becoming more and more complex, no wonder democratic institutions are being perceived as remote by voters. In the era of internet and social media, discontent is easier voiced than solutions. The rise of populist parties can in part be interpreted as people’s attempt to revolt against processes, institutions and elected officials they no longer feel represented by.
As a political think tank, we are continuously trying to understand these trends and to find opportunities to improve political participation. Together with our partners, EDS (European Democrat Students) and YEPP (Youth of the European People’s Party), we are launching a new ideas contest where we want to hear your concrete proposals addressing one of the 3 following fields:
- Political parties: How would you make political parties work better (more accessible membership, more democratic, more efficient use of resources)?
- Political institutions and processes: How would you improve democratic processes such as electoral systems, election campaigns, referendums, etc.? What should be the role of the internet in general and social media in particular for political institutions and processes?
- Politicians: How can politicians really connect with citizens? How can they improve their image, record, etc., for example by using technological advances?
If you would like to participate, please choose and submit your proposal in one of the fields above. The word limit for each proposal is 500 words. If you would like to submit more than one proposal (for example, one proposal for the field “political parties” and another one for the field “political institutions and processes”, or two different proposals for the same field), you can do so by submitting each proposal in a separate document. Your proposal should have the following structure:
- The problem: identify and briefly describe the problem that your proposal is trying to address
- The proposal: elaborate on your proposal, explaining the practical steps needed to implement it
- The outcome: wrap-up by explaining the positive effects of your proposal in addressing the initial problem
All proposals should be concrete, feasible and address national or EU politics.
What’s in it for you? All proposals will be carefully read and evaluated by our experts working on this topic. The 3 participants who submitted the 3 best proposals will win an all expenses-paid trip to Brussels to discuss with us their proposal. The best proposals will also be published on our blog and promoted on our social media channels.
Please send your proposals by email at email@example.com by March 1st, 2017. Please mention “Ideas contest” in the subject line of your email.
Good luck, we are looking forward to receiving your ideas!Democracy EU Member States European Union Political Parties
If it’s broken, let’s fix it!
25 Jan 2017
This article analyses the causes of the loss of support suffered by Podemos in the elections held on 26 June 2016. In these elections, the party, led by Pablo Iglesias, ran for office in coalition with the United Left.
The article describes the way the election developed for Podemos, analyses the shaping of its populist rhetoric in line with a radical left-wing view, discusses the social and political conditions that favoured its rise, and finally, notes that the disappearance of these conditions jeopardises its chances of success in the future.
Read the full article in the December 2016 issue of the European View, the Martens Centre policy journal.Javier Zarzalejos Centre-Right Elections EU Member States Political Parties Populism
Populism in Spain: an analysis of Podemos
08 Nov 2016
Since its birth in 2009, the Five Star Movement has achieved incredible growth, accompanied by important electoral successes. This has resulted in concrete responsibilities and influential positions in the system. Grillo’s movement was born as an anti-system and populist force with interesting peculiarities, and the main challenge it is now facing is to prove itself able to govern and to transform problems into solutions.
So far the promised revolution has not taken place: a mixture of inexperience, internal divisions, scandals and contradictions has already damaged the image of the movement, which is facing many challenges and a difficult transition. The evolution of the Five Star Movement shows all the weaknesses of populist movements facing reality. The best strategy to confront them is to ensure that all their contradictions emerge and, at the same time, to regain the citizens’ trust by providing credible solutions to their problems.
Read the full article in the December 2016 issue of the European View, the Martens Centre policy journal.Margherita Movarelli EU Member States Political Parties Populism
From dreams to reality: the challenges of Italy’s Five Star Movement
07 Nov 2016
This article sheds light on one of Europe’s successful right-wing populist parties, the Norwegian Progress Party. Since 2013 the party has been in a coalition with the Conservative Party.
The history, ideology and position of the party in the Norwegian political system are factors that explain how a centre–right party and a populist one have been able to form a viable coalition.
Over time the Progress Party has become increasingly well integrated into the political system. The fact that no cordon sanitaire or total boycott policy was implemented against it may explain why the party developed a more moderate and pragmatic approach than most other right-wing populist parties.
In turn, this made it possible for the Conservative Party to offer to form a coalition with the Progress Party and placed the centre–right in the strategic position of cooperating with parties both in the centre and to the right.
Read the full article in the December 2016 issue of the European View, the Martens Centre policy journal.Johan Thomas Bjerkem Centre-Right Political Parties Populism
Johan Thomas Bjerkem
The Norwegian Progress Party: an established populist party
03 Nov 2016
Whatever the result of the 2016 US presidential election, it will signal a new era of political communication. Candidate Donald Trump defeated 16 contenders in the Republican primaries, most of them Republican Party insiders.
There are several reasons for this unexpected turn of events. One of them is the different kind of communication that Trump employs. Trump’s communication method, like that of the Five Star Movement (Movimento 5 Stelle) in Italy, uses a high number of icons (signs that represent objects by their similarity, such as images) instead of the indexes (signs that indicate their object by contiguity, such as tags, labels and proper names) that have characterised the last 20 years of political communication.
This change encourages politicians to focus on communication as a ‘complete gesture’, and as a meaningful action that creates an ambience rather than stressing the role of the leader. This paper deals with the semiotic characteristics of this new kind of communication and explains the consequent key features of successful political communication in the coming years.
Political communication in the (iconic) Trump epoch
21 Oct 2016
The idea that the left/right paradigm in politics is outdated has been around for so long that it’s amazing how often we still think in left right terms. Maybe old habits die hard. Or maybe there has always been more to the old paradigm that what the commentariat made us believe.
But according to a growing chorus of pundits in 2016, now is the time to seriously let go. The paradigm du jour is open vs. closed, global vs. territorial or, as the Economist puts it, drawbridge-downers (read Merkel, Macron and Soros) vs. drawbridge-uppers (such as Trump, Putin, Le Pen, Orbán and the UK Leave campaign). I admit that this thesis has a lot going for itself: after all, the rise of identity politics (us vs. them) and the return of nationalism are among the driving forces in the success of populists.
That would indeed speak for an entirely new paradigm. But wait: there is also a crisis-driven resentment against the market economy and international trade (traditionally, a leftist idea). Moreover, the echo chamber effect of social media reinforces any kind of polarisation, no matter whether the paradigms are old or new.
Hence, from the perspective of Europe’s biggest political family, the European People’s Party, there are three things wrong with making ‘open vs. closed’ the decisive paradigm of our days.
First of all, open/closed corroborates the populist narrative of an establishment that, no matter whether it calls itself liberal, socialist, green, Christian democratic or conservative, is united in despising the ‘little people’ and that will always act in the interests of a global elite. Now, it is simply not in the interest of big tent, catch-all political families to let this narrative become dominant: if we permit the populists to act as the party of the people vs. the elites, we risk losing.
Secondly, quite frankly, big political families such as the EPP (but also the Socialists) in their current composition neatly straddle the divide between drawbridge-uppers and drawbridge-downers. Both Angela Merkel and Horst Seehofer, her fierce critic in refugee matters (and the only one among the parties represented in the Bundestag) belong to the EPP family.
Their positions are not mutually exclusive in every respect. On the role of borders in the 20th century, the German Chancellor has already shifted her position since September 2015.
If we want to keep the overall Schengen system, we need to improve the protection of its external borders.
And from an EPP mainstream perspective, there is nothing wrong with wanting to control borders. Believing that the nation state is far from being finished is not automatically anti-globalist. But claiming that in this crisis we have a ‘rendezvous with globalisation’ essentially implies that there is nothing we can do about the masses of people trying to cross our borders, economic migrants included.
But if we want to maintain the liberal world order, we had better acknowledge the importance of identity politics. If we want to integrate a large number of people from one of the most violent and backward regions of the world, we need to be more straightforward about defending our values.
If we want to keep the overall Schengen system, we need to improve the protection of its external borders, and allow for more long term exceptions on the inner borders. To put it brutally: If we don’t do this, people will eventually elect someone who does it instead (but probably less smartly). How about some of the ‘wir schaffen das’ spirit here?
Finally, there are still substantial differences between the centre right and the Socialists as well as the Centre Right and the Greens. Left vs. right has not lost all significance! How open is ‘open’, if the ‘no border’ Greens proudly claim they have killed TTIP? How open is ‘open’ if freedom is supposed to be ensured by ever new gender quota and diversity rules?
So there are good reasons for maintaining that left/right has kept a lot of relevance, especially in an economic crisis which still pits ‘printing money’ against some degree of fiscal prudence.
So what does modern European punditry recommend, in order to fight the new battles? ‘Stronger rhetoric, bolder policies and smarter tactics’, says the Economist. That is think tank newspeak at its best. Of course, making a strong case for openness – maintaining Schengen, strengthening trade – is necessary.
But at the same time, identity politics should not under all circumstances be defined as something alien to centre right thinking. In the migration movements of today, culture matters, and we shall ignore it at our peril.
How open is ‘open’, if the ‘no border’ Greens proudly claim they have killed TTIP?
Punditry’s final punch line is the reference to demographics: young people tend to think more openly, as last witnessed in the Brexit referendum. So supposedly, it’s just a question of time until the final victory of ‘open’. That would be more credible if we could be sure that ‘generation Erasmus’ still thinks along those lines 10 and 20 years from now.
But alas, we may not be so fortunate. If the ‘progressive’ spirit of 1968 had lived on in the same form as half a century ago, conservatism would have never had the comeback it had in the 1980s.
So open vs. closed may be a useful paradigm for analyzing recent debates. But it is neither a realignment of political forces across the world, nor a useful tool to shape the strategies of Europe’s centre right.Roland Freudenstein Centre-Right Globalisation Immigration Political Parties Values
Is open/closed the new left/right? Paradigm shift and Europe’s centre right
13 Sep 2016
In recent years mainstream political parties on both the right and the left have been confronted with new challenges. For the centre-right, recent electoral results in Slovakia and, to a much lesser extent, Germany have been disappointing. The centre-right is also facing difficulties in other countries, such as Poland and Italy.
Populists gain popularity, claiming to be capable of cleaning up the Augean stables of political establishment, unashamedly exploiting difficulties that currently haunt Europe and presenting themselves as brave taboo-breakers and genuine defenders of the public interest. Although demagoguery is nothing new– neither is periodic public disappointment in incumbent leaderships – still the question remains: why are mainstream parties struggling so much today?
The world is obviously changing, as are public attitudes and the political landscape. First, the decline of traditional political ideologies has created volatile public opinions and electorates, ultimately fragmenting the ‘core electorate’ of loyal supporters on which traditional parties had always relied. Today on any public policy issue a multitude of opinions often unrelated to official party positions can be heard.
People vote less and less on ideological grounds and rather tend to position themselves based on how they expect specific policies will affect them. Another consequence of the decline of traditional ideologies is a tendency towards increasing fragmentation of our political systems. As a result, mainstream parties have often become broad coalitions representing widely diverging viewpoints on issues such as immigration or foreign policy. This makes them easy targets for populist attacks.
Second, the last decades have witnessed spectacular transformations in communication. The internet fostered a more individualist approach to communication and hugely increased the amount of information available to anyone, thus testing people’s ability to select and judge. A fragmentation and possibly even a polarisation of perspectives seem to have resulted, as the many cases of people who radicalised online in complete solitude show. Social networks have compounded these trends, giving voice to a disorganised wealth of opinions largely devoid of any consistent and comprehensive world-view or value systems.
Third, globalisation brought about revolutionary economic and social changes. We know that in the long run free trade makes us all more prosperous and productive. However, in the short run some people are hurt by this process, some industries are dislocated and inequality may be increased, thus fostering the kind of angry reactions we are seeing in the US and many European countries. Populism breeds in this environment of growing frustration and polarisation.
Tackling such distortions of our democratic systems is obviously impossible without reforming mainstream parties. It is high time for such parties to realise that in order to remain relevant they should adapt to new realities, be open to reform and embrace political innovation. We should also discourage demagogic tendencies within our own ranks. Mainstream parties should not play populist cards and take up radical positions hoping to catch a few additional votes. While political entities should pay heed to public mood and concerns, there need to be certain red lines here, as opportunistic shifting toward radicalism and xenophobia will only demonstrate a lack of moral principles.
Centre-right parties should recognise and take into account the increasing role of emerging political factors such as social movements, non-party politics, and policy-based ad hoc political aggregations. It is also time to consider new types of party membership and political engagement, including for those who feel victimised by the processes of globalisation. Parties in question should use smarter, more flexible and diverse approaches in offering objective information, clear-cut political vision, and effective educational strategies as counters to demagogy and populism.
They should develop new ways of strategic communication focused on simplification of political language and concepts, employing up-to-date technological means, evidence-based planning, and context-determined approaches. This in turn requires educating both the leadership of parties and their members, as well as modernising and democratising intra-party governance, decision-making, and information flows.
Timing often means everything in politics. If party decision-makers wait for too long before taking the necessary steps, demagoguery will proliferate and the European project will suffer. Fundamental party reform may be the only adequate response towards such existential threats. If these threats are not duly acknowledged and countered, basic European values may be at grave risk.Teona Lavrelashvili Centre-Right Elections Globalisation Political Parties Populism
Between a rock and a hard place: challenges ahead for centre-right parties
20 Apr 2016
While both the EU and the US consider support for civil society an inseparable part of international democracy support schemes, they differ in their understanding of who the key partners for transformation are. US aid to support democratic change in societies includes providing assistance to non-governmental organisations, political parties, trade unions and businesses. In contrast, the EU restricts access to its support primarily to the non-political part of the civil society spectrum.
