European elections: A rising left amid the far right danger

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.


15 responses to “European elections: A rising left amid the far right danger”

  1. Andrew says:

    Thanks for this very useful report, Kate. I think it’s a bit confusing to use the term ‘far left’ to refer to formations like Syriza, the Bloco in Portugal or L’Altra Europa. I take ‘far left’ to mean, more or less, ‘revolutionary’, whereas the parties/coalitions you mentioned contain a much broader spectrum of left currents, as indeed they should. I think the term ‘radical left’ is preferable when we refer to groups to the left of the (ex) social democratic parties.

    I wouldn’t include Sinn Fein in the spectrum of the radical left since they have made cuts when in government. Podemos is partly an expression of the ‘indignados’ movement of 2011 in the Spanish state and will hopefully put some left pressure on Izquierda Unida/United Left, which has made cuts when in power in Andalucia.

    In France, the Communist Party didn’t help the cause of left unity when it allied itself with the governing pro-austerity Socialists during the recent municipal elections. That would have disoriented a lot of Front de Gauche (Left Front) voters. As for the (far left) NPA and LO, they have been mistaken, in my view, in not joining the FG. There has been some recent positive movement from the NPA and I hope that is followed up. The NPA was instrumental in the successful anti-cuts demo on April 12, together with the FG. For anyone who reads French, the website of Ensemble (part of the FG) is interesting. They want to build a democratic, inclusive FG which individuals can join, rather than the present setup which is just a coalition of organisations (CP, Left Party, Ensemble, etc). A more cohesive Left Front could better attract people from the left of the Greens (EELV) and from the Socialist Party who are getting increasingly discontented with their parties’ rightist politics.

    • Andrew a we bit dismissive of Sinn Fein “I wouldn’t include Sinn Fein in the spectrum of the radical left since they have made cuts when in government.” given that they are a constrained minority component of a compulsory coalition with the Unionists as part of the Good Friday Agreement and the Peace Process…. Can you please explain what cuts Sinn Fein has carried out?
      Sinn Fein is widely seen as an Anti Austerity Party of the Left and is a important component of the united European left/ Nordic green Left in the European Parliament…. Tomorrow in Belfast Sinn Fein is Leading a mass Demonstration Against Racism…. where its elected representatives Councillors MP’s TD’s and MLA from across Ireland will be present…. This is the behaviour of a ‘Left Party’ and they are certainly far more effective politically and electorally than the ‘left’ in England…. So a less dismissive and patronising tone towards Sinn Fein please. Left Unity if it wants to achieve anything has far more to learn from Sinn Fein than it has to teach Sinn Fein…. Other Lefts in Europe understand this but for some reason ‘lefties’ in England seem to have a real problem of engaging with Sinn Fein in anyway…. I wonder why that is??

    • John Penney says:

      As you correctly say, Andrew, most of the parties listed here are some varient of radical Left reformist party, not on the “Far (revolutionary) Left” at all. And nothin wrong with that in itself. We need to be a bit more analytical however about the nature of this “broad church” of radical Left parties. The current favourite, and a role model for the radical Left, Syriza, is actually fast moving rightwards towards eventual collaboratio with maintaining the status quo, the nearer it gets to actually holding polical office.

      And as for Sinn Fein, a quick read of its poltical manifesto would show its supposed “radical leftness” to be extremely limited – with most politics only slightly left of the Labour Party. As with all Left nationalist parties its politics are based on a sectarian nationalsm – with the “leftie policies”, bolted on to appeal to its working class support base – not that different to the SNP. In office, Sinn Fein, has, and all other Left Nationalist parties always have one excuse or another for supporting the capitalist logic of Austerity.

      We in Left Unity need to be careful not to identify too uncritically with the curent crop of radical left reformist parties across Europe who alrady have track record of collaboration with the Austerity Agenda (Die Linke), or are fast moving visibly rightwards to accomodation and eventual sell-out (Syriza I’m afraid). We will need to critically support any generalised Left advance, but plough our own uncompromising furrow – seeking allances based on actual radical Left performance – rather than simply on radical policy promises.

  2. ben madigan says:

    Nice article Kate but you forgot to mention the moderate left in Italy (Partito Democratico) ex- PCI which has gone through more changes of colour than any chameleon.
    Prime Minister Renzi managed to garner 40% odd of the votes in the EU elections.
    And then there’s the 5 Star Movement led by Beppe Grillo which is aligning with Farage even though it picked up a large left-wing quota at the last Italian and EU elections.
    Watch the 5 star movement deflate quickly – you heard it first here!!!

  3. Dave K says:

    Useful summary. In Portugal another reason for the decline in the Bloco share was the good score (7%)achieved by the MPT (Land Movement party) which moped up a protest vote against all the mainstream parties but is a party that has been in alliance in government with the mainstream parties so it not a clear left alternative.
    True, we cannot say exactly what the political trajectory of Podemos will be – it is so new and is based on 300 local groups without much other political structures – but it is to the left of IU and is critical of the IU’s participation in regional or local governments which are implementing cuts. One of Podemos spokespeople stated that it hoped its success will pull those elements inside IU who are critical of their looking towards the PSOE towards working with Podemos.
    As for Italy it is good that the Tsipras for another Europe slate got through the quota to get MEPs but it is unclear whether it will provide a stimulus for rebuilding a left alternative. It was very much headed up by left intellectuals who often have gravitated around putting pressure on the left of the PD. Vendola’s SEL is the prime organsied left force within it and they have notoriously played this sort of role.There is talk of a new convention of the left. As for the Renzi triumph it is hard to characterise that as left at all since it solidly committed to managing the austerity programme. As Cannovo in the Fatto Quotidano said today “the PD is a nw moderate and modern party with a bit of berluconismo, some anti-caste rhetoric a la Grillo, a bit of pro-europeanismo a la Napolitano and a little of technocratic modernism a la Steve Jobs. It is a big inter-class container It is what Occhetto wanted when he achieved the dissolution of the PCI. It is held togethe by a pro-european, modern, reassuring, stabilising vision. Renzi has put in a bit of the young clearer outer of the dead wood too which helps to push back the Grillo dynamic.”
    I agree with Kate that the Left gains were under-reported but if you take out the southern European examples of Greece and the Spanish state then the radical left did not advance and fell back in most other countries.

