EU Elections Show Continued Voter Frustrations
The transatlantic rejection of elite consensus that began with Brexit continues.
The people of Europe have signaled their disapproval of centrist politics yet again, giving record numbers of votes to both far-right and far-left parties.
Europeans dealt a blow to the continent’s traditional center-left and center-right politicians in elections for the European Parliament on Sunday, depriving them of a majority for the first time in favor of a fractured slate of pro-E.U. lawmakers, with small gains for the far-right.
Voters turned out in droves — the highest participation in 25 years — for the opportunity to take a shot at the parties that have steered Europe’s consensus-driven policies for decades.
Far-right leaders were on track for their best Europe-wide result ever, but it was only an incremental gain over their result from 2014, suggesting that despite years of tumult, voters might not be ready to give up on the European Union, or to embrace leaders who want to weaken it from within. Voters boosted Greens and other pro-European Union leftists, showing that voters who abandoned traditional parties were searching for new blood, but not a full-scale political revolution.
The vote followed a tumultuous period for the 28-nation, border-erasing European Union. In the five years since the last elections for European Parliament, the continent has been rocked by repeated terrorist attacks, a refugee crisis, Britain’s decision to leave the bloc and the lingering pain of the global financial crisis.
In France, far-right leader Marine Le Pen bested President Emmanuel Macron’s party in a repeat of her 2014 win.
She delighted in what she called “the erasure of the old parties” and said the vote “confirms the new divide between nationalism and globalization.”
But her 23.5 percent vote share was lower than it was in 2014, a warning sign that she might have hit a ceiling despite months of national protests against Macron and his pro-business policies.
With more than 400 million eligible voters, the European Parliament elections are the second-largest exercise in democracy in the world, behind India’s national elections. After decades of slipping participation, turnout this year was sharply higher — about 51 percent, up from 42.6 in 2014. The spike indicated new passions — and new anxieties.
The mixed results echoed across Europe, where a rollicking brigade of far-right campaigners built momentum in opinion polls but delivered only modest results. In the Netherlands, one far-right party supplanted another, with no overall gain. In Germany, the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany (AfD) party won a smaller share than it did in national elections in 2017.
Across the continent, euroskeptic forces captured about 24 percent of the legislature’s 751 seats, initial results indicated, up only slightly from 2014, when they captured 22 percent.
The biggest wellspring of far-right support appeared to be Italy, where Interior Minister Matteo Salvini’s League party vaulted into first place after a year in which he campaigned across the country on a fierce platform of turning back migrants and weakening the European Union.
But his plans for a European-wide raid of fellow euroskeptics will now have to be scaled back. Most of his potential partners made small gains, if any. They were never expected to take a majority of the parliament; now it’s unlikely they’ll be strong enough to be a blocking minority.
Instead, Greens and other pro-environment, socially liberal parties might have been the surprise of the election, surging to second or third place in France, Germany, Finland and elsewhere.
The result is a European Parliament in which the centrist parties failed to reach a majority for the first time, and will have to draw support from lawmakers with less orthodox views of how to run Europe. The centrists dropped from 53 percent of the parliament, to 43.
In Germany, where the Greens surged to second place, according to initial results, party co-leader Robert Habeck told broadcaster ARD that concern for the planet’s future had “played a dominant role” in the campaign, and that voters were punishing the government for its “hesitancy” in confronting the issue.—Washington Post, “European Parliament elections: Voters deny traditional centrists a majority, boost euroskeptics and Greens“
The legislature has a voice in some of the biggest issues facing the European Union. It approves senior E.U. officials, signs off on Europe’s massive budget and delves into gritty lawmaking, as in the sweeping data privacy rules that went into effect last year and whose reach extends far beyond European borders.
This continues a trend that began with the poll-defying win for the Leave side in the June 2016 Brexit vote and continued with Donald Trump’s shocking victory in the US Presidential election that November. While some of this is manifesting as nationalist backlash against globalization—often rising to the level of xenophobia, anti-Semitism, and outright racism—it’s mostly frustration with an elite governing consensus.
The frustrations are understandable. The consensus, which I fully embraced, that free trade was an unalloyed good failed a large number of people. Ditto the inexorable push toward eliminating the need for low-skilled workers—at least at a wage that could support a middle-class Western lifestyle. Ultimately, it’s eliminated the social mobility that Americans, especially, long took as our birthright.