Including political parties and political non-governmental organisations among EU aid recipients would be a quantum leap on the way to a stronger and more comprehensive transition to democracy. This article lays down arguments to support this proposal, draws on ideas from the US experience and outlines basic schemes for its implementation.
Read the full FREE article published in the December 2015 issue of the European View, the Martens Centre policy journal.Miriam Lexmann Democracy EU-US Political Parties
No party, no society: the EU’s and the US’s differing approaches to providing international aid to political parties
08 Dec 2015
Power is decaying everywhere. In business, politics, the military, religion and even in chess, jokes economist Moisés Naím pointing at the decline of Russian supremacy in this field. In The End of Power: From Boardrooms to Battlefields and Churches to States, Why Being in Charge Isn’t What It Used To Be (2013) Naím argues his case with compelling evidence, while making an obvious reference to Francis Fukuyama’s classic book The End of History and the Last Man.
A book in which the American political scientist saw the triumph of Western liberal democracy after the Cold War as a possible end point of mankind’s ideological evolution. Does the ambitious reference live up to its promise then? The author surely comes close to that.
He kicks off by presenting a very clear definition of power as ‘the ability to direct or prevent the current or future actions of other groups and individuals.’ ‘Power’, he says, ‘has a social function. Its role is not just to enforce domination or to create winners and losers: it also organises communities, societies, marketplaces, and the world.’ This refined analysis proves to be an indispensable foundation for his conclusions later on.
When debating the issue of ‘power’ Naím does not forget to mention the patriarch of power theory: 17th century political philosopher Thomas Hobbes. Hobbes said that ‘during the time men live without a common power, a Leviathan to keep them all in awe, they are in that position which is called war and such a war as is of every man against every man.’
These days, the world is confronted with power shifts, secularization and a steady decline of traditional institutions. According to the author, the current Leviathan is therefore nowhere to be found and with this statement he does have a point.
In business, for example, the market power of large firms has declined due to global competition in emerging economies. Large enterprises like Nokia and Yahoo have lost their significance, and it is clear that the future belongs to creative small firms and dynamic technological companies. Power in the corporate sector is diminishing and harder to hold on to when you get it.
The monopoly position once held by traditional political parties as spokesperson for society’s grievances, hopes and demands has been eroded. In Europe especially, the influence of traditional political parties is fading rapidly: on average only around 4.7 per cent of the national electorates are members of a political party today.
This trend has paved the way for the success of ad hoc, fast paced, electoral machines. Some extremist parties are also profiting from it, given the fact that they often profit from the so called ‘protest vote’. One has to look no further than the results of the 2014 European elections for a confirmation.
The author presents the case of the decline of military power too. He coins the term ‘minilateralism’ to indicate that at present it takes a smaller amount of countries or resources to make a global impact. Al Qaeda spent about $500,000 to produce 9/11, whereas the direct losses of the destruction plus the costs of the American response to the attacks were $3.3 trillion.
Unfortunately as with this case and other examples, facts and figures used in the book we do not get the most up to date information. In a rapidly evolving international world order where regional conflicts multiply this is no minor detail, and one might have wished for more recent examples.
Finally, Naím considers the decline of religion, arguably one of the direst cases in the book. Religious organisations traditionally had the power to determine the patterns of social behaviour. The decline in the number of practicing Christians represents a drastic case of decay of power, removing it from large hierarchical and centralised structures and in favour of a constellation of small and nimble autonomous players.
The overall decay of traditional institutions cannot be without consequences; without them, the risk of disorder emerges. Moreover, their demise implies the disappearance of the highly specific knowledge they often embodied, which is not easy to replicate for newcomers. Additionally, the more slippery power gets, the more likely it is to be governed by short term incentives and fears.
On a psychological level, these changes in power structure, traditional hierarchy, predictable norms and rules can lead to disorientation, because the social function of power, so clearly captured in Naím’s definition of it, is hindered. Interestingly, Naím believes the danger of alienation in modern societies is even more severe than that of recent threats such as radical Islam. Had it been written this year (as opposed to 2013), this position would have been controversial, to say the least.
In the final chapter, the author states that ‘big power is not dead, but these old institutions are more constrained than ever in what they can achieve.’ For our societies to adjust to this new reality, a new wave of political and institutional innovations will be needed. We had one such wave of political innovations after World War II, when the desire to prevent another global conflict led to the creation of institutions such as the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the European Union. A new wave of innovations brought about by the transformation of power structures, Naím argues, is inevitable.
Overall, The End of Power is a highly sophisticated work. Although the book is not flawless – for a second edition the author should definitely consider updating his facts and figures – it offers an interesting interdisciplinary reflection on the corrosion of traditional powers. It remains to be seen if the book will become a classic comparable to Fukuyama’s The End of History. In the meantime, The End of Power certainly makes for provocative reading and helps us realise what momentous and often unnoticed transformations power is undergoing in our time.
The European centre-right was a front runner in developing some of the now ‘traditional’ institutions founded after World War II. It should therefore remain future-oriented and open to innovative solutions for the pressing societal challenges of today. However, it should do so without undermining its belief in the importance of strong communities and civil society.
The End of Power: A book review
14 Oct 2015
Politicians need to answer more questions than ever before. And more than this, they need to provide answers more rapidly, and answers need to be more comprehensive. Due to the increase in the use of social network sites (SNS) and data being exchanged faster than ever, the challenge for politicians is to live up to the new and additional requirements involved in communicating with constituents. Online politics tries to offer tools to listen to constituents better and to reach out to them through new methods.
Laying the groundwork
Online tools are supposed to enhance democracy and make politics more efficient and effective. The online tools help citizens and politicians alike to exchange information in the process of reaching decisions. Nonetheless, Europe has seen not more but rather less political engagement in recent years—at least within political parties. Is public deliberation feasible through online politics, and if so, how can new tools be used to pave the way?
To answer these questions, it is necessary to take a step back and define the levels of representation. Traditionally, there have been ‘two sets of competing philosophies of representation’, as Ferber et al. (2007, 391) point out: ‘The trustee… model, where representatives act in accordance with their own judgement, versus the delegate, where representatives follow the wishes of their constituents.’ The authors go on to say that legislators do not conform completely to either type.
However, it seems reasonable to believe that the delegate model is becoming predominant. The way politicians carry out their work is changing as a result of new ways of exchanging information: the increased use of SNS, websites, email, Internet forums and chat rooms. In all these ways citizens are placing new demands on their representatives, and in this situation, the delegate model of representation is more appropriate.8Eva Majewski Party Structures Political Parties Youth
Online politics for citizens in the twenty-first century
08 Oct 2015
The US political party system has displayed remarkable stability, unmatched by any other country. The US has had a two-party system with the same two political parties for over 150 years. Since the 1860s, all presidents and nearly all senators and representatives have been members of one of these two parties.
In recent years, however, dissatisfaction with the parties has been high. A record number of Americans now describe themselves as independents. Certain groups have arisen—for example, the Tea Party—which some believed might evolve into a third political party. All of these developments have led some observers to believe that the time is right for a third party.
These observers are probably wrong. Although a multiplicity of parties is the rule in most European democracies, the hurdles for third parties have always been high in the US. At the moment the two parties are as dominant in winning elections as they have been in any period. However, this electoral dominance does not mean that the American party system has been static.
The parties are in the midst of several dramatic changes: (1) the Republican and Democratic parties have become highly polarised, ideological parties with significant differences in worldview, (2) the two parties have weak discipline and fractures within their ranks, and (3) the two political parties now have significant competition from outside groups in terms of raising and spending funds on political campaigns. All of these developments have made the challenge of governing significantly more difficult.
This article will lay out why, despite evidence to the contrary, there is little prospect of the emergence of a third party and how the above-mentioned developments in the political parties present challenges to effective governance.
The hard road for a third party
US politics has several features that have always made the successful formation of a third party difficult. In all federal and the vast majority of state elections, the country has single-member districts and does not have proportional representation. The extensive size of the country, combined with the winner-take-all aspects of congressional elections and the Electoral College, mean that a party must not only be strong enough to win in individual states and districts, but also have electoral strength in several regions of the US. Add to these systemic factors that many states have erected obstacles to ballot access and it is clear that the road to success for a third party will always be a difficult one.
Read the full FREE article published in the June 2015 issue of the European View, the Martens Centre policy journal.John C. Fortier Democracy Elections Party Structures Political Parties Transatlantic
John C. Fortier
Polarised and fractured US political parties and the challenges of governing
09 Sep 2015
A lot has been said about the impact of the digital world on science, technology and the entertainment industry. However, little attention has been paid to innovation—or lack thereof—in the political system. This article argues that the political system is out of sync with the times. It explores the causes of this and proposes some avenues for institutional innovation. The aim is not to propose a solution or a roadmap. Rather, it is to ask the questions that need to be asked and push the boundaries in terms of what could be done, all in the hope of moving the debate forward.
The Internet is bringing about a seachange in how citizens expect to be represented. Governments, however, are unable to keep up with the changes that it has provoked in our societies. The world changes by the second, and yet our governments are still only receiving citizen input every two, four or five years, depending on the system. Modern democracies are based on information technology that is five hundred years old, the printing press.
With this information technology, the best possible system that could be designed was one whereby a few make daily decisions for the many, and the many vote on who represents them once every few years. Long-term representation made sense at a time when citizens could not participate in the decision-making process. This was not physically possible, nor did the citizens have access to the information required to make informed decisions.
One could argue that, in the eighteenth century, someone like John Adams knew pretty much everything there was to know about running a country, but that is far from true today. The increased complexity of the issues we face, from climate change to the global financial markets, makes it impossible for our representatives to come up with innovative and long-term solutions on their own. We are in the middle of a global crisis of representation. Governments simply do not seem to be able to respond to the demands of our rapidly changing society.
Technological connectivity has multiplied access to and circulation of information at a very low cost. Conversations that used to be one-to-many have become many-to-many. The Internet has the potential to transform us all into producers as well as consumers of information, and we can now participate remotely in any global conversation.
Read for FREE the full article published in the June 2015 issue of the European View, the Martens Centre policy journal.Pia Mancini Innovation Internet Political Parties Technology
Why it is time to redesign our political system
09 Sep 2015
Our society is living in turbulent, yet exciting times: an unprecedented political crisis on the European level is shaking up the political status quo, leaving no stone unturned. Europeans have begun to realise that they live in a more complex, interdependent and connected era than ever before.
Citizens are now questioning the current political situation and are not satisfied with the means of participation. Where European politics is concerned, many citizens do not feel sufficiently informed and are unable to get actively involved. According to the latest Eurobarometer results, more than 50 % of European citizens feel ‘that their voice is not heard’ on the EU level (European Commission, Directorate-General for Communication).
However, democratic processes, and policymaking tools especially, remain very traditional. Voting for representatives during elections is still the primary source of legitimacy in the law-making process—with only rare ‘adventurous’ participatory exceptions, for example in the Nordic countries.
The desire for more legitimacy in representative democracy, combined with the unprecedented technological possibilities available for realising greater citizen involvement, is exciting for citizens and political actors alike, as its achievement would offer a more encompassing assessment of society’s sentiments. Existing digital communication tools that are readily available and just waiting to be exploited are expected to improve the quality of democracy through an increase in citizen participation. Most promisingly, digital methods can improve the dialogue between civil society on the one hand, and elected officials and political parties on the other.
This article will address crowdsourcing in democratic processes and especially how the process of crowdsourcing legislation can be implemented by political parties to augment democratic processes. One example of how legislation can be crowdsourced will be presented in greater detail, and the implications for the citizens who participate in the process will be discussed. The article will look at possible challenges to crowdsourcing activities and then conclude with recommendations on how political parties can use this new technology effectively.
Read the full FREE article published in the June 2015 issue of the European View, the Martens Centre policy journal.Maria Lastovka Democracy Innovation Political Parties Society Technology
Crowdsourcing as new instrument in policy-making
09 Sep 2015
Traditionally, political parties have had a large and fixed membership that they could count on for support. Not only was membership seen as permanent, but it was also passed down from one generation to the next. This relationship was an essential part of political life in our democracies. However, globalisation and technology, amongst other factors, have forever altered this reality. These phenomena have opened up a new world where citizens can engage in politics outside of the framework of political parties.
Western society has changed from a church-centred community to an individualistic society. The ties between its members are weaker—and sometimes missing altogether. At the same time, people feel more connected than ever: via the Internet, reaching out to like-minded people has never been easier and more effortless. This combination of local disconnection and global connection has repercussions for politics as a whole and for political parties in particular.
The free flow of information is vital for a modern, functioning democracy as it helps people to engage with their representatives. We very much encourage this flow, especially as democracy not only gives freedom and rights to citizens, but also gives them the responsibility of proactively engaging with the society in which they live. However, as we can see from Russian propaganda, information can be manipulated or distorted to create false perceptions. In this respect, political parties have an important role to play: not only must they guide citizens through the sea of available information, but they must also act responsibly when engaging with the media.
While people are benefiting from the enlargement of their world, globalisation also seems to have instilled fear in citizens, by bringing previously unknown threats into their living rooms. Moreover, the economic crisis has created discontent among voters, not only about the practices in the financial world but also about how politics and the political establishment have handled the crisis.
