Political Cowardice Wrecking Europe’s New Right

Europe’s conservatives and liberals haven’t dared make the philosophical argument for budget cuts and are losing because of it.

In 2010, a new right rose in Europe. Parties that were or had become economically conservative and socially liberal came to power despite the left blaming their free-market ideology for the financial crisis. Now, the tides are turning.

Denmark’s Christian Democrats and liberals were ousted in September of last year after a decade in government and replaced by a left-wing administration.

Theirs had been a minority government, supported in parliament by the far-right and nationalist Danish People’s Party which parted with other two right-wing parties on entitlement and labor market reforms. By positioning itself as the champion of pensioners and the working class, the People’s Party appealed to a constituency which increasingly mistrusted the typically pro-European and pro-globalization conservatives and liberals.

In the Netherlands, a similar administration took office in September 2010. The liberal party had won the elections on a platform of economic repair and formed a minority cabinet with the Christian Democrats who had lost half of their seats, many of them to Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party, ideologically equivalent to the Danish People’s Party.

Wilders supported the conservative-liberal coalition in parliament until this weekend when he rejected additional austerity measures.

The government had initially planned only the barest possible of spending cuts but was forced to consider steeper reductions to bring the deficit under 3 percent of gross domestic product in 2013 per European treaty rules. Now, it may have lost the legitimacy and the majority to do so.

Prime Minister Petr Nečas’s center-right government of the Czech Republic is also aiming to balance the budget by reining in health-care and pension spending and raising taxes but it too could lose the support of one of its coalition partners, raising the possibility of parliamentary elections as early as June.

Like their Dutch counterparts, the Czech right-wing parties never made the philosophical argument for smaller government. The left-wing opposition, rallying with trade unions in the streets against “devastating” cuts and “asocial reforms,” is winning the public debate.

The godfather of Europe’s new right-wing movement, David Cameron, remains fairly popular in the polls despite enacting policies that are similar to his beleaguered counterparts on the continent. His “detoxification” of the Conservative Party brand of one that cares only for the rich hasn’t stopped the Labour opposition from credibly arguing that his government doesn’t care for the little guy though. It is only because of Labour’s ineffectual leader Ed Miliband that the party hasn’t managed to mount a more convincing stand against British austerity.

Cameron’s position is far from enviable however. His lackluster austerity agenda has failed to wield significant results. The British economy remains in recession but the political and public resistance to further budget restraint is so high that it’s probably too late now for the coalition to change its tone and argue that it’s shrinking government for anything but pragmatic reasons.

Margaret Thatcher didn’t win three elections telling voters that she didn’t have a choice but to enact unpopular austerity measures. She convinced them that it was the right thing to do.

When times are tough, people will be inclined to vote for the party that seems to them capable of managing the nation’s finances. As soon as a crisis is averted, which many left-wing parties seem to believe is the case, the political managers lose their appeal. People don’t just care for policy. They crave for a politics of vision.

Austerity is not an ideology. It is a means to an end but when the end is left unsaid, who but a masochist would vote for it? The left, at least, has its appeal to “fairness.” Europe’s right hasn’t dared articulate an alternative vision for fear of appearing asocial and losing elections — and now it’s losing anyway.

One comment

  1. Development is not only a question of GDP. Actually, in most european citizen’s mind development is counsciously or not associated with better life quality, free access to education, healthcare, efficient and uncorrupted public services and cultural outreach. On the contrary, any effective or supposed degradation of one of these tangible indicators is felt as a step toward underdevelopment and decay. Thus, austerity can’t have a long life expectency in most European countries, specially when people deeply feel that the crisis find its roots in the carelessness of an uncontrolled financial system usually associated with Right Liberal parties. Yet, austerity could be accepted as a painful, drastic short-term cure as long as it would reveal itself efficient.
    However as time goes by, its capability to rebalance the state economy without killing it appears more and more compromised: Greek situation is still desperate, Spain is still falling appart and even the Oh-so-Tatcherist UK discover the cure doesn’t seem to bring the expected benefits. Thus, one could find harder and harder to give credit to movements following or whishing to follow the harsh path budget cuts while at the same time those who are considered responsible for the situation remain unharmed.
    On the European field, as a stronger political and economical integration emerges as the only salvation for Europe (suddenly, even federalism is not a taboo anymore!), Right Wing governments have no choice but to go back on everything they stood for, painfully trying to build a European Union they so fiercly fought against during the last decade when ‘no regulation’ and ‘free uncontrolled market’ were their credo. In doing that, they naturally leave the Euro-sceptimism field open for the rear-guard nationalists and populists movements which have never been stronger till the 1930’s. Moreover, European Right may also find it hard to compeet with the traditionnally pro-Europe social parties on the question of who is the most able to achieve a better potitical integration ensuring a better protection of the European stronghold in the globalization chaos.
    Hence, cut from its bases, apparently unable to find an efficient AND acceptable program, forced to build a European Union it never believed in, one should’nt be surprised European Right is having a hard time theese days…

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