A new commenter at the site, Walter Adams, expressed this frustration yesterday:
I voted for Trump and will do so again, which of course makes me xenophobic, racist, low IQ, gun toting, knuckle dragging, inarticulate, misogynistic, and – – – well just fill in the rest, I’ve forgotten the full screed.
If you can’t imagine how anyone could vote for a vile, evil – – again, fill in the blanks, I will attempt to explain it in terms suitable to the meanest understanding;
The full depth of the absolute loathing the “Ruling Class” – the eternal family clans of federal “Salaried sons-o-bitches” who move from one post, one regime to the next, is held by the sweating class in this country has never been fully articulated by anyone. They never miss a payday; we never pocket a dime that isn’t covered by our own sweat.
“Trump is too crude and hasn’t the right tone!”
He’s a junk yard dog who eats rats. May his tribe increase.
I can’t begin to unpack all of that. But there’s a strong resentment against us salaried sons-o-bitches and it’s bipartisan. While the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street were very different movements, they had many of the same enemies. Ditto Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, who have emerged as the unlikely political leaders of what remains of those factions.
Alas, while a growing segment of the population here and in Europe have rejected the policies that have prevailed throughout most of the postwar period, they don’t agree on what should replace it. Steven Erlanger:
[T]he anti-E.U. forces remain disparate and divided, and may have trouble wielding significant power.
Instead, the biggest impact was likely to be felt exactly where the far-right and populist leaders most wanted — in their home countries, particularly in France and Italy, where they are threatening to further disrupt traditional party systems and angling to gain power. For months, they have promoted these elections as a litmus test of their popularity.
“The electorate is crying out for change and is therefore volatile — preferring to back new insurgents rather than the status quo parties that have been around for decades,” said Mark Leonard, director of the European Council on Foreign Relations. “The fear of a far-right takeover of the European Parliament has mobilized Europe’s pro-European forces, resulting in a huge surge in turnout and in support for Green and Liberal parties throughout Europe.”
Mr. Leonard, the European Council on Foreign Relations director, said that “contrary to predictions, there has been no continentwide shift to far-right or anti-European parties.”
But the decline in vote share for what he called “status quo parties” is “a warning that business as usual is not an option,” he said. “The composition of the new Parliament will be weighed in favor of pro-Europeans, but it does not mean that they have a mandate for ‘more of the same.”‘
While the varying populists will try to vote as a bloc, they are not expected to be able to form a single grouping, as there are fervent differences among them on issues like Russia, regional aid and the distribution of migrants throughout the bloc.
The one thing the varying populists do agree on is disrupting the system, and they are bound to make consensus more difficult on future European budgets and legislation. This European Parliament will simply be messier and harder to control than before.
Britain was a special case, given its plans to leave the European Union. The election was seen more as a judgment on the two main parties — the governing Conservatives and the opposition Labour — rather than any continental issue.
The results looked to be a disaster for both main parties, with a resounding victory for the new Brexit Party of Nigel Farage. But the impact will be more on British domestic politics than European politics.—New York Times, “European Election Results Show Growing Split Over Union’s Future“
As we saw with Brexit, “Not this!” is a strong sentiment but not a governing strategy. It’s one thing to agree that the status quo isn’t serving a substantial segment of society very well. It’s quite another to agree on a substitute policy. And, of course, that’s all the more true when there are multiple parties, each with radically different mandates from their constituencies, trying to come to agreement.
This is… not the right take.
Both the center-right Christian Democrats (EPP) and center-left Social Democrats (S&D) lost, but the big winners were other center-right (ALDE) and center-left parties (Greens).
The predicted far-right surge was more of a ripple, while the far left lost seats.
In other words, the pro-EU center held quite comfortably.
It’s what I call a populist scream. Everyone voting for parties that promise them everything, totally ignoring whether such promises are in fact realisable. Both the far left and the far right are typical purveyors of such fantasies, either because they expect they’ll never have to deliver, or because they really are that dumb and expect that unicorns frolicking through fields and pots of gold are on the horizon.
This is the problem with the no-deal Brexit promisers. They avoid all the pain-staking “now how do we actually untangle 40 years of EU membership?” by simply waving their hands and saying “WTO! Suddenly a miracle happens here! Let someone else figure out how to do it!” (and then will probably blame the EU when everything goes to pot.)
As Richard North over at Eureferendum comments, Farage isn’t that bright of an individual….