This has created the opportunity and made way for protest movements and new types of parties to emerge. Unfortunately, these new parties are strongly populist, lean to either the extreme left or the extreme right, are single-issue based or anti-establishment, and are polarising our society. Moreover, they fail to provide a feasible vision for the future of our community. It is worrying that many voters believe that these political parties are serving our democracy. However, we can do more than sit back and hope that these parties will destruct themselves.
The rise of these parties offers an opportunity for people’s parties to show clear leadership and vision, and prove to our electorate that we do not shy away from taking difficult decisions and explaining them to the people. Established parties with well-elaborated policies are particularly capable of tackling the complexity of today’s challenges. However, such action may require people’s parties to modernise and effectively adapt to the new and empowered society that is emerging. Citizens are demanding results and proper representation. Furthermore, we need to make an effort to win back the hearts and minds of the citizens.
The articles in this issue of the European View provide ample food for thought regarding the modernisation of our people’s parties to meet the needs of our new society. Some authors question whether the representative model of democracy is still valid, and propose the introduction of direct democracy or open source democracy, where citizens use the Internet to tell their representatives how to vote. Others believe that political parties remain the best vehicle for translating citizens’ concerns into policy, but simultaneously argue that the parties need to do more to engage citizens, to explain themselves and to serve voters.
As the president of the European People’s Party, I too believe that the citizens are best served by the representative model and that political parties are the best-developed vehicles for this purpose. We have to make sure that we not only keep pace with developments, but that we also use these changes to engage citizens on the largest scale possible. It is important for democracy that parties behave responsibly and always act in the best interests of the whole of society—and not merely in the interests of those who have voted for them or even in the interests of the current generation. We need to look beyond the present and create sustainable solutions to ensure a secure future for our children and grandchildren.
This editorial was originally published in the June 2015 issue of the European View, Martens Centre’s policy journal.Joseph Daul Democracy Elections EU Member States Political Parties
The future of political parties
08 Sep 2015
The title of this article has positive connotations. It infers that European parties are doing very well and, by taking a few fresh ideas into the 2019 European elections, will be able to do even better. This article will present the current situation of the European political parties and assess the main areas in which improvements can be made to further integration. It is not surprising that this is one of those topics on which researchers have widely divergent opinions.
Do we really need parties in the EU?
The EU has evolved into a fully-fledged political system with public opinion, institutions, regulation, and ordinary and extraordinary decision-making procedures. It deals with critical issues, not always visible to the majority of the citizens. These include areas such as agricultural policy, regional development funding instruments, monetary policy, economic policy coordination, the regulation of the internal market and the establishment of the rules governing trade with the rest of the world, among others.
Although today’s EU is the product of a gradual evolution from the original treaties of the 1950s, much of its current structure is the result of the Maastricht Treaty. The last five years and the enduring financial and sovereign debt crises in the eurozone have further advanced European integration, through the introduction of new institutions and policies to address the design limitations of the monetary union.
The history of the European political parties and of the pro-European movement are mutually bound together. After several years of sluggish progress on integration in the 1960s due to French reluctance, the 1970s saw significant steps being taken in the European project through the preparation for and introduction of direct elections to the European Parliament (EP). The commencement of the preparatory steps for these elections gave impetus to the creation of European federations.
Read the full FREE article published in the June 2015 issue of the European View, the Martens Centre policy journal.Michalis Peglis Elections European Union Political Parties
How can European political parties maximise their success in the 2019 elections?
08 Sep 2015
Political observers have given much attention to the far right and to right-wing populist challengers. Since the 1990s, in particular, these parties have either entered national parliaments for the first time or increased the number of seats they hold. In most European countries they are relevant political players.
It is true that, at the moment, right-wing populist parties are part of the government in only four countries: in the non-EU countries Norway (the Progress Party, Fremskrittpartiet) and Switzerland (the Swiss People’s Party, Schweizerische Volkspartei); and since the most recent elections in 2015, in the EU countries Greece (Anexartiti Ellines, Independent Greeks) and Finland (Perussuomalaiset, The Finns Party).
However, that these parties are generally found in the opposition should not lead one to underestimate the phenomenon. The recent European elections in 2014 have once again shown that such parties can attract a critical mass of disillusioned floating voters, particularly with their clear anti-immigration stance, but also with the message ‘Europe – no thanks!’.
The politics of exclusion, intolerance and xenophobia on the right-wing end of the political spectrum certainly deserves attention. Distrust in conventional parties seems to consistently correlate with far-right outsider party support and has become a permanent factor in European party politics. However, the sole focus on the ‘radical right-wing party family’ is, in some respects, misleading. This can be seen from the following four points.
First, the right-wing parties differ considerably, ranging in nature from democratic to clearly extremist. Moreover, they come from member states from Western to Central Eastern Europe. Consequently, after the European Parliament elections in 2014, they did not form a European group, but split up into different factions or decided to stand alone.
The ‘merger’ of Marine Le Pen, leader of the French National Front (Front National, FN); Geert Wilders, leader of the Dutch Party for Freedom (Partij voor de Vrijheid, PVV); and Heinz-Christian Strache, leader of the Freedom Party of Austria (Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs, FPÖ), was more a successful public relations stunt than a real sign that they intended to join forces. These parties operate more on the idea of a common enemy (e.g. the West, the EU, Islam, globalisation, elites and the media) than on a shared ideology or coherent programme.
Here to stay: anti-establishment parties in Europe
08 Sep 2015
Many current societal trends seem to be working against party-based democracy. A major decline in the membership of political parties has long been observed. Similarly, voter participation in elections, of all types, has fallen. As a result, the need for the renewal of political parties has become prominent in public discourse. Almost ironically, while democracy and the values it presents are still considered of high importance, public perception of political parties and institutions is rather negative.
Party politics is seen by many as a necessary evil. Yet, political parties are an essential part of a well-functioning democratic system, as democracy is a universal value and the democratic system undoubtedly one of the greatest achievements of Western civilisation.
Political parties and their structures evolved when society was fundamentally different—mostly in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century—and the origins of our current modern parliamentary systems can be dated to almost 350 years ago. In today’s world, the environment in which political parties find themselves operating has fundamentally changed.
Globalisation, through the digital communications revolution, has changed how society is structured, how individuals work and how they communicate. However, parliamentary democracy as a system remains largely unchanged, and the same is true of political parties.
To what extent can one expect political parties to renew themselves and to better respond to current societal challenges? Is such an adaptation even possible without the evolution of the political system which includes the democratic and state institutions?
In order to answer these questions, one must understand the changes in the political environment, analyse the changing dynamics between different political actors, and understand the global trends affecting political parties on the national and local level.
A new environment for political parties: fragmentation, globalisation and changing societal dynamics
The traditional left–right divide in party politics was based on clear divisions in society which largely no longer exist. Large segments of society are fragmented and this means that the major political platforms of the past are now being challenged or are no longer functioning. Fragmentation is the new norm in politics and parliaments. In recent years supporters within parties have coalesced politically while moving ever further away from the supporters of other parties.
This phenomenon is very visible in the US, but it is also present in Europe. The result is that party politics has become increasingly polarised on both sides of the Atlantic. This polarisation makes compromise, and thereby effective governance, more difficult. Voter volatility, decreasing credibility and the corrosion of party loyalties have become normal in European party politics.
Read for FREE the full article published in the June 2015 issue of the European View, the Martens Centre policy journal.Tomi Huhtanen Democracy Internet Party Structures Political Parties
Can political parties evolve if the political system does not?
08 Sep 2015
The gurus of the economic left are at it again: in ‘a plea for economic sanity and humanity’, a group of progressive economists led by Joseph Stiglitz and Thomas Piketty published yet another letter to condemn the austerity allegedly practiced on Greece. The initiative follows an earlier plea published in January against ‘the dogmatic insistence on debt repayment in full regardless of the social and political consequences’.
The distinguished signatories insist that ‘to condemn austerity does not entail being anti-reform’, and that ‘austerity’ actually undermines Syriza’s key reforms, namely its efforts to overcome tax evasion and corruption: ‘Austerity’, they explain, ‘restricts the space for change to make public administration accountable and socially efficient’. This is surely a scientifically and politically respectable perspective. But let me make some points from a different one.
First of all, let me contest the appropriateness of the term ‘austerity’ for what we have witnessed in the last years in the periphery of Europe. One would think that a person is austere when she is thrifty and saves part of her income, namely she spends less than she earns. Under this common sense definition, austerity is a virtue (yes, a virtue!) virtually unknown to all European governments. They all spend way more than they receive in revenues, and most of them have been consistently doing so for decades!
The fact that public opinions can seriously regard the attempt to curb overblown fiscal deficits and to slow down an accumulation of public debt unprecedented in the history of modern economics as ‘austerity’ is a clear sign of the dismal progressive spell which we’ve all been living under since WWII.
Second of all, the claims of the anti-austerity crowd are even more dubious when we move from Europe in general to Greece in particular. The idea that EU-inspired adjustment programmes forced Greece to adopt an otherwise unnecessary ‘austerity’ policy is a gross misrepresentation of what actually happened. Nobody said it better than CEPS Director Daniel Gros in a commentary last February:
‘it is disingenuous to claim that the troika forced Greece into excessive austerity. Had Greece not received financial support in 2010, it would have had to cut its fiscal deficit from more than 10% of GDP to zero immediately. By financing continued deficits until 2013, the troika actually enabled Greece to delay austerity’.
Exactly, from more than 10% of GDP to zero IMMEDIATELY. As explained in this post by IMF Chief Economist Olivier Blanchard, what is being consistently rejected by the Syriza government now is a primary budget surplus target of 1% in 2015, not exactly the ‘fiscal waterboarding’ one may expect when reading the recurrent progressive pleas for forbearance and debt relief.
Third of all, I would argue – together with many conservative economists – that the much decried austerity is nothing less than an instrument of economic liberation. Contrary to the fallacy constantly spread by progressives, austerity is not primarily about cutting, but about transferring. Specifically, it is about transferring control over productive resources from bureaucrats to individuals and companies.
Austerity does not simply mean balancing the budget by doing ‘whatever it takes’. It means balancing the budget as part of an overall reduction of public expenditure that allows people to keep more of their income and to freely decide how to spend it, instead of having government bureaucrats decide on their behalf.In other words, true austerity returns to people what rightly belongs to them and was unduly appropriated by the state in the last century of progressive drunkenness. It enlarges the scope of individual freedom and choice in our society.
Furthermore, far from restricting ‘the space for change to make public administration accountable and socially efficient’, austerity forces public administrations to limit their notorious wastes, to optimise their utilisation of scarce resources and to become more efficient.
In conclusion, the most legitimate criticism against austerity in Europe is probably that it has not really happened. Although the emphasis of ‘the institutions’, as they are now amusingly called, on balanced budgets was sound, the need for a radical restructuring of the social model that has generated Europe’s over-indebtedness was never recognised.
As we know, spending on education and health consumes 10-15% of the national income of developed countries, while replacement incomes and other transfer payments account for another 15-20%. Compared to the resources that could be freed by reorganising the provision of these services along more competitive lines, the savings imposed by the most draconian European programmes of adjustment are just cosmetics.
As long as the need for a profound paradigm change is not understood in Europe, progressives will keep attacking conservatives for imaginary misdeeds, conservatives will take the blame for policies they have never dreamt of, and common citizens will continue to suffer under the oppressive weight of a wasteful and bureaucratic social model.Federico Ottavio Reho Centre-Right Economy Growth Macroeconomics Political Parties
Federico Ottavio Reho
Austerity never happened
17 Jun 2015
The self declared Conservative and Unionist Party won the General Election in England by harnessing English Nationalism, and the Scottish Nationalists did the same in Scotland by harnessing Scottish Nationalism. The two nations, by the rhetoric of their respective election campaigns, have thus set themselves on a collision course.
The Conservative Party scared English voters with the prospect of a Labour Government taking office with parliamentary support from the Scottish National Party. English voters were persuaded that a Labour Government, dependant on Scottish Nationalists, would somehow steal English money for the benefit of Scotland. If there was deep pro Union sentiment in England, this appeal would not have worked, but it did work.
The implication of the successful Conservative ploy was that Scottish Nationalist MPs, although freely elected to and sitting in the United Kingdom Parliament, would not be fit to have influence on the fiscal policies of the government of the UK as a whole, simply because they are Scottish Nationalists. They are thus cast in the role of “second class” MPs.
The Conservative Party was saying that Scottish Nationalists are not welcome as full participants in the Union, at least as far as having a say in the fiscal policy of the Union is concerned. That was a very anti Unionist stance for a self declared” Unionist” party to take.
Meanwhile, the Scottish National Party itself won support in Scotland on the false premise that a Scotland separated from England could avoid austerity, whereas the reality is that an independent Scotland would, on present policies, have a larger proportionate fiscal deficit, than the UK( including Scotland) now has. Arguably, an independent Scotland would have to have more, not less, austerity.
That is not, of itself, a reason for Scotland to reject independence, but if it opts for independence, it should understand, and be willing to pay, the extra cost. This was not teased out because, unlike almost any other country in Europe, Scotland has no serious, centre-right, fiscally conservative , party.
This is not the first time that the Conservative Party has adopted English Nationalism as an electoral tactic.
It did so in the 1911 to 1914 period, when it sought to de-legitimate the minority, Asquith led, Liberal Government of that period, on the ground that the Liberals were dependent for their continuance in office on the Irish Party of John Redmond, and were pursuing a policy of Home Rule for Ireland within the UK. The Conservatives even went so far, at that time, to advocate extra parliamentary methods to defeat the Home Rule policy of their duly elected UK Government.
