Elections in Europe: Watch Out Austerity [Update]

Today, Europeans will go to the polls in three countries; France, Greece, and Serbia. Legislative elections are taking place in Greece and Serbia, and presidential elections are taking place in France and Serbia. Austerity is expected to be the big loser here, and the people responsible for austerity will be the ones taking the brunt of the damage. These elections have serious implications for the world and the United States.

I’ve said before that what’s seemed to happen in European elections is that the party that was in power when the Global Financial Crisis hit is the one who takes the beating in the elections immediately following. Longstanding opposition parties then take power. In Greece, New Democracy (conservative) was in power when the collapse hit, and they were defeated by PASOK (socialists) in 2009.  With Greece reeling, PASOK was forced to implement austerity, leading to some of the most violent confrontations in all of Europe. PASOK and New Democracy were forced to form a national unity government and appointed a technocratic prime minister in an effort to appease the markets and their European neighbors. This has had the effect of really pissing off the Greek people and not particularly helping Greece’s economic situation.

Now we enter the next phase of post-GFC elections. This is where traditional parties breakdown in the face of opposition parties. Essentially, what’s emerged almost worldwide since the fall of communism has been a neoliberal consensus, with the main argument being “how much do we cut?” It doesn’t matter whether your party is called Socialist, Liberal, or Conservative, that’s pretty much what’s believed (I should note that in most European nations, “liberal” and “conservative” are considered roughly the same thing).

What’s emerging now, especially dramatically in Greece, are anti-neoliberal parties. This can be as left-wing as the Democratic Left or the fascist-lite of Golden Dawn. This same dynamic was in play in Round 1 of France’s elections when the fascist-lite National Front and communist-lite Left Front candidates did well. Notably, these fascist-lite parties are arguing against austerity, and are mainly using immigrants and ethnic minorities as their scapegoats.


UPDATE (turns out there are more than three elections in Europe):

France: Francois Hollande is overwhelmingly projected to win in France. This makes Nicolas Sarkozy the first president of France since 1981 to not be re-elected. It also means that France is about to go up against Germany in the battle for the future of the European Union, and whether austerity measures will be reined in in favor of greater government spending.

Greece: New Democracy has had its vote share shrink, according to exit polls, though they lead all other parties with about 20% of the vote. Behind them is the left-wing SYRIZA coalition at about 17%, which has made a considerable leap forward in its standing. PASOK, the former ruling party, has collapsed to third place. The Communist Party has held steady. Ultranationalists Golden Dawn are set to enter the Greek Parliament with nearly 8% of the vote. This seems to mirror Ireland, another nation that underwent severe austerity and saw its traditional top parties overthrown.

Serbia: Serbs are battling it out over the economy and Europe. Unlike Greece, where quite a number of anti-EU parties are gaining ground, Serbian parties are arguing over how to get in to Europe. Sitting center-left President Boris Tadic (Democratic Party) faces opposition from five-time candidate ultra-conservative Tomislav Nikolic (Serbian Progressive Party), who’s actually advocating raising taxes on the wealthy and spending it on pensions. Tadic has presided over Serbia’s stagnant economy.

Germany: Germans in the state of Schleswig-Holstein have seemingly rejected the longstanding coalition government of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the Free Democratic Party (FDP) in their state’s Landtag (like RI’s General Assembly). The FDP is a hard-core free market party that has traditionally been the ally of the CDU. They’re also on track to lose all of their seats in the national German Bundestag in the next elections. Also collapsing in Schleswig-Holstein is The Left party, which is the successor of former communist parties from East and West Germany. The primary benefactors have been the Green Party and the Pirate Party.


So what does it all mean? Well, mainly that austerity parties are taking a beating. It’s given a huge opening to new parties, especially on the left and the right. Germany is especially interesting because things simply haven’t been that bad there, the Pirates don’t seem to be left or right, but seem to transcend those traditional labels. Remember, the major budget cuts the United States is set to face don’t happen until 2013 and 2014, so our elections in 2014 may face this kind of rockiness. 2014 is also the same year that No Child Left Behind mandates sweeping changes to all public schools that fail to meet 100% proficiency in reading and mathematics, which is virtually all of them.

It’s possible in such a rocky climate that third parties in America could get a huge advantage. But what seems more likely to happen is factions of the parties like the Tea Party will gain greater and greater traction.

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A native-born Rhode Islander, educated in Providence Public Schools, went to college in North Carolina and a political junkie and pessimistic optimist.

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