I’ll assume, for the sake of argument, that Walter Adams may return to this site. I’m on record here as saying in many comments that I’ve known and worked with a lot of people who hold similar views and that I respect them and like them. I’d loan most of the a hundred on their word anytime. I understand the frustration, I agree with a lot of their complaints. But the “establishment” is largely Republican. Clinton signed “free trade” deals, but they were largely Republican efforts. It’s Republicans who are a threat to SS and Medicare. It’s Republicans who passed a big tax cut for the elites. Why are you voting for Republicans, Walter?
“You can have all the benefits you want with none of the costs” has always been an attractive pitch. (It’s what Trump is selling and Walter has sure jumped in on that.) Compromise is dissatisfying but necessary, so pay attention and make the best trade-offs possible. The people taking most advantage of working people’s sweat aren’t the centrists.
@gVOR08: But the counter-argument from the populist left is that, once elected, the Clintons and Obamas wind up putting the Wall Street people in charge of the economy. From the working class perspective, it all seems the same even though it’s true that Democratic policies at least tend to support a safety net.
I usually don¿’t question peoples’ motivations, but this:
This is, to quote Swift, “the thing that is not true.”
Trump’s one legislative accomplishment has been a tax break for the rich people whose donations to politicians largely determine what this “salaried class” ultimately does.
His economic policies have largely hurt those in the “sweating class,” to the point that he needs to take some of the lower tax receipts to subsidize some of them.
And his other policies, as far as they’ve been implemented, are clear attempts to pander to xenophobes and bigots.
So why keep voting for this person?
A lot of the politics of the moment reminds me of anti-vaxxers insofar as I think part of what allows people to reject vaccines is that they have no direct experience with the pre-vaccine world. They don’t remember the scourge of all those illnesses.
Likewise, it is easy to reject the current neoliberal order if one really doesn’t remember what it was like when populists and nationalists were last in vogue globally.
@James Joyner: This is true because despite all the the warnings about “socialism” the reality is that the Democratic Party is pretty moderate.
But, of course, in the US it hasn’t been the left populist who have unended things, it is the right populists.
@gVOR08: The notion that Trump is eating the rats is a remarkable position given the general way he has always done business, the corruption in his administration, and who the main beneficiaries are of his policies.
Why keep playing 3-card monte? A sucker can’t admit he’s a sucker, which of course makes him an even bigger sucker.
Just about every time I fly to Vegas I’ll overhear some smart guy talking about his system for beating craps, roulette, poker. . . They look out of the window as we’re coming in for a landing and see mile after mile of massive casinos and massive hotels and where a rational person might suspect all that massiveness is testimony to a rigged game, they think, ‘Ah, but I’ve got a system!’
Charles Murray used that argument in a 2016 effort to give Republicans cover for voting for Hillary.
And he offers the graphs on regulations and spending to support his argument. We’ve not seen the tally for Trump yet, but he certainly has been something different than the conventional Republican president that has at best slows but never alters the trajectory.
That Republicans are the least worst of bad options is not a new occurrence. Robert Lewis Dabney wrote in 1897:
In the post-war period, and by the way it’s been 75 years so we really need to get over it, the choice has been more and different more interventionism. It appears that voters want something different. Perhaps ill-defined, but than few can fathom what less interventionism will look like. Selling benefits to special interests is easy. It is difficult to sell people on liberty, especially when the “program” is fewer programs, fewer special set asides, less government “doing something”.
All we can say is that more and more people are starting to feel what “He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.” really means. And yes, like the Austin resident who wrote that she had supported all the tax increases for all the programs, but now couldn’t afford to live in Austin, many will be surprised at the personal impact of what they now “support”.
In what way has Trump led to liberty? (Or to fewer “programs”?). Yes, he cut taxes, primarily for the wealthy. How does that lead to more liberty?
(And for the record, I got a small tax cut. I am not any more free now than I was last year).
I think people are over thinking this. The average Joe wants a decent job and the sort of lifestyle such jobs have permitted for the past few generations: house, car, TV, beer, reasonable job security, “normal” physical security, health care when it’s needed, a well earned retirement waiting at the end. The guy can respect immigrants who come here and bust their tails working the sort of jobs he would never consider. And the guy’s no racist, at least by his lights.
But take away that job and his mood sours. This guy never got a break, and there are Mexicans breaking the rules, and simply everywhere. Below him are people sponging off of welfare when he’s never asked for anything. The smarter snooty kids got the better paying jobs that allow them to sit on their asses all day, to buy the big house and flashy car, and these a-holes flaunt it. The owner might be worse but at least he created something.
What has politics and politicians ever done for this guy? Get him a job! Then along comes Trump… Finally someone who gets it!