  4. David Melvin says:

    I’ve just been considering the comments of Izquierda Unida participating in regional an local government with the PSOE. I was living in Andalusia in 2012 during the Junta elections. All opinion polls predicted that the right wing PP would get an absolute majority on a mandate to privatise the health service.

    The PSOE campaign was simple – to defend public health and education, which in Spain is managed by regional governments. The result in 2012 was 40.7% for the PP, 39.6% for the PSOE and 11.3% for the IU. The PP had the most seats 50 to the PSOE’s 47 and the IU 12.The PSOE had been in power since 1980, the first elections after Franco.

    The majority of the IU supported a coalition with the PSOE to defend the public services against the PP’s privatisation. A minority led by Sanchez Gordillo’s CUT, opposed the coalition with a ‘capitalist’ party.

    Diego Calderas has been the IU vice President of the Andalusian Junta since 2012.There have been serious problems, not least the allegations of corruption during the course of an earlier PSOE administration. Arguably things would have been far worse without the PSOE/IU coalition. A right wing pro privatisation minority PP administration.

    Interesting Gordillo, as mayor of Marinaleda, is now supporting an Andalusia independent from Spain.

    It is difficult to tell what effect Podemos will have on the next Junta elections in 2016, but Podemos are probably reaching out to those who would consider any of the main stream parties. The political future in Andalusia could be interesting.

    • ben madigan says:

      Thanks for your analysis
      any news about what’s happening in spain re a referendum monarchy vs republic?
      with my limited spanish I understood there were a lot of demonstrations, the Socialist party backed the status quo and princess leticia’s auntie backed the republic. Any further news?

  5. Richard Wilkinson says:

    Isn’t Sinn Fein a nationalist organisation?

    • ben madigan says:

      yes, but leftish, very disciplined in getting what it wants which annoys some on all sides of the debate in ireland.
      Reputed to give dissenters from party line very short shrift.
      No personal experience – only speaking of what i’ve read which may or may not be exaggerated to denigrate Sinn Fein

    • Mark Anthony France says:

      Richard Wilkinson… Sinn Fein is part of the European United Left/Nordic Green Left Group in the European Parliament which include SYRIZA, PODEMOS, Die Linke, Parti de Gauche and others… the decision of Sinn Fein to Associate with this political grouping places them firmly in the camp of the Anti Austerity, Anti Capitalist Left in Europe. If you want to make an assessment of Sinn Fein’s politics yourself simply visit Sinn Fein’s Website

      • Richard Wilkinson says:

        I had a look and it confirmed that they are indeed a nationalist organisation, rather than socialist.

  6. John Tummon says:

    What I find most interesting and positive is the millions of European votes vacating the political class & their mainstream parties that were at the heart of everything that has brought about the credit crunch, sovereign debt and austerity. The increase in radical right votes is a massive challenge for the European Left as well as for the centre parties, but, as Micheline Mason has so rightly pointed out, a lot of the votes for UKIP (and this probably applies equally to many of the far right in Europe) were because of the reduced access to state services being cut at the same time as immigration has driven up the demand for them. That is understandable and not clearly racist, in my view.

    This tectonic shift towards political polarisation takes us back to the political parameters of the inter-war period, with the Left and Right slugging it out among the bones of a discredited bourgeois democracy.

    The implications for us are immense and we need a prolonged debate along the lines of the 3 discussion threads on here about the rise of the radical right and, in my view, a delgate conference that discusses NOTHING ELSE. If we can get our analysis, our responsive strategy & tactics right on this question, we will massively surpass the expectations when we were formed. It is that crucial!

    • Mark Anthony France says:

      John Tummon you said “This tectonic shift towards political polarisation takes us back to the political parameters of the inter-war period, with the Left and Right slugging it out among the bones of a discredited bourgeois democracy.” I agree completely!

  7. Bazza says:

    Must not be complacent and the vile far right need challenging but on further analysis in the UK in an EC turnout of 34.1% UKIP got 9.4% of the votes of the total electorate. In France the vile FN got 10.8% of the total electorate and the turnouut there was 43%. We live in a World where working people are deliberately divided – those in work against those on welfare (Tories/Lib Dems), long established UK citizens against new immigrants (UKIP) the right wing media and right/far right treats groups like they are homogenous (all the same) and the far right exaggerate the behaviour of a miniscule number as the norm. All you really hear about Islam for example is their miniscule far right when there are progressive and moderatee Muslims who are the majority and we should stand shoulder to shoulder with. There are also 77 countries in the a world like Russua and Nigeria (in policies sponsored usually by right wing US Christian fundamentalists) where being gay or lesbian is a crime. And we have religios groups set against each other and between each other (Muslims in Syria) – the answer is simple – don’t see groups as homogenous and unite diverse working people! Yours in international solidarity!

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