It is too early to say, but the results certainly reflect the fragmentation and increasing influence of personalities in politics.
Sunday’s election in Germany ended with a victory for the country’s Social Democratic Party and its candidate, Olaf Scholz. It was a remarkable comeback for the centre-left party, which, like many of its counterparts across Europe, has been gaining support in the ballot box for the past decade or more.
The question therefore immediately arises whether Mr. Scholz’s victory in Germany could be a harbinger of a more broad-based revival for the centre-left parties that were once a mainstay of continental politics.
Inside Germany, Mr Scholz is preparing talks with the Greens and liberal Free Democrats to form a left-leaning coalition government. After his centrist campaign, how the Left leans remains an open question. Nothing else is guaranteed: His conservative rival, who lost by just 1.6 percentage points, has not given up and wants to try to form an alliance.
While the results have ruffled Mr Scholz’s conservative opponents, the scenario for the center remains challenging as well. Elsewhere in Europe, many centre-left parties have seen their vote share dwindle as their traditional base among unionized, industrialized workers disappears and political factions disintegrate into an array of smaller parties.
But after a boom among right-wing populists in recent years, there are some signs the political pendulum may be ready to swing back. Here’s a look at the factors that will affect whether a centre-left revival is possible.
The large tent parties on both sides have shrunk.
The German elections provided sharp relief to the continuation of a trend that was already visible across the continent: fragmentation and instability in political support.
Only three decades ago, Germany’s two major parties won more than 80 percent of the vote in a national election. On Sunday, the Social Democrats received only 25.7 percent, while the Christian Democrats, together with their Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union, received 24.1 percent—their “Volksparty” or big-tent parties representing all elements. of society questioning the legitimacy.
Votes being lost by once-major parties are going to parties with more narrowly defined positions – whether the Greens, inspired by environmental issues, or the liberal Free Democratic Party. If the German vote were to break from the traditional notions of “right” and “left”, it would be almost equally divided, with about 45 percent on each side.
On the eve of the coronavirus pandemic, A survey of 14 EU countries Some voters expressed positive views about political parties in 2019, as found by the Pew Research Center. Only 6 out of about 60 were viewed favorably by more than 50 percent of the population in their countries. Populist parties across Europe also received largely poor reviews.
The Left has a lot to do right now.
It remains to be seen whether the Social Democrats in Germany will be able to lead a governing coalition. But if they do, they will join a relatively small club.
Of the 27 member states of the European Union, only Portugal, Spain, Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Malta are notably centre-left governments.
Two decades ago, Tony Blair’s Labor Party cruised for re-election in Britain, promoting centre-left policies similar to those of President Bill Clinton. Now, Labor has been out of power for more than a decade, and in recent elections it has suffered heavy losses in working-class parts of England where its support was once deep.
In France, the centre-left Socialist Party has never recovered from the disastrous performance of François Hollande in the unpopular presidency and subsequent elections. Since then, France has increasingly moved to the right, with shrinking support from socialists and other leftist parties.
With presidential elections due next April in mind, President Emmanuel Macron, who ran as centrist in 2017, is drawing voters to the right. Polls show that he and the leader of the far-right National Rally, Marine Le Pen, are the two favorites to be out in the first round and meet in a runoff.
Paris mayor and socialist presidential candidate Anne Hidalgo has been losing support since announcing her candidacy earlier this month. according to a vote Released last Thursday, only 4 percent of potential voters said they would support him in the first round next April.
And ‘left’ is not what it used to be.
After World War II, as wealth flooded Europe and industry boomed through the Marshall Plan, those who opposed communism but were concerned that capitalism could provoke instability and inequality were center-left. The parties came together under a broad umbrella.
He supported strong trade unions and welfare states with liberal education and health care systems.
In Germany, as in other countries, some time ago the lines between center left and center right began to fade.
But if there is an animating issue for many voters left and right, it is the role the EU must play in the governance of the nations.
Several far-right parties have gained support for Brussels as a regulatory overlord by stripping sovereignty of the union’s member states. Ms Merkel’s conservatives, by contrast, are very supportive of the European Union – yet wary of deepening some financial ties inside the bloc. However, many Social Democrats argue that the EU should be strengthened through deeper integration.
Europe’s shackles were tested in the pandemic, and that process may have ultimately helped the Social Democrats as Germany set aside its traditional aversion to shared EU debt to highlight emergency spending.
It was a plan that Mr. Scholz, who is Germany’s finance minister, had worked out with his French counterpart. Ms Merkel, who approved the deal, has since indicated repeatedly that it was one-sided.
Mr. Scholz’s central role in drafting the deal saw him always on the side of the Germans in favor of tighter relations with their European neighbours.
Personality matters more than ever.
Another common denominator in the fragmented European political landscape is that personalities are far more important to the electorate than the traditional parties and the issues they represent.
There have always been outsiders on the European political stage. But whether it was Margaret Thatcher, François Mitterrand, Helmut Kohl or Willy Brandt, they were often not guided by a set of ideological principles.
The failure of major political parties to address the problems faced by the electorate has given rise to a new generation of leaders who project themselves as idolaters. Mr Macron in France and Boris Johnson in Britain are hardly different. But both are opportunists, flout tradition and have fabricated larger-than-life personalities to attract public attention. Till now voters have rewarded him.
Angela Merkel was his polar opposite, a study in stagnant frugality that overcame ideological differences by eliminating stagnation. Her party’s candidate, Armin Lachett, could not convince voters that he was her natural successor, which opened the door for Mr Scholz, who despite being in another party, casts himself as the most Merkel-like candidate. managed to do.
norimitsu onishi Contributed reporting.