Opinion KT: Has the pandemic recalibrated politics, priorities in Europe? – New
Just a few years ago, it looked like Europe was ready to take a sharp turn to the right.
Just a few years ago, it looked like Europe was ready to take a sharp turn to the right. With the continent hit by waves of refugees even as it still struggles to recover from a eurozone debt crisis, right-wing populist parties in France, Germany, Italy and other countries seemed to have a realistic chance of seizing power.
Still, a lot has happened instead – especially a health crisis that seems to have recalibrated sensitivities. The pendulum has swung in the other direction, more recently in Germany, where the Social Democratic Party (SPD), and not the Right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) or even the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) Conservative Angela Merkel, won the majority of votes in the election at the end of last month.
Has the pandemic reset priorities and sparked a renewal of social democrats in Europe, albeit in a hybrid form?
The result in Germany follows elections in Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland that simultaneously put Social Democratic prime ministers in power in Scandinavia for the first time since 2001.
Center-left parties also run coalition governments in Spain and Portugal. In Italy, an appointed government headed by former European Central Bank President Mario Draghi has the characteristics of social democrats while being part of the muscles of more authoritarian governments. He recently imposed the strictest vaccination rules of any western country.
Like Draghi and President Joe Biden in the United States, traditional progressive European parties will have to come up with a hybrid and more centrist approach. German SPD leader Olaf Scholz will have to find a compromise between left and center because his election was certainly not motivated by unwavering dedication to a cause or ideology, but rather the result of today’s Realpolitik. hui.
The pandemic and its consequences demonstrate that times have changed in Germany and elsewhere. The catastrophic floods in Germany that left entire towns and villages inundated last summer have heightened the perception that a reset is needed as the country and the world grapple with the reality of climate change.
So does this mean that the glory days of the liberal and taxing Social Democratic parties are back? Not really. The Western social fabric has not only been altered by Covid-19, but also by Brexit, a fractured America, competition from China and a flirtation with the hard right.
The SPD recently won in Germany by increasing its vote by just 5 points to 25.7% – perhaps strong by recent standards but barely a clear mandate. Twenty years ago, it won around 40% of the vote in national elections.
In France, the national elections are still in seven months, but the campaign and the critics are already preparing. Protests against vaccination grab headlines as some citizens express outrage at violations of their freedom.
Yet a strange thing happened on the way to the protest: Support for outgoing President Emmanuel Macron increased over the summer. Pollsters found his approval rating had increased due to his government’s handling of the final phase of the Covid crisis when it increased vaccination levels by introducing a required health pass.
Under previous sensitivities, it would have been the moment for Marine Le Pen, leader of the National Rally (National Rally), the reshaped right-wing successor of her father’s National Front, to take center stage.
But instead of gaining ground, she faltered. Polls show support for his party fell from 25% last November – one point better than Macron – to around 18% today, some seven points behind the incumbent president.
A survey conducted last year, the first full year of the pandemic, showed how much opinions about populism have already changed in Europe. Fewer respondents agreed with populist statements, with support down 11 percentage points in Denmark and 9 points in Britain and Germany, eight in France and six in Italy.
This should be fertile ground for the progressive center-left, but the dynamic behind support has changed from the happy days of the Social Democrats immediately after World War II. The structural reasons include the decline of industry, an aging population and an outdated alliance between the working class and the liberal middle class.
It looks like neither the center-left nor the center-right will again benefit from the majorities they once had. The history of European politics today is fragmentation, with more small parties vying for negotiating weight in post-election coalition talks. The German SPD declared victory with just a quarter of the vote.
Certainly, everyone’s “green” credentials are of the utmost importance today. With the approach of the elections in Germany, Scholz of the SPD stressed that he “would like to govern with the Greens”.
The SPD and the Greens both want to raise the national minimum wage, raise taxes on the super-rich and accelerate the transition to renewable energy to meet climate goals. Both also want closer European integration.
Yet the right is still alive and well. In municipal elections in Italy on Monday, Rome mayor Virginia Raggi of the Five Star Movement lost a candidate for re-election, while a lawyer backed by several right-wing parties, Enrico Michetti, had around 30 percent of the vote and Roberto Gualtieri, the candidate of a center-left coalition reaches 27 percent. Mr. Michetti and Mr. Gualtieri will participate in the second round of the elections in October. 18.
The elected mayors of Milan, Naples, Turin and Bologna all come from the center-left. Outgoing president Giuseppe Sala will be mayor of Milan for another five years.
Yet whatever the challenges, the Social Democrats can always rejoice at the recent change. When the Covid-19 pandemic struck, citizens turned to the state to protect and support them.
With widespread approval, governments poured money into services and intervened on a scale never seen in peacetime. With so many people affected by the disease or its consequences, it does indeed appear that people are no longer as interested in the lowest possible taxes or austerity.
Wherever it is, they want to live in a nicer nation.
Jon Van Housen and Mariella Radaelli are seasoned international journalists based in Milan