@JKB: And BTW: the affordability of Austin (or lack thereof) is the result of lots and lots of people wanting to live there. Its called “the market” (and because taxes in Texas are heavily in the area of property taxes, more people wanting to live somewhere leads to increased property values, and hence increased taxes).
If Austin was a hellhole where no one could afford to live, it wouldn’t be so full of people.
Believe it or not, there are advantage plays. Just not many, not easy, and the best one will get you banned for life if you try them (card-counting).
My routine on my last two trips was to set up at the full pay Deuces Wild machine at The D, and play through $20 (nickel machine, 25 cents per pull), until either the $20 was spent, or I had doubled it (not counting hand pays). I was ahead $600 on that machine, give or take. the downside is that it’s a nickel machine. Top payoff is $200 for a royal flush, $125 for four deuces.
I’d have done better at a quarter machine, but would have run through my money faster. But there were a few machines like that at the Main Street Station and El Cortez.
The advantage play in politics requires playing through millions of dollars across several candidates. Not what most voters can afford.
@Kit: I think some of that dynamic fuels Trump, but there were not enough unemployed (or even underemployed) people to elect to Trump.
Indeed, that is not even where his support in the primaries came from, in the main.
@Steven L. Taylor: I think there there is a world of difference between being merely employed and having a good job. People are mad. And they don’t go in for revolutions (or simply burning the system down) when times are good.
@Steven L. Taylor: That reminds me of an article I read many years back–Washington Post?–which was reporting on the number of thinly-populated red states that had had to allow their rural roads to lapse back to gravel because the states couldn’t afford the upkeep.
I remember someone they quoted who couldn’t figure out why a) she couldn’t have a paved road in front of her house and b) was complaining bitterly about the “high level of taxation” and was insisting that her taxes be dropped.
It’s always the same–everyone wants the services (which they now take as a god-given right) but nobody wants to pay for them.
There is definitely some of this. It does not explain, however, why middle class Evangelicals voted for him in the primary.
I agree that globalization and mechanization is part of the equation. I do not think it is enough to explain it. I actually think that the perceived threat of whites becoming a plurality fuels a lot of it.
In the case of poker, there is a reason why it’s the only game at the casino where you’re not playing against the house. Not to say guy on airplane actually knows enough to win versus the people who basically play it as their full time job.
@grumpy realist: This is a real problem. I live in the heart of anti-tax country and constantly hear gripes along those lines. It often manifests as: “I’ll pay more taxes once they do a better job with the taxes they already have” without any consideration as to whether there is enough revenue to do what needs to be done now.
I know money doesn’t solve all problems, but it does take money to hire police and teachers and to pave roads and fix bridges and buildings.
@Steven L. Taylor:
Absolutely, only one part. But Walter Adams struck me as a blue-collar kind of guy, and that was my analysis. Evangelicals are a different beast. The elderly, too.
I suspect that economic insecurity drives a lot of white-identity politics, however, both here and abroad.
@Steven L. Taylor: That’s the problem the U.K. has been having in ever-increasing amounts over the last several years. Less money for police, the NHS, fixing the roads, providing housing to the poor, care for the elderly….
No wonder people are willing to follow a Pied Piper who claims that there’s one easy trick to solve all of the U.K.’s problems and that is to get out of the EU. Remember the big red bus and the promise of 350K pounds per week going to the NHS?
The ‘times’ are objectively wonderful when seen in the context of history. Major wars? No. Major plagues? No. Famines, spotty, local and generally the result of wars. We are richer, healthier and safer than about 99.999999% of humans down through history and 99.9% better off than we were in this country 100 years ago. Or even in my lifetime (65 years in July.) Polio anyone? Nuclear annihilation?
This is not about hard times by any rational measurement, it’s all about relative social standing and inflated expectations. Men are losing position relative to women. Who votes for Trump? Men. Whites are losing position relative to brown and black people. Who votes for Trump? White people. The underlying problem is that relative social standing is increasingly determined by intelligence and adaptability, factors as baked-in as gender and race. And who votes for Trump? The poorly educated.
Male, white and poorly-educated, three groups doing fantastically well by objective measurements – healthier, wealthier, safer – who are enraged because they aren’t advancing in relative terms, or see themselves as slipping, again, in purely relative terms. And why do the male, the white and the uneducated see themselves as in decline? Because they’ve chosen to define themselves by their sex and their race, irrational criteria.