At that time, the Irish Nationalists, unlike their Scottish brethren today, understood that an independent Irish Exchequer could not afford to introduce some of the fiscal measures then being introduced for the UK, as transpired when an Irish Government in 1924 had to take a shilling off the old age pensions Lloyd George had introduced in 1909. Scottish Nationalists could learn from that.
The difficulty for the Conservatives, in again adopting an overtly English Nationalist stance to win English electoral support, is its effect on Scottish opinion, over the next five years, while Scotland will being governed, as far UK matters are concerned, by a Conservative Party that fought an election on the basis that MPs the Scottish electorate have chosen ought not influence UK fiscal policy.
Meanwhile the Conservatives are committed to a referendum on EU membership which could result in English votes taking both Scotland and England out of the EU, even though Scottish voters might, by majority in the referendum, vote to stay in the EU.
In a Union where England’s population is so much greater than that of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, the use of a simple majority referendum to decide such existential questions as EU membership is unnecessarily crude and divisive.
It reduces subtle and difficult matters to a simple “yes/no” question, and takes no account of the fact that the four components of the UK are not only different in size and population, but also very different in political culture. Imagine what would happen if there had to have been an EU wide referendum of the bailout packages for Ireland and Portugal!
Nationalistic passions are all too easy to stir up, as a means of winning elections, but once kindled they are not easily or quickly extinguished.
Now that the election is over, David Cameron needs to break with Westminster’s confrontational traditions, and adopt a consensual approach towards all the opposition parties and enlist their help in finding a way of devolving more powers to Scotland without aggravating the rest of the UK, and of negotiating with the EU on basis that will not further deepen divisions within the UK itself.John Bruton Elections EU Member States Euroscepticism Leadership Political Parties
An expensive victory for English and Scottish nationalism
11 May 2015
Forty rounds of applause celebrated the thirty minute speech given by the new President of the Italian Republic, Sergio Mattarella, in front of a joint session of both Houses of Parliament.
Mattarella, who is 73 years old, was elected last Saturday, 31 January, with a considerable majority of almost two thirds of the eligible electors. “My thoughts go, above all, and before everything, to the difficulties and hopes of our fellow citizens. That’s enough,” he said right after being elected by the Parliament.
A former professor of Parliamentary Law, the newly-elected President sat as a judge on the Constitutional Court after being a Member of Parliament from 1983 to 2008, serving as Minister of Parliamentary Relations from 1987 to 1989, Minister of Education from 1989 to 1990 and as Minister of Defence from 1999 to 2001. From 1998 to 1999 he also had a one-year experience as Deputy Prime Minister. He has a long Christian-Democrat family tradition– his father, Bernardo, was one of the founders of the Italian “Democrazia Cristiana”.Mattarella entered politics after his brother Piersanti, then President of Sicily, was murdered by the Mafia in 1980.
One of his first priorities as the new President will be pushing the process of economic and institutional reforms ahead. Italy is now at a crossroad and reforms constitute the main legacy left by former President Giorgio Napolitano to his successor. A specific focus on the Italian electoral law, which is soon to be voted in the Parliament, is expected due to the expertise of Mattarella in this field (he drafted in 1993 the “Mattarellum”, the electoral law introducing the majority system in Italy).
Mattarella’s agenda will also feature his response to the economic crisis, social exclusion and unemployment. In his inaugural address to Parliament, he pointed out the urgent need for job market reform: efforts to reshape the job market and improve mobility are essential to give hope to workers –especially the young ones – and those that there are looking for jobs. Mattarella has vowed to push ahead with digital innovation in Public Administration, to encourage more participation of citizens in decision making.
Mattarella has also unveiled his plan to fight the spreading frustration with politics in Italy, due also to the high distrust earned by politicians among Italian population. While unemployment rates are increasing and condition of life are generally decreasing, politicians are considered in Italy as a real “casta”, blamed for focusing much more on their own interests than on those of Italian people.. He also referred to “the indignation of younger MPs” in his speech – which was read as a reference to the euro-sceptic 5 Star Movement. These MPs should contribute and support, according to what Mattarella said, a deep change in both society and politics, based on responsibility for the country’s well-being.
Mattarella showed his commitment to fighting crime and corruption – implicitly referring to the scandals that recently hit Rome’s municipality. He vowed to safeguard the natural and historical treasures of Italy. He recognised the value of solidarity, endorsing the integration of ethnic communities. He mentioned the importance of family and traditions.
Mattarella’s speech emphasised that Europe offers a framework for facing tomorrow’s challenges and also the importance of the EU as a political union. Here, reference was made to the growth strategy that the Italian presidency of the Council has tried to pit against the focus on fiscal consolidation dominant in Brussels.
Political observers are still uncertain as to how they should interpret Mattarella’s election, whose name was the only one presented by Prime Minister Renzi and then swiftly approved by Parliament, after a tough round of negotiations with the different political parties. But Mattarella has made it clear that he will remain an impartial referee as Italy strives for structural reforms – to be achieved by parliamentary approval and not through governmental decree.
The high estimation for Mattarella, coming from all corners of Italian political life, could help him in accomplishing his tasks and mission: certainly, it clearly shows the strong link that Italian politics still has with Christian Democratic values and traditions. His respect for the institutions and conscientiousness of duty as head of state reflects his personality: a great defender of the Constitution on which Italians can hopefully rely on.Paolo Brandi Elections EU Member States Leadership Political Parties
Sergio Mattarella: the new constitutional “referee”
11 Feb 2015
the pension reforms and tax system changes made. These policies would not be advisable in the country’s current economic environment. In fact, they are the same measures that got Greece into trouble in the first place, risking the deepening of the country’s debt burden and economic and social fragility. Pardoning the debt without changing the economic fundamentals will lead Greece into a next crisis soon.
The New Democracy’s programme proposes to continue with economic reforms to boost the country’s growth and competitiveness. Granted, many argue that the party could have done more to reduce the burden of the crisis on the private sector and to protect SMEs from going bust by improving the framework conditions for businesses to be able to continue operations in more efficient ways. However, their promise to support economically sound measures should be given an act of faith.
Greece will stay in the Europzone; sceptics will be proven wrong
Greece needs to elect leaders that have the credibility in front of Member States and towards private investors to govern the country responsibly. If Syriza wins, there is no certainty that the country stays in the Euro area, in spite of what it promises in the elections. Syriza will not be able to deliver only the attractive part of its programme. If they are left to apply economic utopia, people will burden the cost. Since their programme is not realistically able to bring the country back to growth, Greece will become even less credible for international lenders and unattractive to investors.
With the economy in its current state, it is unlikely that a Grexit would devalue the country’s debt; it might actually increase it. An exit of Greece from the euro would create even higher political instability, significant market turbulences and would actually increase borrowing costs for Greek businesses. Ultimately, the society as a whole would have to bear further costs and the sacrifices already made by the people are put at risk.
Therefore, in spite of what Eurosceptics believe, it is in Greece’s interest to stay in Eurozone. Given the current debt situation topping 175% of GDP, the re-scheduling of the debt repayment from 30 to 50 years would be a possible scenario under these circumstances. In addition, Greece would be on track to finalise the current bailout programme and get ready to enter international markets with more favourable interest rates in the longer term.
The population needs to be better informed about the possible consequences of voting for Syriza. Not taking the route of structural reforms, as Syriza proposes by reversing the already achieved results, poses a high risk to the country’s future welfare.Siegfried Mureşan Elections EU Member States Eurozone Political Parties
Greece: Forward not backwards
22 Jan 2015
Greece is heading into what may well be its most important election this decade. I think the real difference between the two major Greek parties vying to lead the next government, New Democracy (ND) and SYRIZA, is not, as often assumed, whether Greece should continue with the economic oversight programme drafted by the Troika. Rather, this is but a symptom of their underlying fundamental divergence in terms of how they perceive European politics and the way they evaluate Greece being a part of the Eurozone.
The party that is currently leading in the polls, SYRIZA, offers a complicated narrative. Given the fact that it began as a coalition of parties positioned at the extreme left of the political spectrum and that it could count on only 4-6 % of the vote before the crisis, this is to be expected. The party has undergone a radical structural and political change the last three years and yet remains different from the monolithic parties that we usually observe in Greece.
There are two observable and differing narratives present within the SYRIZA organisation.
Firstly the narrative sponsored by the internal opposition, meaning the group of party officials that is still very much attached to the idea of a socialistic transformation of the state and society. For these party members, SYRIZA, on its way to power, must keep its radical left credentials intact. Hence, a government led by SYRIZA should inevitably apply policies that are destined to achieve a general redistribution of wealth in favour of lower income earners. Moreover if the Troika is unwilling to accept such a programme, then it is inevitable that a SYRIZA government will break loose from the countries prior commitments leading Greece out of the Eurozone.
All in all, for a substantial minority of SYRIZA’s membership, the Euro is a symbol of capitalistic oppression- a barricade that hinders Greece’s path towards a more just and equal society. Therefore if this hypothesis is ‘proven’, after the elections, then SYRIZA’s left platform will certainly suggest that the country should break ranks from the Eurozone establishment.
On the other hand SYRIZA’s ruling majority is structured around the party’s president, Alexis Tsipras. This faction has been at the forefront of the effort to moderate the party’s position and broaden its base of support. SYRIZA’s leadership has tried to water down its leftist rhetoric by taking moderate positions regarding public order and national security. Nonetheless, SYRIZA’s stance towards the EU remains quite radical and utopian. For SYRIZA’s ruling officials, the EU is considered an entity that needs to be transformed radically in order to serve the people of Europe. Thus they see their ascendance to power as the ideal opportunity to initiate a popular wave that will transform the European establishment.
SYRIZA sees parties like Podemos in Spain and similar social movements in Italy as the first signs of a new order that will start taking over Europe after Tsipra’s election as Greek PM. Driven by this mindset, SYRIZA’s official political stance is that Europe’s popular dynamics will effectively abolish the current austerity programs and that the governance of the Eurozone will be effectively reoriented towards the goal of a fairer society. Within this context, SYRIZA believes that dilemmas like whether Greece will sign a new memorandum in order to stay in the Eurozone will become irrelevant.
The contradictory narratives inside SYRIZA have become more obvious as the election campaign has unfolded. The presidential team around Tsipras has spent much time and energy, during the campaign month, on trying to water down the rhetoric of the most radical members of the party. Given that there are only a few days left to the elections, such an incoherent narrative is very problematic. A party that may soon be called to form a government and take difficult decisions is expected to be more comprehensible when it comes to basic questions of economic and monetary policy. All this is to say that SYRIZA is failing to answer the billion dollar question: what will happen if the social movements, that they predict will unfold after Tsipra’s election, do not surge to power across Europe?
Then Tsipras will find himself having to choose between two distasteful alternatives. He can renege from his previous commitments and sign up for a renewed round of austerity and economic oversight – triggering a series of intra-party rifts that may lead to his eventual ousting from power. Or else, he must act unilaterally and declare his disobedience to the agreements previously signed by the Greek state. Such a decision would, de facto, lead Greece out of the Eurozone and into economic demise. All in all SYRIZA, especially its ruling elite, is once again faced with a fundamental question that has occupied the Left for a prolonged period of time: what if the history is not on their side after all?
Moving forward, the only alternative to SYRIZA and the second party in the polls right now is the centre-right New Democracy (ND) (the Greek EPP member party and the majority coalition partner in government). ND’s position on the above issues is far simpler and clearer. For them having the Euro is not only an economic and political necessity but also an existential one. Thus ND accepts that Greece may have to accept some type of economic oversight in order to ensure its place inside the Euro. All in all the main centre-right party in Greece sees the euro and the country’s European status as non-negotiable assets that grace the country with prestige and benefits and set it apart from the rest of the Balkans.
Such a perception is not limited to the centre-right but shared by the majority of the Greek voters. Although this may not be the major criterion that will decide the winner of the elections it is for sure that the next government will have to guarantee the country’s position inside the European edifice. Whoever fails to do so will certainly have history against him.Angelos Angelou Elections EU Member States Eurozone Political Parties Populism
The real difference between Greece’s main political forces
21 Jan 2015
‘Gouverner, c’est choisir’ (ruling means choosing). It seems that French Prime Minister Manuel Valls abides by this famous saying by Pierre Mendes-France, head of the French government from 1954 to 1955, and has forced it upon President François Hollande.
The government reshuffle of 26 August indeed shows that the illusion of a compromise between two radically diverging political and economic positions within the ruling Socialist Party has been crushed. The leftist Arnaud Montebourg, Benoit Hamon and Aurélie Filipetti (former Ministers of the Economy, Education and Culture respectively) are no longer part of the ruling team; Montebourg because he publicly claimed that the government’s economic policy was wrong and heading for disaster, Hamon and Filipetti because they backed him. The supporter of the ‘made in France’, of a diplomatic confrontation with Angela Merkel and of the ‘démondialisation’ is gone. Emmanuel Macron, a former investment banker, will replace him. ‘My enemy is the financial world’, Hollande said during his election campaign. But then, the President said many such absurdities in 2012.
What remained of the left wing of the PS has by now (almost) entirely been removed from government. Valls received a standing ovation following his speech before the employers’ union (Medef) on 27 August, where he made his ‘j’aime l’entreprise’ plea. He paid tribute to employees, employers and shareholders. Yes, shareholders. For a moment, I half-expected him to quote Margaret Thatcher’s best lines on popular capitalism.
