The Jig Is Almost Up For The Eurocons

Europe’s Conservative Confusion – By Tyson Barker | Foreign Policy


Europe’s conservative leadership has been stuck on the most salient issues that dictate the future of eurozone governance — wage indexation, private-sector participation in sovereign bailouts, raising retirement ages, the introduction of eurobonds, and the ability of the European Financial Stability Facility to purchase sovereign bonds on the secondary market and recapitalize banks.

Rather than ideology, geography and national political culture define EU political fault lines. Stalwart northerners are pitted against decadent southerners, almost all of whom are conservatives. These forces are now contending with populist Euroskepticism, which is blocking compromise and tying the hands of Euroepan governments. Nowhere is this more evident than in Germany. Even as the European press hammers Merkel for the glacial pace of her response to the eurozone crisis, her coalition partners — the Bavarian Christian Socialists and even the traditionally pro-European liberal Free Democratic Party — flirt with the populist backlash against the profligate states of Southern Europe. In France, the Netherlands, and Finland, forces on the right have also capitalized on a perceived ideological impurity of government leaders siphoning off support from center-right governing coalitions and forcing them to make deep concessions on potential bailout proposals.

But while Europe’s center-left has been relegated to the margins of policy decision-making, it is laying the framework for a return to power. Europe’s social democrats are wrapping themselves in the mantle of European integration, guaranteeing the continent’s more beleaguered states access to capital markets, with the backing of strong and comprehensive cross-border banking laws. In a joint statement released in July, a group of Social Democratic leaders in the eurozone declared that their goal was to “demonstrate that another Europe is possible: a Europe that acts decisively and collectively.” For them, this Europe would include eurobonds, an EU tax on speculation, an independent European credit-rating agency, and a European investment strategy.  

This cohesiveness is proving fruitful. The leadership of the German Social Democratic Party (SPD) held a news conference in late July in which it cast off the party’s occasional ambivalence toward the European project and committed itself to further European integration. The party offered Merkel political support for bold action on a European solution to the eurozone crisis, even if it is domestically unpopular and difficult for her coalition to support. The offer of a sort of de facto grand coalition was at once a post-partisan gesture and a subtle cue to voters of the more visionary leadership that an SPD-led government could offer. Recent polls in Germany give an SPD-led coalition its largest base of support since the end of the Cold War. The Social Democrats and the Greens would receive 51 percent of the vote compared with the current governing coalition, which would garner 36 percent.  

Next spring’s French presidential election could also see a center-left revival. Both first-tier Socialist candidates, François Hollande, himself a former member of the European Parliament, and Martine Aubry, the daughter of one of the patriarchs of European integration, Jacques Delors, lead in hypothetical first-round presidential election polls. Either one would beat Sarkozy by 16 to 20 percentage points in a second round. In Italy, there is increasingly a sense that the conservative government of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is living on borrowed time.

In addition, Europe’s mass movements are a growing political force coming from the left. Spain’s “Indignados,” a progressive protest movement calling for an end to the two-party monopoly in Spanish politics, has held mass demonstrations across the country. Germany’s Stuttgart 21 protesters have similarly organized grassroots demonstrations against an urban railway project in the conservative southern state of Baden-Württemberg, leading to Greens’ electoral takeover there. Movements like these are transforming frustration into concentrated political mobilization.  

In the coming year, the European Union will be forced to confront the inconvenient decisions that it has put off since the creation of the euro in 1999. Europe’s conservatives have so far botched their opportunity to leave a permanent stamp on the continent’s political landscape. Their consistent dithering may soon hand the center-left a unipolar moment of its own.  



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3 comments on “The Jig Is Almost Up For The Eurocons

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  1. ….. is that title a prediction that Obama’s gonna be elected head of the EU and craftily sneak his socialism into the Old World?

  2. No, it’s the Bertelsmann flack refusing to consider that Germany can’t cover all of Europe’s ‘sick men,’ from FRance to Portugal.

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TV pundits and op-ed writers of every major newspaper epitomize how the Democratic establishment has already reached a consensus: the 2020 nominee must be a centrist, a Joe Biden, Cory Booker or Kamala Harris–type, preferably. They say that Joe Biden should "run because [his] populist image fits the Democrats’ most successful political strategy of the past generation" (David Leonhardt, New York Times), and though Biden "would be far from an ideal president," he "looks most like the person who could beat Trump" (David Ignatius, Washington Post). Likewise, the same elite pundit class is working overtime to torpedo left-Democratic candidates like Sanders.

For someone who was not acquainted with Piketty's paper, the argument for a centrist Democrat might sound compelling. If the country has tilted to the right, should we elect a candidate closer to the middle than the fringe? If the electorate resembles a left-to-right line, and each voter has a bracketed range of acceptability in which they vote, this would make perfect sense. The only problem is that it doesn't work like that, as Piketty shows.

The reason is that nominating centrist Democrats who don't speak to class issues will result in a great swathe of voters simply not voting. Conversely, right-wing candidates who speak to class issues, but who do so by harnessing a false consciousness — i.e. blaming immigrants and minorities for capitalism's ills, rather than capitalists — will win those same voters who would have voted for a more class-conscious left candidate. Piketty calls this a "bifurcated" voting situation, meaning many voters will connect either with far-right xenophobic nationalists or left-egalitarian internationalists, but perhaps nothing in-between.

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Understanding Trump’s charisma offers important clues to understanding the problems that the Democrats need to address. Most important, the Democratic candidate must convey a sense that he or she will fulfil the promise of 2008: not piecemeal reform but a genuine, full-scale change in America’s way of thinking. It’s also crucial to recognise that, like Britain, America is at a turning point and must go in one direction or another. Finally, the candidate must speak to Americans’ sense of self-respect linked to social justice and inclusion. While Weber’s analysis of charisma arose from the German situation, it has special relevance to the United States of America, the first mass democracy, whose Constitution invented the institution of the presidency as a recognition of the indispensable role that unique individuals play in history.

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[E]ven Fox didn’t tout Bartiromo’s big scoops on Trump’s legislative agenda, because 10 months into the Trump presidency, nobody is so foolish as to believe that him saying, “We’re doing a big infrastructure bill,” means that the Trump administration is, in fact, doing a big infrastructure bill. The president just mouths off at turns ignorantly and dishonestly, and nobody pays much attention to it unless he says something unusually inflammatory.On some level, it’s a little bit funny. On another level, Puerto Rico is still languishing in the dark without power (and in many cases without safe drinking water) with no end in sight. Trump is less popular at this point in his administration than any previous president despite a generally benign economic climate, and shows no sign of changing course. Perhaps it will all work out for the best, and someday we’ll look back and chuckle about the time when we had a president who didn’t know anything about anything that was happening and could never be counted on to make coherent, factual statements on any subject. But traditionally, we haven’t elected presidents like that — for what have always seemed like pretty good reasons — and the risks of compounding disaster are still very much out there.

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