Left Unity national secretary Kate Hudson looks at European election results across the continent
If you base your assessment of what’s going on politically in Europe on the BBC coverage of the Euroelections, you’ll be aware of the massive victory of the Front National in France and not too much else. The parallel rise of the far left was under-reported and where it was covered, the preferred terminology was ‘far right and eurosceptic parties’. Commentators seemed allergic to talking about a left victory. But left victory there was too.
While the big story was the shocking victory of Marine Le Pen’s party – the Front National moved from 6.34% in the 2009 Euroelections to 24.95%, a quadrupling of the vote – Syriza, the Greek radical left party, saw an even greater increase in its support. From 4.7% in 2009, it reached 26.55%, emerging almost 4 points ahead of its nearest rival, the rightwing New Democracy.
In an election where mainstream parties of government, both centre-left and centre-right, have often been squeezed, primarily due to their promotion of an extreme form of neo-liberal economic policies, there have been advances for both far left and far right. As well as Syriza, the far left has made a number of gains across Europe, sometimes significant. Most notably, votes have been significantly up in those countries most affected by the imposition of austerity policies, the exception being Portugal, where the centre-left Socialist Party – currently out of power – gained at the expense of the ruling centre-right party. The combined votes of the far left parties consequently dropped from around 22% to 17%. The primary loser was Bloco de Esquerda (Left Bloc), while the Portuguese Communist Party’s vote increased slightly.
In Spain, Izquierda Unida (United Left) increased its share of the vote from 3.7% in 2009 to 9.99% – reversing over a decade of decline. The surprise in Spain was the strong showing of a new party, Podemos (We Can), emerging from the indignados movement just a few months ago and taking over a million votes. Its exact political trajectory is unsure but it’s a grass roots-based party, whose leader, former Communist Youth member Pablo Iglesias, talks of ‘citizen politics’.
In Ireland, Sinn Fein made major advances, increasing from 11.2 to 17% of the vote. In Finland, the Left Alliance increased from 5.93% to 9.3%. In the Netherlands, the Socialist Party vote increased from 7.10% to 9.65%. The far left vote has held stable in Denmark, Germany and France. In Sweden, the Left Party, whose vote rose slightly from 5.66% to 6.3%, was joined by the emergence of a new Feminist Initiative, polling 5.3%; with many policies similar to those of the Left Party, it’s thought likely that it will also join the left grouping in the European parliament.
The results in Italy provided what some there described as ‘a miracle’. The Italian left has finally returned to the European Parliament, in the shape of l’Altra Europa con Tsipras (Another Europe with Tsipras), a coalition – including a much-chastened Rifondazione Comunista – based on support for the politics of the European Left Party and Alexis Tsipras, leader of Syriza. Polling just over 4% and taking three seats, this presents an opportunity to rebuild support for the far left in Italy.
Another newcomer worthy of note is the Slovenian United Left, founded just months ago. Although not scoring highly enough to take a seat, the new coalition took an impressive 5.9%. If it maintains this level of support, it will enter the national parliament at the next general election, where the threshold for seats is only 4%.
These are positive steps for the left, but there are some striking increases in support for a number of far right or fascist parties, in addition to the French Front National, notably the Freedom Party (Austria) on 19.5%; the People’s Party (Denmark) on 26.6%; and Golden Dawn (Greece) on 9.39%. Elsewhere, a number of other far right parties also drew a stable and sometimes considerable level of support, not least Jobbik in Hungary, maintaining just over 14% of the vote.
A crucial question, given the support for the Front National, is what is happening to politics in France, especially given the relatively recent surge in popularity of the Front de Gauche (Left Front). The mainstream parties of government, the Parti Socialiste on the left and the Gaullist UMP on the right, both lost ground. With an increase in voter turn out, polls indicated that people were more motivated to vote on the basis of European issues than previously. The FN vote seems to have been strongest among people in work, particularly in the blue-collar sector; one poll indicates that 45% of those workers who went to the polls voted for the FN.
The Front de Gauche failed to make political headway. It had hoped to win support on the basis of discontent at Hollande’s policies – and from the dynamism of the radical left at the continental level – but this did not come about. The FG’s vote improved very slightly, from 6% to 6.2%, but they lost one seat in the national share-out. Overall it seems that only half of those who voted for Jean-Luc Mélenchon in the 2012 presidential elections turned out to vote for the FG this time. The far left parties, the NPA and the LO, were virtually wiped out at 0.3% and 1% respectively.
Politically these are dangerous times in Europe. Voters are moving beyond their allegiances to the mainstream centre parties, but although there have been some strong showings for the left, the current voter tendency in a number of countries, including our own, is to move to the far right instead of to the left. This is a political disaster waiting to happen, which must be fought strenuously and effectively, working with sister parties across Europe. The cost of failure – the resurgence of fascism across Europe – is too terrible to contemplate.
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