So is the PS undergoing its ‘Bad Godesberg’, its ‘Clause Four Moment’, before our very eyes? Rhetorically, the right has never dared going that far. I say rhetorically, because Valls resembles more a shady pink Goliath than a French version of the Iron Lady or of Tony Blair. For all the alleged dynamism and decisiveness of the Prime Minister, there is no plan for reform, as the country is set to miss (yet again) its European obligations with regards the deficit. If the old left was killed in government, it survives in Parliament and prospers among the militant base, as the yearly Socialist Congress in La Rochelle has shown.
Already in April, 44 Socialist MPs refused to support the fiscal consolidation programme. The ‘fronde’ (revolt) has grown since then. The Greens can no longer be relied upon. The Communists divorced some time ago. This government has in effect no parliamentary majority, a perilous situation in view of the confidence vote to be held on 16 September. Therefore, however strong the words may sound, the government will have to compromise (rather: mutilate, or at least delay) those reforms which we have heard of so much since 2012. It is the price to pay to keep a centre-left parliamentary majority. The government does not want to beg the support of individual centrist and right-wing MPs. Politically, that would be a dangerous move for both PS and UMP.
Ironically, looking at the polls, one would think that the government has room for manoeuver: over 60% are in favour of cutting expenditure and becoming business-friendly. Moreover, a clear majority of the electorate believes that Hollande and Valls were right in ousting the leftists. Then, one may wonder why three quarters of the country have no trust in Valls’ team. In fact, for months now the prime minister’s popularity has been sliding downwards ever faster. He might enjoy a post-reshuffle boost, but this will be a short-lived relief. This, again, goes to the heart of the relationship that French people have with their politicians. Hollande, Valls, any minister, can claim just about anything; the country hears, but does not listen.
The same is more or less true of the UMP. This is why many right-wing MPs fear dissolution: overall, the UMP does not want to rule the country right now, especially with Hollande as head of state. How could it present itself as an alternative for the 2017 presidential election if the Prime Minister were seen weekly shaking the President’s hand, attending European and world Summits with him and if, as could be predicted, the government lacked any political will in fear of jeopardising the presidential election? It would further fuel Marine Le Pen’s devastating ‘UMPS’ rhetoric and set the picture for a Hollande – Le Pen runoff in 2017 which, according to current poll figures, Le Pen would easily win.
However, there is another option mentioned in the Constitution: should Parliament be dissolved and the UMP win, the party could refuse to govern. This would place the pressure back on Hollande and ultimately force his resignation, thus triggering an early presidential election. Such a move would be a return to the spirit of the Fifth Republic, with a President stepping down when he no longer has the backing of the electorate.
Back in 1953, in his speech to the National Assembly, Pierre Mendes France ended by saying: ‘Let us work together to give [our country] back its faith, its strength and its vigour, thus ensuring its recovery and renovation. Rest assured that once healed, far from blaming you for your thoroughness and courage, [the country] will be grateful that you enlightened it and showed it the way to its revival’. Unfortunately, for now, there is still no Mendes France-like figure on the left side of the French political spectrum.Gerald Gilmore Elections EU Member States Leadership Political Parties
French Socialism: Lost Illusions
12 Sep 2014
A study published by the Centre for European Studies (CES) and the Konrad Adenauer Stifung (KAS) has warned that alliances between populist parties will become a more common occurence leading in to the European Parliament elections taking place in May next year. Despite an unwillingness to cooperate in the past, “Exposing the Demagogues: Right-wing and National Populist Parties in Europe” signals that populist parties have found a tentative common direction in order to mobilise a European political grouping. Roland Freudenstein, Deputy Director of the Centre for European Studies said: “The rejection of a strong EU is in the central focus of this cooperation. Other issues such as anti-immigration and anti-globalisation rhetoric, as well as the protection of traditional values fit into this framework very well.”
The CES/KAS study identifies populist alliances as an issue which must be taken seriously by all actors involved in EU politics. “Exposing the Demagogues: Right-wing and National Populist Parties in Europe” examines a range of national populist parties across Europe including the Netherlands’ Party for Freedom, led by Geert Wilders and the French National Front led by Marine La Pen. The study concludes by outlining strategies on how Christian Democratic parties can react to populism rhetoric.Elections EU Member States Euroscepticism Political Parties Populism
CES study warns of more alliances between populist parties
15 Nov 2013
The development of political systems, structures and entities is in the interest of every political scientist. For the CES these topics are very important, especially when it comes to developmental issues and the challenges facing political parties. In March 2013 Moisés Naím, a Venezuelan-born economist and politics scholar, published a very interesting and stimulating book titled ‘End of Power’, which examines some of the same questions the CES has addressed, by posing many of the concepts and questions of political systems in a global context. In his book, Naím observes that developed democracies are faced with elections in higher frequency which leads to a political party landscape that is unstable. Furthermore, Naím points out that new parties are appearing and fading away very quickly while non-decided voters in many developed countries are now becoming the largest voter group. These observations have also been made by many other scholars.
Classically, the dynamics of the political systems is presented as a landscape where the main power is held by the political elite, often characterised of consisting a small group of powerful people who have a privileged status and who are also governing within the society. A great deal of political checks and balances have been created in order to ensure that political elites and decision makers are regularly challenged and their actions revised. Political elitism as a concept is often used even today and garners a perception of stability in the minds of people but as Naím points out; political elites are anything but stable in today’s political climate.
Political entities need new ideas, approaches and solutions when facing the electorate. Such reinvigoration of a political party is brought by new individuals who are interested in politics and who want to engage with the political process. This is essential for a functional political system. However, over the past few decades, the trend has shown that often the best way to succeed in politics is to instead take another career path outside party-politics. An individual with a successful background in almost any field outside of politics is an attractive candidate for any political party. The perception is that those outside the political bubble are more capable to bring in fresh ideas and new thinking to a party’s membership. Throughout Europe, political parties have adapted to this reality and take it to account when selecting candidates for elections.
In all democracies, the political process boils down to individuals who are elected to take decisions and it can take elected officials many years to become accustomed with parliamentary processes and to become effective in their roles. As political parties continue to seek new candidates outside party ranks and due to the formation of new parties, it is now easier than ever for a first-time candidate to get elected. Some new parties and movements, like Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement in Italy, even set term limits for officeholders in order to guarantee rotation. On the flip side, a candidate or member of a parliament who knows that their stay in politics will be short and who reached their position without any great effort or investment, does not have the interest in making the difficult decisions that have a long term impact – simply because they don’t have to deal with long term consequences. Such an elected official can be dogmatic, uncompromising and rigid.
In recent times, there has been a growing trend amongst voters to reject not only professional politicians but professional parties also. This is partly due to voter’s disappointment and anger with a political system and political parties that have in their eyes not served them adequately. In turn, this has created a belief amongst some sections of the electorate that by electing a new political entity, this will bring with it a new way of doing politics, better representing the people and bringing with them better results.
The desire for new faces has become an increasingly strong influence in voters’ behavior, often even overshadowing the achievements and success of governments. An excellent example of this is Sweden, where current Prime Minister Reinfeldt, who has been in government for two consecutive terms, has made Sweden’s economy stay stable and positive in a European economic crisis which has meant the majority of Swedish voters are positive about the future, which is rather exceptional in Europe today. However, this has not led to a surge of support for Prime Minister Reinfeldt and the Moderate Party, with opinion polls in July showing support for the coalition government lagging behind that of its opponents.
Political careers are becoming shorter. Instead of continuing in politics, successful politicians are moving to the private sector becoming senior consultants and members of boards for a range of large and internationally recognised corporations – with a lifetime career in politics now becoming a rarity. This means that young people are not interested to invest in any political career partly because a long-term political career doesn’t exist for a large section of politicians anymore.
So what is the state of the political classes in politics today? Clearly, it has become more difficult to pinpoint who concretely belongs to the so-called political elite. However, although the faces of politics might change across the continent, the mechanisms and institutions in place continue working regardless of who is in power. New people with different professional backgrounds are getting elected to parliaments across Europe, but with less and less previous experience on political process. The newly elected representative often is no longer a career politician, rather a professional in a different career who ended up to be a politician, often temporarily. Political elite is an important concept of political analysis, but it is highly important that we debate what it means and whether is continues to exist in this ever-changing political landscape.
While the political class is increasingly changing, the institutions aiming to influence political process are less unstable. Business presentations, trade unions, NGOs and even think thanks share the political world’s challenges of modern trends but although politicians and parties come and go, these entities increasingly become the guard keepers of the collective memory of the political process, knowledge and its history. As traditional political class weakens, it is a new opportunity for those influencing political process from outside the institutions.
The logical solution to counter voters’ dissatisfaction is to assure that the political system delivers. When voters are satisfied with their representatives, there is less need for adventure in the ballot box. The greatest achievement of Naím‘s observations are in highlighting why it is more difficult than ever before for political systems to deliver in the eyes of the electorate. As insightful and great his analysis is, less surprising are Naím’s conclusions and proposal. He underlines the need to find new forms of governance and to find new innovative ways of political participation. The future challenge might be that when the political elites are requested to act, there will be in fact nobody to respond.Tomi Huhtanen Democracy Party Structures Political Parties Society
Political Elites – Do perceptions meet the reality?
07 Oct 2013
The Pirate Party, a new party concept in the age of digital revolution, seemed to shake up the entire German political scene in only a few months.
Since 2011 the party, a new political force of Internet freedom activists modelled on the Swedish Piratpartiet, has succeeded in attaining a high enough vote share to enter four state parliaments in Germany, first Berlin, then North Rhine-Westphalia, Saarland and Schleswig-Holstein. Membership grew to 20.000 people in just four months.The party was consistently polling at over 10 % on the national level, competing with the Greens and Liberals for third place. Some observers thought that also on the European level, a European Pirate political family could make an impact in the 2014 European elections, especially after a meeting in Prague in April 2012.
But now, in the decisive year with the German national elections (Bundestag) in autumn 2013, the German Pirate party has experienced a strong decline in public support due to a lack of strategy, struggles in the leadership, diminished media hype and the non-fulfilment of the admittedly excessive public expectations in general. Consequently, the Pirate party only got 2 % at the elections for the state parliament in Lower Saxony— a disaster for the party´s ambitions. A dramatic development would be necessary for the party to garner enough support to enter the Bundestag. The decline of the German Pirates has also negatively affected the morale of its sister parties across Europe, particularly in Sweden.
In general, the case of the Pirate Party is indicative of the situation of representation in our democracies themselves: representation is now guided by changing popular moods, the so called Stimmungsdemokratie. In modern democracies, political parties tend to be professionalised, media- and communication orientated, and often have the following features:
• professional communication management;
• issues are quickly adopted based on their attractiveness on Twitter and other social media;
• oriented more towards single issues than towards a coherent programme;
• perceived competences are filtered through a strategic centre of power; and
• a reduced importance of active members.
This provides an opportunity for new challengers and grassroots movements throughout Europe. The Pirates began by depicting themselves as a party to which everybody could contribute and one in which nobody held any privileged position. While originally a party of “computer nerds and hackers” demanding online freedom, its appeal as an anti-establishment movement lured many young voters to the ballot boxes, catapulting them into state parliaments. The all-volunteer Pirates offer little in terms of a coherent ideology and focus primarily on promoting their flagship policies of near-total transparency and an unrestricted Internet. German media were fascinated and invited the young new politicians and parliamentarians to the traditional media (where they sometimes simultaneously tweeted), describing them as “good populists” in sharp contrast to the right-wing populist parties. They viewed the Pirate Party as a new and fascinating model to create real participation in the world of web 2.0. The magazine “Der Spiegel” had a headline saying “Avanti Dilettanti”. Reality was different: some activists permanently using twitter experienced burn-out (such as the popular 24-years old and media-friendly Marina Weisband) while others began to use the party as a vehicle for their personal ambitions, articulating positions in talk shows without consulting the virtual community in advance (such as Johannes Ponader).
The Pirates are trying to ‘hack politics’ in the sense of making alterations to it rather than destroying it. The movement may have begun with a narrow focus on intellectual property, but it has developed into an attempt to make the political process transparent — and of course better suited to the digital age. The Pirates have their own software and use the Internet as the medium for internal party decision-making. As a new party, they were able to establish a functioning organisation by means of the Internet. Even critics have to admit that the new form of participation has revitalized intra-party democracy, although caution should be exercised before taking any revolutionary idea too seriously. Excessive transparency, for instance, the live streaming of each session, could open politics to ridicule. Each malfunction or scurrilous occurrence would be closely monitored. The party congress in October 2012 showed clearly that the revolutionary model the party adopted doesn´t work: more than 1400 pages and 700 initiatives, endless debates that had already taken place in the virtual world, complicated decision-making processes and an obvious lack of a coherent vision.
Only a small number of party members are generally active in the Pirates’ online communities such as Liquid feedback, a programme that lets people vote on documents or delegate votes to proxies. This notion is based on a technical-administrative image of political decision-making that has—against all claims—nothing to do with grassroots democratic participation. Moreover, the party congresses of the Pirates are, in important respects, conventional. We have witnessed internal quarrels, even up to the level of insults and wars over internal regulations and statutes—the typical problems encountered in the internal debates of the established parties. Currently, the party itself is openly searching for a new way of communicating between the leadership and the party’s base, following recent developments. It seems that the party will not follow the example of the green parties which started a permanent success story in the 1980s, profiting from an increased interest in issues such as ecology, peace and feminism.
Nevertheless, traditional parties can learn from the Pirate party case in several ways:
• one should never overestimate the real importance of a new party just based on the media hype it attracts at the beginning.
