2017 has been a rough year for Europe’s left.
2017 has been a rough year for Europe’s left. France, Germany, Norway and the Netherlands have all seen losses for established socialist parties, in some cases constituting record lows and seismic political shifts. Unfortunately, in Germany, France and the Netherlands, far right parties made modest gains. While tracing these results, however, we find a number of reasons against complacency by Europe’s Centre-Right parties.
In France, the Socialist Party’s loss marks a historic low point for its power within the country. In all of the French Presidential elections since 1974, the PS had maintained a competitive relationship with the other parties, obtaining first or second place in most of these elections since it was formed from the SFIO in 1969. The exceptions to this trend are the election of 2002, with their support constituting 16% of the vote, and the election of 1969 (the year they were founded), where they received 21%. This is interesting because of how many Political Parties there are in France. Because there are only two parties that win elections, being second place in American politics only means that you lost to the other major party. It is possible to hold 15% of the popular vote and still be in second place. In France however, normally only three parties receive 15% or more of the popular vote per election, and who rises to the top shifts with each cycle. 11 parties from across the spectrum ran in 2017, and PS only made 5th place. This marks a dramatic shift for the party, and maybe marking a shift in European politics as a whole. (3, 4)
Germany witnessed the next major political defeat for the Center-Left this cycle. The SPD, which is the main Center-Left party in Germany, received slightly more than 20% of the vote. This just happens to be their worst result since the 40’s. On top of that, they also lost 40 congressional seats. With Germany, however, this election result included a decided shift to the far right, with AfD picking up the majority of seats lost by the SPD and CDU - rising from 5% in the last election to 12.6%. However, encouragingly, the economically liberal FDP party also made gains.
The Netherlands and Norway
Other countries likewise saw a decline in Socialist results this cycle. The Dutch socialists lost 29 seats in their worst election loss since 2002. Sharing a trend with the French, the Dutch Center-Left has been perpetually in first or second place(7). In Norway, a conservative government coalition remained in power for the first time since 1985 (4), narrowly beating the Labour Party. Most countries did not see an electoral change on the same scale of France or Germany, but the data surely portends a notable general shift in the European mindset.
The UK and the Brexit exception
The United Kingdom’s story is an exception. The achievement of Jeremy Corbyn - increasing the Labour Party’s proportional vote share by a greater margin than any election since 1945 - constitutes a major exception to this European trend, and should be a warning to Europe’s Centre-Right. While the mitigating and exceptional context of anti-Brexit sentiment should be noted, nonetheless, that Europe’s arguably most economically liberal nation could swayed by a Party of quasi-Marxist influences, should sound as a serious warning to European liberal conservatives.
Polarization and Populist Ideologies
Alongside this decline of the Centre-Left, one must also recognize the concerning increase in political polarization in Europe, which reemerged in the 2014 European elections - and has to some degree continued. Marine Le Pen in France, the AfD in Germany, Syriza in Greece, Geert Wilders in the Netherlands, and Podemos in Spain have all made huge gains in recent years in their respective bases.
Often the political spectrum is better viewed as a circle, rather than a straight line. If 12 o'clock were to represent the political middle (with 1-3 representing the center right, and 9-11 representing the center left), when we move toward the extremes of these wings, we see a worrying convergence. Once a movement reaches the 6:00 position, it does not matter which ideology birthed it, or where it claims it will go, or how much it claims to hate the parallel movements on the other side, it will produce the same fruits that every movement in history that has followed the arc of extremism. While starting from different ideological foundations, history reminds us of how these radical movements - both far-left and far-right - end up producing the same things in practice: authoritarianism, nationalism, protectionism.
The Alliance of Conservatives and Reformists in Europe (www.acreurope.eu), the leading Center-Right political alliance, is determined to push for a prosperous Europe. This means countering these extremist agendas, and making the most of our present times by advancing free market liberal policies that can help Europe escape the economic doldrums that are pushing people away from the center left, and the social issues that are pushing others to the extremes. The problems that Europe is facing - both economic and social - can only be solved by a pro-market, liberal democratic consensus.
For further reading, we are about to publish the next issue of The Conservative. The upcoming 5th issue of the publication is going to talk in depth about populism and extremism on both sides, and how to solve the problems that they pose to a prosperous Europe.