• parties have to adapt their communication via slogans and bits, which they have already started,while maintaining stability, credibility and loyalty among the electorate. Facebook, Twitter and other social media can contribute to activating and mobilising members and (already politicised) non-members, especially also on the European level for European political parties which do not have the classical form of membership.
• Future discussions about the organisations and structures of parties will centre on the question of membership surveys and decisions as well as the question of a new activism with the digital tools. Social media could help that party politics becomes not old-fashioned and provide new possibilities for campaigning both on national and European level.
Picture source: www.sfgate.comFlorian Hartleb Political Parties
More “dilettanti” than “avanti”: The stocking success hype of the Pirate Party
04 Feb 2013
allIt is happening everywhere in Europe: in Italy, a grassroots movement called “Movimento 5 stelle” (“Five Stars Movement”) has coalesced around former comedian and showman Beppe Grillo, who writes one of the world’s most influential political blogs addressed to young people. In Austria, three IT experts founded an online party at a press conference held on 27 March 2012. It follows the principle of direct democracy in that the online community should make the decisions.
Specific topics which are internet-related, such as the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), as well as more general issues, can be voted on within pre-set deadlines. Live tweets from Parliament could make the party attractive. A watchdog council is expected to control communications and prevent, for example, extremist discussions. Starting in 2013, the party will open ‘real’ regional branches and create a national unit to participate in elections.
The Pirate parties are a new phenomenon in the European political landscape and are particularly visible in Germany. In the 2011 Berlin state election, the Pirates managed for the first time to exceed the 5% threshold necessary to win seats in the state assembly, winning 8.9% of the votes. Since this turning point, the party has created media hype with positive feedback and has received some international attention, including in The Economist. Many members who flooded into the party after its success in Berlin are not concerned with internet issues. But they share the assumption that disagreements can be resolved by dialogue and voting. In March 2012 the Pirates received 7.4% of the vote and thus won 4 seats in the Landtag of Saarland.
Subsequent polls in 2012 have shown an increase in the popularity of the Party (constantly over 10%). As was the case in Berlin, nearly one quarter of first time voters (23%) in Saarland gave their vote to the Pirate Party. This distinct generational divide indicates that reasons other than protest are important for the Pirate Party’s success. Belonging to the Internet generation and shared concerns over digital issues seem to be more convincing reasons than protest voting. The Pirates also have a new approach to politics. They depict themselves as a real party in which it is possible for everyone to contribute and no one has any privileges. The Pirates have their own software and use the Internet as the medium for internal decision-making. As a new party, it was able, starting in Sweden, to sustain a functioning organisation by means of the Internet. Even critics have to admit that the new form of participation has given new energy to intra-party democracy, although caution should be exercised in taking any revolutionary idea too seriously.
Excessive transparency could open politics to ridicule, for instance through the live streaming of each session. Each slip-up or scandalous incident would not only be monitored, but could overshadow political content. Such openness may serve to promote curiosity, rather than democracy. Furthermore, the notion of participation and thus equality would be limited to the virtual community. And even here there are drawbacks: only a small number of party members are active in online communities. Moreover, the party congresses of the Pirates are conventional in important respects. We have witnessed internal quarrels, even to the level of insults and arguments over internal regulations and statutes—the typical tools also used in debates within established parties. Future discussions about the organisation and structures of parties will focus on the question of membership surveys and decisions as well as on virtualisation. This is especially true after the success of the German Pirate Party has shown that the internal dynamics of the social media community can already be occasionally regarded as agenda-setters for classic media.
European Pirate parties generally define themselves as a new left-wing alternative to the established parties (including the Greens) and share ambitions for the European elections in 2014, vowing to promote a more transparent state and a larger role in decision-making for citizens. In the European elections in 2014, the Internet, data protection and cyber security will be the key issues, at least when it comes to reaching and mobilising the younger generation. The Pirates’ rivals are starting to copy their methods by creating virtual party organisations and internet policy platforms, leading to so-called Facebook parties. Euro parties must use the new tools of interaction for campaigning on the European level in order to increase low turnout and create a European discussion.Florian Hartleb Elections EU Institutions Political Parties Values
Pirates & Co: The Fast Emergence of New Parties in the Virtual Age
03 May 2012
On April 28-29, 2011 the Party of European Socialists (PES) organised a Euromed Conference – Arab revolutions: time for democracy and progress – in Tunis together with the main PES political partner in Tunisia Democratic Forum for Labour and Liberties (FDTL), and other representatives of the opposition and political parties in the region. It was the first conference held by a European political party in the region since the revolutions, with the aim to create a platform to promote democratic principles.
The conference brought together around 100 participants from PES member parties and associated organisations from Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Malta, UK, Norway and Switzerland and like-minded representatives not only from Tunisia, but also Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Kurdistan, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Syria, Morocco, Palestine, Yemen. The PES also invited special guests; including people such as the Director of the Foundation Res Publica, Portugal, co-founder of EuroArab Forum, Secretary General of the European Forum and Secretary General of Solidar, as well as representatives from Turkey. The President and Secretary General of the PES attended the conference, and so did the Deputy Secretary General of S&D in the European Parliament and Secretary General of PES’ official foundation, Foundation for European Progressive Studies (FEPS). Some members of the European Parliament, members of national parliaments, international secretaries of the PES’ affiliated parties and a few bloggers also joined the conference. Judging from the list of participants, journalists and other media representatives were not present at the conference.
On the first day the conference was divided into two sessions, discussing how to create a new Euro-Mediterranean partnership, consolidate democracy and ensure the success of the revolutions. During the dinner debate various actors of the revolutions shared their experiences. In general, speakers emphasised the role of the youth and the strong impact of new technologies as new but strong kinds of political mobilisation, and the role of women in the process of democratic reform. Calling FDTL Secretary General Mustapha Ben Jaafar ‘my good friend’ and Tunisian people ‘heroes of democracy’, PES President Poul Nyrup Rasmussen during the press conference apologized for ‘Europe not having done a good job’ in the region in the past. In his speech, he also did not forget to attack the EPP and the leaders of the EPP member parties. This time he directed his criticism towards Italian and French governments for their request to temporarily suspend their Schengen commitments due to an influx of migrants to their countries. The next day, April 29, two morning sessions looked at Social Democrat parties of the region and addressed the social and economic problems, looking at ways how to ‘answer the demands of the people for a fair and just society’.
The conference was followed on Twitter, however, less than 10 twitts have been entered with most of them coming directly from the PES Secretariat. In parallel to the conference, the debate could have been continued also on the Re:new, the PES website-based platform for debate. However, this possibility has not been used. Outcome The conference resulted in the adoption of a formal declaration. The declaration emphasised that the PES must ensure transparent and credible foundations in terms of institutions, law on political organizations, financing of political parties and constitutional safeguards, and underlined the essential role of opposition political parties, trade unions and civil society in the transition process. The declaration encouraged the Socialist and Social Democratic movements to cooperate very closely for the upcoming elections, and to reject any assumptions regarding the incompatibility of democracy and Islamic traditions. The declaration also condemned the actions of the Gaddafi regime in Libya, violence against protesters and civilians in Syria, questioned the extent of reforms undertaken in Morocco, Jordan and Algeria and expressed its concerns about outcome of the protests in Bahrain and of the upcoming local elections in Saudi Arabia.
In addition, the declaration included more concrete recommendations to the EU: 1. The EU must take all necessary steps to implement an Emergency Programme to support the countries in different forms to all emerging democratic movements, e.g. support regional development, investment plans, civil society, media expansion, active engagement of young people and to open European markets for agricultural products from the region. The declaration did not specify how this should be done. For example, the Emergency Programme could include more concrete suggestions on how to develop civil society and independent media or a suggestion for the EU’s rule of law mission to Tunisia. 2. The EU should promote association agreements and advanced status negotiations, as well as specific visa regimes and free mobility, but this should be conditional to progress in key democracy areas. Here again, the declaration could be more concrete: what does specific visa regime and free mobility mean – e.g. reducing the cost of visas, granting long-term visas to businessmen, students and civil society, or giving opportunity for Tunisian students to spend a year at European universities and vice versa.
In this context, the Party of European Socialists committed itself to play a fundamental role vis-à-vis the EU’s actions in the region and via its Action Plan to: 1. Coordinate actions with the S&D Group in the EP, FEPS, the Global Progressive Forum, the European Forum for Democracy and Solidarity and national progressive foundations and provide support for party-building and capacity-building through training and recruitment in close cooperation with the regions’ like-minded parties. Already in its earlier statement from February, the PES underlined the important role of FEPS in the process which should provide assistance and raining for political parties and think tanks and therefore the EU should make extra funding available to European political foundations. However, judging from the FEPS website, no initiative has been taken in this regard since the revolutions (no paper published, no event organised, no mention of the conference organised by the PES, etc.). 2. Help with campaign programmes and political strategies for the upcoming elections. How the PES is going to do this, remains unclear. It could possibly be done through the creation of an advisory commission for elections which should include representatives from Central and Eastern Europe, since they have gone through a similar process in recent history. 3. Help the EU identify new strategies to manage migration flows. 4. Establish a Task Force composed of parties and foundations and create a network bringing together relevant actors from both sides of Mediterranean. The creation of a Task Force has already been mentioned in several earlier documents adopted by the PES. The conference just confirmed the PES decision to form this Task Force but did not come up with any more concrete decisions in this regard.
A follow-up conference to evaluate the implementation level of the Action Plan is scheduled for spring 2012.Katarina Králiková Arab Spring Democracy Political Parties
PES Euromed Conference in Tunisia
02 May 2011
Finland’s Parliamentary elections were held on Sunday, 17 April. The elections were won by Kokoomus, the National Coalition Party (20,4%), followed by the Social Democrat SDP (19,1%), the True Finns (19,0%), the Centre Party (15,8%), the Left (8,1%), the Greens (7,2%), the Swedish People’s Party (4,3%), and finally, the Christian Democrats (4,0%). All parties experienced weaker results than in the last elections, except the True Finns.
Mr. Jyrki Katainen, the Chair of Kokoomus and Vice-President of the EPP, will, after some formalities, begin negotiations to form a government. It is usually a cliché when election results are referred to as “historic”, labelled mostly by those who won the elections. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that the recent Finnish election has elements that make it truly different from all previous Finnish parliamentary elections. The main change is the rise of the True Finns, who increased their share of votes from 4% to 19%. Instead of the three big parties that have ruled for decades, Finland now has four. The second aspect is the massive defeat of the Centre Party, which experienced a loss of 7,3%. These are no doubt significant changes in a country where results tend to change only a few percentage points from one election to another. Kokoomus (National Coalition Party), an EPP Member, also made history by becoming the largest party for the first time in parliamentary elections.
The Finnish elections had extensive international press coverage, particularly due to concerns that the True Finns Party would win and that Mr. Timo Soini, the Chair, founder and driving force of the party, would become Prime Minister. Such a development would have been a major challenge to the EU, given that a declared EU-sceptic would have had the ability to block all consensus-required decisions in the EU. The success of the True Finns has similarities to the recent rise of populist parties elsewhere in Europe. Citizens’ apathy toward the consensus-driven political culture has led to a situation in which even dedicated supporters of other Finnish political parties welcomed the True Finns’ arrival as a shake-up of the system. Moreover, all the ingredients of populist rhetoric found fruitful soil in a post-economic crisis country, where citizens felt that they had done their duty, suffered to keep their economy in shape and were having serious doubts about the European bailout.
Given the relatively low share of votes for the leading parties, the True Finns had the potential to achieve even better electoral results. However, the success of the True Finns had already been set in motion for more than a year, and since much of the True Finns’ popularity came from the newness of their movement rather than the set of concrete policy issues the party is espousing, voters’ enthusiasm started to wane in the last weeks before the election. Also as a result of the growing popularity of the True Finns over the past year, voters in the last weeks started to really consider the possible consequences of voting for the True Finns. Jyrki Katainen demanded that Timo Soini be invited to public TV debates reserved only for the leaders of the three largest parties, and labelled him as a de facto candidate for Prime Minister. As a result, Timo Soini had to re-position himself by converting from a maverick and comedian during TV debates to a real politician. This proved to be a challenge for him. In addition, during the final days before the elections, Soini began to divert from his populist positions in order to increase his chances of being included in a future government. He stated that he agreed with the government’s immigration policy (which he denied when his party members protested) and even hinted that the True Finns could be in a government supporting EU bailouts with certain conditions.
All of this also contributed to the fading popularity of the True Finns just before the election. However, just one day before the election, Portugal declared its need for EU assistance. This significantly changed the dynamic in favour of the opposition’s messaging in very last moment. In the same way that the Portuguese crisis can explain the True Finns’ better election results compared to their position in the polls only some days earlier, the debate surrounding this crisis just before election day can partly explain the sudden fall of Mari Kiviniemi’s Centre Party, despite the fact that in some polls the Centre was close to being in the lead. The Centre party’s core voters, who in essence are less enthusiastic about the EU, were reminded just before voting of the difficult decisions on the European level that the party has had to take. Some of these voters simply stayed home. The Finnish elections—the day after? Given this election result, the Chairman of the National Coalition party and EPP Vice-President Jyrki Katainen is undisputed in his mandate to form a government. However, his challenges start immediately. How should the True Finns be included in the new government? Given the consensual political culture in Finland, it is expected that a party with substantial electoral gains be seriously considered in a government coalition. Moreover, as the second largest party in the country, the Social Democrats have hinted that the True Finns should be a part of the new government. The Centre Party has also declared that they will move to the opposition. As a result, the True Finns are very likely to be a partner in governing.
At this point the most likely composition seems to be Kokoomus and the Social Democrats, the True Finns and, perhaps, the Swedish People’s Party. Including the True Finns in a coalition is problematic not because of the positions they have, but rather because they have none—or, at least, those they do have are always in flux. The anti-immigration tendencies of the True Finns will not be the key question as with some European populist parties, as the True Finns are not in essence a xenophobic party. Timo Soini is a converted Catholic and has been active in the small Catholic community in Finland for decades, which mainly consists of first generation immigrants. But as a party, the True Finns do not discipline their individual members who have anti-immigrant tones. The True Finns’ party programme is actually rather mainstream; the problem is that hardly anyone in the party adheres to it. At the moment the True Finns are unprepared to work within a government; this suddenly significant party has simply not had the time to turn from a group of “Soini and his friends” into an organized entity. Being a government partner means there is a danger that the True Finns will become a loose cannon, especially as their popularity inevitably begins to decrease and their populist habits kick in. A very tight programmatic framework will be set for the True Finns in negations to form a government, and it seems that the True Finns’ will to govern is so strong that they will not allow government negotiations to fail. The main and most difficult questions will involve the concrete consequences of the True Finns’ anti-European stance and position with regard to the bail-outs.
However, a theoretical government not including the True Finns could also result in a risky scenario. Even if the True Finns were to be excluded from the new government despite serious negotiations, the True Finns could easily frame such a decision as the lack of will within the political establishment to “hear the voice of the people”—and the true result of the democratic elections. It also would leave the True Finns in a strong position to reorganize themselves and their crowds of supporters while playing the populist card in opposition—and then perhaps grow even more as a party. This could be further exacerbated by any difficult decision the government might have to take, for instance, in relation to the Euro Crisis. Katainen’s government must start to work on the long term economic challenges Finland is facing, which were not sufficiently underlined, or downplayed, by parties during the campaign.
Soon-to-be former Prime Minister Mari Kiviniemi declared during the campaign that in her view, no cost savings are needed in the public sector. These wrong impressions need to be corrected. However, the Social Democrats and the populist True Finns are far from the easiest partners one could have when undertaking challenging reforms. The unfortunate victim of the April elections is the positive attitude Finns generally have toward the EU. In essence, Finland’s commitment to the EU will remain. However, in the midst of the Greek and Portuguese crises, the True Finns’ EU-critical message reached its audience—and one of the victims was the Social Democrat Party. Previously the driving force in EU issues, the Social Democrat Party did in fact listen the siren song of the True Finns and opposed backing the loan to Greece, while shrouding their position with unrealistic demands—a desperate attempt to grab some of the True Finns’ success. The Social Democrats are now challenged with finding a way to return to more responsible positions on EU questions without losing face. In addition, many in the defeated Centre Party, who will move to the opposition, will conclude that a major factor in the electoral catastrophe were the difficult decisions on European issues that the party supported while in government. As a result, the traditionally more EU-sceptical European Centre Party will take more EU-critical positions while in the opposition.
During the last days before the elections, a respected academic demanded in an editorial in a prominent newspaper that Finland abandon the Euro; this is just one example of the new nature of the EU debate in Finland. After the elections, the hope of the Finnish people and the political establishment, like in many European countries who have managed to keep their economy more or less in shape, is this: “No more bad news from Europe, please”. What could help the popular mood are not new sets of declarations and decisions from Council meetings of Brussels, but rather a real story, where a challenged country, thanks to European support, manages to bounce back, take difficult decisions, push through reforms and get its economy back on track. That would also dilute the anti-European case made by the True Finns.
How would the True Finns try to influence Finnish positions on EU issues as a part of the new government? At the moment, even Timo Soini does not know. It all depends on the government negotiations, but more importantly, on how much Timo Soini can, in the long run, compromise on EU issues without losing his popular support.Tomi Huhtanen Elections Political Parties
Finnish Elections: What’s next?
18 Apr 2011
In the last week of March, three European political parties organised separate conferences on political populism. The Centre for European Studies, the official think-tank of the European People’s Party (EPP); the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE); and the Greens / European Free Alliance (GEFA) all organised meetings in the European Parliament on the rise of populism and on developing responses to this phenomenon.
Throughout Western Europe, right-wing populist challengers are currently playing on anti-Islam and anti-immigration sentiments. The outstanding example is the charismatic Dutchman Geert Wilders who is managing to dangle the minority government on a string. His one-member party is a new challenger to the established parties. Similar challengers have appeared on the scene in Sweden and Finland. Other, existing right-wing populist parties are showing the ability to reinvent themselves. In Austria, Heinz-Christian Strache has replaced Jörg Haider at the helm of Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs (Freedom Party of Austria) and in France, Marine Le Pen has stepped in her father?s shoes as the leader the Front national (National Front). In the changing party systems in Central and East Europe, populism is has become visible as a political phenomenon for some time already. The three conferences organised in the European Parliament last week reveal the differing approaches of the EPP, ALDE and GEFA to political populism.
The EPP conference focused specifically on the foreign policy dimension of populism, using a paper by CES Angelos-Stylianos Chryssogelos. It debated the similarities between right-wing and left-wing populism in Europe. Both left and right-wing populists pit „the people? against the elites. For the left-wing populists, the people are defined as against the international capitalist elite. The right-wing populists describe themselves as the protectors of „their? nations against immigrants and the minorities. The populists often appeal to foreign policy issues. These can be transformed to simple mobilising slogans where enemies are clearly defined. These patterns are then used to frame domestic policy issues.
The ongoing „Arab Spring has put the right-wing populists in disarray: The democratic movements in North Africa and the Middle East are damaging the claims that Muslims are inherently incapable of democratic self-government. In contrast to the EPP approach, the Liberals? and the Greens? conferences on populism focused mostly or exclusively on right-wing populism, ignoring parties such as Die Linke (The Left) in Germany and the loose but sometimes violent left-wing populist movement like in the Anti-Globalisation Movement that is on the rise in Greece. At the ALDE Group?s conference, the Liberal leader Guy Verhofstadt mentioned that the Perussuomalaiset (True Finns) are likely to be the largest party after the Finnish elections take place in a few weeks. He described other examples of extreme and populist parties in Slovakia, Hungary, France, the Netherlands and Belgium. He characterised the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats as standing in opposition to these anti-liberal values in politics.
Finally, as was the case in the previous conference, some of the approximately sixty participants lumped different figures together by mentioning Jörg Haider and Viktor Orbán in the same context as former liberals and later radical-populists. The conference of the Greens, moderated by Daniel Cohn-Bendit, MEP, emphasised that right-wing extremist attitudes are already present in the mainstream of European societies. The founder of the Anti-Globalisation movement, French farmer José Bové was present at the Greens? conference. He warned of the new danger of the right-wing forces. Bové, a Member of the European Parliament as of 2009, failed to mention that he has spent time in prison for completely destroying a McDonald’s restaurant in France. At the Greens’ discussion, right-wing populism and right-wing extremism were generally used synonymously.
Participants spoke of a significant danger of “extreme and populist force” in the European Parliament. Viktor Orbán, Marine Le Pen and Geert Wilders were lumped together in the same context. The Greens’ conference also featured a highly regarded European expert on this topic, Cas Mudde. Mudde emphasised that it is politically short-sighted to bundle together populist parties, such as the Nieuw-Vlaamse Alliantie (New Flemish Alliance, N-VA) in Belgium, winner of the 2010 general elections, and the Flemish Interest (Vlaams Belang,) a far-right extremist force. He stressed the need for mainstream parties to tackle and reframe issues that the populists tend to put on the agenda, such as street crime, instead of just vilifying their use. None of the three conferences offered ready-made solutions to the problem of populism. The Liberal and Green conferences – although welcome – did not distinguish between right-wing populism and extremism, and completely neglected left-wing populism. The nature of populism, left and right, is flexible and chameleon-like, not based on a fixed ideology. Populism can radicalise the political discourse and swing the tone of political debates.Florian Hartleb Elections Euroscepticism Political Parties Populism
European Political Parties and the rise of Populism
07 Apr 2011
Japan’s devastating earthquake of 11 March has, within 2 weeks, led to a tsunami in German politics. Although Angela Merkel will remain Chancellor of a Christian Democrat – Liberal coalition (CDU/CSU and FDP) with a comfortable majority for another two and a half years, Germany’s political landscape has been altered significantly, and with ominous consequences for the centre right.
As of today, it looks highly unlikely that the current coalition could win another majority in 2013.
State parliament elections in two Southwestern Länder, Baden-Württemberg and Rheinland-Pfalz, have produced Social Democrat-Green coalition governments in both. While the CDU lost 5 percentage points in Baden-Württemberg, it had moderate gains in Rheinland-Pfalz. But what counts is that in the latter it couldn’t wrest power from the Social Democrat incumbent, whereas in the former, it lost power in a traditional stronghold after having been in government for 58 years. And Baden-Württemberg will now be the first German Land governed by a Green Prime Minister, the result of that party doubling its share from 12 to 24 %, which is one percentage point more than the SPD, which will take the junior position.
The Social Democrats lost considerably in both elections, but will be able to stay in power in both states. The Liberals, however, barely got into the state parliament in Baden-Württemberg (which used to be their stronghold as well) and dropped out in Rheinland-Pfalz. Their party is now in an existential crisis. The Greens have had the biggest breakthrough of their 30 year political existence and now reach deep into the societal mainstream. Causes The immediate cause of this result is the specific German reaction to the hazards of nuclear power. Fear of nuclear energy as well as nuclear war was at the root of the environmental and the peace movement of the 1970s and 1980s which, in turn, led to the creation and growing political success of the Greens in German politics. The Social Democrat-Green coalition of Gerhard Schröder and Joschka Fischer (1998-2005) had negotiated a phase-out of nuclear power until 2020. This deal was renegotiated and the phase-out extended until 2028 by the CDU/CSU/FDP coalition in power since 2009. For a number of years, there had actually been a slight majority of public opinion in favour of civilian nuclear power. But last year’s phase-out reversal, decided in a deliberate attempt to polarize against the Greens (who were now identified as the main ideological competitor of the CDU/CSU), had already led to a revival of anti-nuclear protests.
From 12 March onwards, the Fukushima accident was relentlessly played up by the German media (TV, press and internet alike), public opinion turned abruptly against nuclear power once again, and an electoral triumph of the Greens seemed within reach. But the Berlin coalition had been troublesome from its start in 2009, with stronger than usual infighting and slow decision making. In the 2nd half of 2010, some dynamism was regained, but the February 2011 crisis surrounding Defence Minister zu Guttenberg had already damaged the coalition again. Nevertheless, the narrow red-green majority suggests that without Fukushima, the local CDU candidate Mr. Mappus would have remained Prime Minister, which would have amounted to a spectacular success for Angela Merkel as well. The UNSC abstention on Libya which has led to much protest in the Berlin security community, and to irritation internationally, seems to have had little effect on the elections. But this was in itself an expression of the fear of taking unpopular decisions,especially in the FDP.
With the Guttenberg crisis and a post-Fukushima acceleration of the phase-out, the CDU/CSU had significantly lost credibility in the eyes of both its own electorate and of swing voters. Voter flows in Baden-Württemberg show that the Greens could not only draw voters from all other parties, but—most spectacularly—from former non-voters who are not normally interested in politics but can be mobilised in situations perceived as dramatic: this is further proof that politics are becoming more volatile and subject to quickly changing moods. Consequences Germany is, at the moment, veering toward a party landscape with one real people’s party, the CDU/CSU, covering about one third of the electorate, and two medium-sized parties, the stagnant Social Democrats slightly above 25 %, and the Greens holding over 20 % and catching up. The Liberals are hovering around 5 % (the minimum required to get into Parliament) and are therefore fighting for their political survival, while the Left Party seems stagnant around 10 %.
In this constellation, the CDU/CSU faces the strategic problem of finding a future coalition partner (without which it will be impossible to get a parliamentary majority). Unless the Liberals recuperate, that partner will have to be either the SPD or the Greens. In the case of the former, any coalition will require major compromises on social and economic policies, in the case of the latter, on environment, technology and infrastructure. But at the same time, an already irritated conservative part of the CDU/CSU electorate will have to be reassured that Germany does not compromise too much in the Euro crisis and on conservative values; meanwhile the liberal wing needs to be reassured that their party still offers market-oriented alternatives to red and green policies for the economy, infrastructure and energy. If anyone can pull this off, it is Angela Merkel, whose role as party chair and Chancellor is undisputed. Moreover, the Greens will soon be in danger of disappointing the now high expectations placed upon them, especially by the more radical parts of theirRoland Freudenstein Elections Political Parties
Regional elections in Germany- the threats to the coalition
28 Mar 2011
The social and economic role of cities, regardless of the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, is set to remain crucial for global development. However, the importance of cities is not mirrored in the European centre–right political agenda. Over recent years, cities have become increasingly distant— in terms of their residents’ self-perception and voting patterns—from the rural parts of Western countries. In this context, cities are striving for more tangible powers, improved rights of self-governance and new development support tools, which would allow them to better address the challenges they face.
The European People’s Party (EPP), the leading political family in the EU, should acknowledge the importance of cities and the fact that city-based electorates share particular political expectations. The recent string of elections in various European countries has shown that EPP-affiliated parties and candidates can only win in big cities when they adopt a more city-oriented political platform. The EPP cannot afford to lose urban voters; therefore, it should develop a ‘City Agenda’. Urban-related issues should be at the centre of the EPP’s political activity, as is the agricultural policy.
This agenda, drawing on the experience of EPP-affiliated mayors and members of the Committee of the Regions, should identify the challenges cities face and come up with ways to address them. Among the most pressing are climate change–related themes such as public transportation and urban planning, but also the ongoing housing crisis and, more broadly, rising social inequality. This paper suggests that the EPP could promote a new ‘EU Cities Fund’, a city-tailored, directly accessible fund that would add financial heft to the EU’s existing urban policy.Centre-Right Elections Leadership Political Parties
Retaking the Cities: A Plan for the Centre–Right
16 Nov 2020
A no deal outcome to the Brexit saga has become increasingly likely because prime minister May has decided that her priority is to avoid a split in the conservative party. She has calculated that, if she tried to get her deal through with mainsteam labour support – her conservative party would break up. She would lose 50 to 100 members of parliament and cease to be prime minister. She is trying instead to win over individual labour members by promising spending in their constituencies, a desperate tactic that corrupts the political system.Brexit EU Institutions EU Member States European Union Political Parties
Catharsis, not compromise, is what Brexiteers want
01 Mar 2019
This paper critically reflects on the development and implications of the Spitzenkandidaten system. It makes three claims. First, it argues that, despite the assertions of many commentators, this system did not appear out of the blue in 2014 but has a much longer history.
Since the Maastricht Treaty, a series of steps have been taken that have clearly led the way to this outcome and, in fact, may even lead beyond it. These steps, including the role of the European People’s Party, are explained here as they cast a different light on the whole process, without which the success of the Spitzenkandidaten system cannot be properly understood.
Second, the paper claims that, from a political–institutional point of view, the system implicitly promotes the parliamentarisation of the EU architecture and might eventually lead to a stronger EU executive and a weaker European Parliament, as is the case in most national parliamentary systems. This would be the opposite of what many of its supporters would like to see.
Third, the paper concludes that, in order to avoid this unintended consequence and fulfil the democratic potential of the Spitzenkandidaten system, the current procedure must be understood as an intermediate step on the road to the direct election of the president of the EU. This, however, requires its success and consolidation in 2019. The paper thus ends with some recommendations that will help to make this happen.Elections EU Institutions EU Member States European Union Political Parties
25 Years of Spitzenkandidaten: What Does the Future Hold?
06 Nov 2018
The paper examines the connections between Russia and far-right political parties in Europe. It argues that these close relationships are based both on ideology and strategy. The European far right sees in Russian President Vladimir Putin the model of a strong, conservative leader who defends traditional values and opposes the decadent West. Since most far-right parties are at the same time against European integration and anti-American, they also see a close relationship with Russia as a necessary foothold in order to achieve the gradual disassociation of their countries from Euro-Atlantic institutions. The Kremlin, for its part, views these parties as possibly being useful for the achievement of its own objectives.
Thus, it is interested in gathering them under its wing. In this context, in recent years far-right political parties all over Europe have established cordial relations with Moscow. Far-right leaders pay regular visits to Russia, have meetings with Russian officials and often appear on state-owned Russian media. The fact that they are discussants with the Kremlin boosts their credibility at home and improves their image. At the same time, they are often invited to monitor electoral procedures in disputed territories, thus offering some sort of credibility and international recognition for the results of ballots. The secessionist referendum which was held in Crimea in March 2014 is the latest example of this trend.
More generally, the conflict between Russia and Ukraine has offered a great opportunity for the expression of the pro-Russian sentiments of most European far-right political parties. These organisations see Putin’s policy as tangible proof of his resolve to impose his will on his opponents and to mark the reemergence of Russian power at the international level. From the Kremlin’s point of view, these parties can also help Moscow to expand its geopolitical influence. Even if Putin does not manage to see parties with pro-Russian leanings forming governments, he can still hope that their growing influence will exert considerable pressure on EU governments, especially as far as relations with Russia are concerned.EU Member States Euroscepticism Political Parties
An Unholy Alliance: The European Far Right and Putin’s Russia
27 May 2015
Right-wing and national populist parties have managed to establish themselves as relevant political players throughout virtually the whole of Europe. This rise of right-wing and national populists has come at the expense of all traditional parties. The current strength of right-wing and national populist parties is a result of them supplementing their ‘core themes’ of xenophobia and critique of the elites with a simple mobilising message, namely ‘no to this Europe’.
Note: parts of this text are based on two chapters of the study Exposing the Demagogues. Right-wing and National Populist Parties in Europe published by the Centre for European Studies and the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung in June 2013.Elections Euroscepticism Extremism Political Parties Populism
Europe – No, Thanks? Study on the rise of right-wing and national populist parties in Europe
26 Feb 2014
Europe’s right-wing and national populist parties are on the upswing, even despite some recent electoral setbacks. They have entered parliaments across Europe and some parties are even participating in national governments. What is remarkable is that right-wing and national populist parties have changed their mobilisation tactics. While predominantly xenophobic in the past, right-wing populists now mobilise against further European integration – and not without success.
For all actors involved in EU politics, these developments should be taken seriously. As political think tanks either directly involved in EU politics or deeply committed to the idea of European integration, the Centre for European Studies (CES) and the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung (KAS) analyse the reasons behind the advance of Europe’s right–wing populist parties. In addition, this volume discusses possible response strategies for the member parties of the European People’s Party in order to counter the progress of right-wing and national populists.
For a policy brief summarising the main findings of this volume please see our related publication: Europe – No, Thanks? Study on the rise of right-wing and national populist parties in Europe.Elections Euroscepticism Extremism Political Parties Populism
Exposing the Demagogues: Right-wing and National Populist Parties in Europe
04 Sep 2013
Improving the political integration of immigrants is an important task for the European Union. The number of people with an immigrant background in the EU is gradually rising, a trend that is expected to continue. As a result, immigrants and their descendants are likely to play an increasingly significant role in the political life of Member States, as well as at the European level. Nevertheless, political parties in the EU seem to have neglected this phenomenon. Immigrants from third countries and their descendants rarely appear as party members; party leaders at the local, regional, national and EU levels; or as paid officials or candidates. Political parties should therefore consider more carefully the political potential of immigrants and their descendants.Immigration Integration Migration Political Parties
Migrating towards Participation: Immigrants and their Descendants in the Political Process
01 Nov 2012
European political parties are continually under pressure, due to changes in societies, technologies and politics as a whole. But at the moment, Europe is on the threshold of a new environment that is changing the face of political parties themselves. The picture has elements both optimistic (concerning the possibilities of ‘virtual’ activism) and pessimistic (concerning ‘real’ membership and stable voting).
In general, European political parties have to transform the tools of organisation and participation to tackle their declining memberships. New types of populist parties—virtual, ‘flash’, ‘couch’ or ‘one seat’ parties in which members fit on a single couch or in the case of Geert Wilders even on one chair—only arise during the electoral campaign.
It is possible to observe two extreme positions or models that are attributable to the parties: one form is a strictly authoritarian leadership; the other is a more even, unfiltered participation based on a ‘virtual community’. In spite of this development, strongly principled parties based on values and stable commitments could still take a lead, provided they do not embrace a loose societal modernisation.Party Structures Political Parties Populism
All Tomorrow’s Parties: The Changing Face of European Party Politics
01 Oct 2012
Voting in the ’Hood, a study of immigrant voting behavior, is based on an Internet poll addressed to immigrants in Finland and one-on-one interviews, to recognize the challenges and driving forces behind the movers and shakers in different communities, and to increase political participation as a step towards better social integration. This project was meant to discover possible obstacles to voting amongst immigrants, and to ask our new Finns about their interest in taking part in the next election, and their feedback about the political process to the National Coalition PartyDemocracy Elections Immigration Political Parties Society
Voting in the Hood
18 May 2012
Centre-Right Christian Democracy EU Member States Political Parties Values
Canon of Dutch Christian Democracy
02 Apr 2012
The European Factbook, now in its fifth year, is the consolidated annual publication with all relevant data and documentation about the European People’s Party (EPP), the largest EU-level Party which represents the political family of the centre-right. The 2012 edition includes the latest updates and information from both European level and national level politics. With the Lisbon Treaty now in force, the EPP is currently the leading Europarty in the three main EU institutions: the European Council with 16 out of 27 heads of state and government, the European Commission with 13 Commissioners, and the European Parliament with 271 out of 754 MEPs. Apart from the structure of the EPP and its role in the EU institutions, the European Factbook includes information about EPP member-parties in EU and non-EU countries, EPP parliamentary groups in the Council of Europe, the OSCE and NATO, EPP member associations, as well as information about EPP’s think-tank the Centre for European Studies (CES) and its member foundations. Finally, the European Factbook provides readers with a set of important supplementary documents including the ‘Giannakou Report’.EU Member States European People's Party Party Structures Political Parties
European Factbook 2012
01 Apr 2012
The purpose of this publication is to examine the True Finns’ good result in the 2011 parliamentary election from the viewpoint of political communication. On the one hand, it analyses the True Finns’ media publicity prior to the election as regards the coverage of the European Union and the global economic crisis in particular. On the other hand, it reviews how the True Finns’ MP candidates employed blogging in their electoral campaigns and the kind of response they received. These two forms of political communication are linked by the result: the True Finns gained credibility as a representative for many people as well as an agent in political activity. The main argument is that the mainstream media inadvertently mobilised the True Finns’ potential supporters, while the MP candidates of the party themselves managed to mobilise many more through the social media and, in particular, by blogging. Political mobilisation here means the capacity to reach potential supporters and convince them of the credibility of a party as well as the political alternative it has to offer. This, in short, is what happened to the True Finns prior to the parliamentary election in April 2011. The political communication exercised produced a self-conscious community of values aware of its right and authority to speak for significant mass of Finns, and whose power is recognised by other functionaries in the society. In this sense, the True Finns gained much symbolic power: the right to define social problems and point out ways to solve them.Crisis Party Structures Political Parties Populism
The Many Faces of Populism: The True Finns through the lens of political history and the media
18 Dec 2011
The major crises of the 21st century, an age of geopolitical change and spreading turbo-Keynesianism, show us how quickly the democratic and free West can ostensibly lose ground. This is why society needs solid foundations more than ever before. In the recent past, “conservative” was often illustrated by the image of a person who is still skeptical about the Internet, who doesn’t know what “social networking” means and whose spouse fetches his slippers and prepares his meals: in short, someone who is fearful, suspicious and old-fashioned. A large part of the public associates conservatism with precisely these qualities. Hence the main purpose of this volume: to provide a fundamental overview of what conservatism means: conservatism as a compass in a increasingly complex world.Centre-Right Christian Democracy Party Structures Political Parties
The Many Faces of Conservatism: The Essence, History and Future of Conservative Thought
05 Dec 2011
The European Factbook, now in its fourth year, is the consolidated annual publication with all relevant data and documentation about the European People’s Party (EPP), the largest EU-level Party which represents the political family of the centre-right. The 2011 edition includes the latest updates and information from both European level and national level politics. With the Lisbon Treaty now in force, the EPP is currently the leading Europarty in the three main EU institutions: the European Council with 17 Prime Ministers, the European Commission with 13 Commissioners, and the European Parliament with 264 MEPs. Apart from the structure of the EPP and its role in the EU institutions, the European Factbook includes information about EPP member-parties in EU and non-EU countries, EPP parliamentary groups in the Council of Europe, the OSCE and NATO, EPP member associations, as well as information about EPP’s think-tank the Centre for European Studies (CES) and its member foundations. Finally, the European Factbook provides readers with a set of important supplementary documents including the ‘Giannakou Report’, which was adopted earlier this year by the European Parliament.EU Member States European People's Party Party Structures Political Parties
European Factbook 2011
25 Jul 2011
There are an estimated 600,000 Finns living abroad. We know surprisingly little of their voting behaviour even though statistical data is available. What drives expats to vote? Tradition, duty? Genuine willingness to influence in the political life of the fatherland? Is there always a strong correlation between time spent away and non-voting? How big an issue is physical distance? Is alienation shown through non-participation? Which would be ways to activate expat voters to participate? Is national election in the old homeland less interesting than, say, local election in the country of residence? Which lessons could we learn concerning the European election? Are the expats happily assimilated or still identifying themselves clearly as Finnish – or do they end up feeling in-betweens? In short, the purpose of this study was to to examine expat Finns’ voting behaviour through case studies in major expat areas, to discover factors behind political participation abroad; obstacles and driving forces, ways to activate voters and fight “expat inertia”; to identify means to activate and engage expatriates politically and to identify networks and opinion leaders among expats affecting voting activism.Democracy Elections Globalisation Political Parties Values
Voting Far Away: Expats Exercising Political Rights Abroad
01 Jul 2011
The European Factbook is the consolidated annual publication with all relevant data and documentation about the European People’s Party (EPP), the largest European level Party that represents the centre-right political spectrum. The 2010 edition includes the latest updates and information from both European level and national level politics. With the Lisbon Treaty now in force, 2010 finds the EPP as the leading Europarty in the three main EU institutions: the European Commission, the European Council, and the European Parliament. Apart from the structure of the EPP and its role in the EU institutions, the European Factbook includes information about EPP member-parties in EU and non-EU countries, EPP parliamentary groups in the Council of Europe and the OSCE, EPP member-associations, as well as information about EPP’s think-tank the Centre for European Studies (CES) and its member-foundations. Finally, the European Factbook provides readers with a set of important supplementary documents.EU Member States European People's Party Party Structures Political Parties
European Factbook 2010
31 Dec 2010