@Steven L. Taylor and @grumpy realist:
Exactly. Anti-statism is driven by the “I deserve the benefits, but the costs are too high” fantasists. And it isn’t just services. Folks like JKB are convinced that they’d have more “liberty” if only the regulations were removed that bring us higher air quality, safe medicines, untainted food, cars with seatbelts, etc.
@Steven L. Taylor: Let me further state, as I did in a thread with Guarneri a while back, if people really did migrate to low-tax places, then Alabama would be full.
But if you really think low taxes and less “programs” equals “liberty” then come on down.
@michael reynolds: I think this gets to a lot of it, even the MAGA stuff globally.
It isn’t that the US is poorer than it was in the 1950s (actually, we are richer). But the rest of the world is wealthier, and that makes some people feel threatened.
Same dynamic for whites, males, etc. internally.
@Steven L. Taylor:
“If Austin was a hellhole where no one could afford to live, it wouldn’t be so full of people.”
Or in the words of the great philosopher Yogi Berra, No one comes there anymore. It’s too crowded.
@Steven L. Taylor:
Americans are blessedly ignorant of the rest of the world (and their own country, too). When a foreign country grabs the spotlight, it is only to inspire one of our two political emotions: fear or loathing.
@gVOR08: I’ll try to quote Huey Long.
Guys like Walter aren’t connecting all the dots and simply imagine that because Trump “isn’t a politician” (yeah, right! d[rme & smh]) he’s gonna be different when in fact, he’s just the latest strain of the same disease.
@JKB: Ronald Reagan was the one exception? Kooie mate!
@Steven L. Taylor: Evangelicals lean authoritarian. They’re looking for the millennial kingdom here on earth (instead of where they’re supposed to be looking for it). And they are exclusivistic and come from a separatist tradition that they have really only paid lip service to abandoning.
If the Democrats would stop trying to include “those people” as part of the society, evangelicals would vote for them. Not that a move in that direction would be either good or responsible… just sayin’.
@Steven L. Taylor:
While I think there’s something to that, most people don’t measure their own financial well-being by how rich the country as a whole is. They measure it by how well they and their family are doing wrt wages, benefits, job security, savings, etc. If you look at things like the reduced power of unions, the loss of jobs to automation, outsourcing and other causes, and the increasing cost of medical care and education, there may be some good reasons for ordinary people to feel financially insecure.
@Steven L. Taylor: I’ve actually considered Alabama, Mississippi and the like from time to time. Problem is that rents aren’t actually lower (no heirs, so not interested in owning a house for one person) and I’m not that fond of hot weather even after having lived in Korea for 8 years.
This attitude is strictly in the “what’s in it for me” vein, but I think the point still holds.
@Just nutha ignint cracker: Having some familiarity with real estate prices in both Alabama and the Washington, DC suburbs of Northern Virginia, I can say for a certainty that housing is much, much cheaper in the former. I’m looking to move to a 5-bedroom home to accommodate a blended family. The ones I’m seeing on Redfin, my search engine of choice, in Birmingham are roughly half what they are way out in Clifton or Fairfax Station. They literally can’t be bought for any price in DC proper or even Old Town, Alexandria. And that’s to say nothing of real estate taxes being geometrically higher here.
@Just nutha ignint cracker: 12 years ago my job was moved from Columbia, MD to Charlotte, NC. We considered the move, and went down to Charlotte. We could get a townhome in Charlotte for about 60% of what it cost in Columbia. Rents were also substantially lower. What was not lower by any significant margin was the general cost of living. Plus my wife was a teacher in Montgomery County, MD and they paid well. If she had taught in Charlotte, she would have taken a pay cut in the 35% range, and the difference would have gotten worse every year. Most of the south pays teachers very poorly (not surprising because of all the Christian schools there).
@James Joyner: Please note that there is a difference of category between “housing” and “rents” and I am specifically only speaking of the latter. And that additionally I am aware of the differences in rents between major metropolitan regions such as Washington DC/Tidewater VA, Seattle, San Francisco, Boston, Manhattan Island. and such and where I live–Kelso, WA, population 32,000, (and 60 miles away from Vancouver WA/Tri-county Metro Portland–where rents are 100% higher than what I am paying).
@James Joyner: While I am here ranting, I will note that although rents are still low, housing prices here are getting push from both Metro Portland and Metro SeaTac even though it is roughly 100 miles away. We don’t have “gentrification” of the bad neighborhoods yet, but when I came back from Korea 4 years ago, a house in an area of rundown houses and apartments near a mediocre elementary school was on the market for $126,00o (800 sq.ft. 1 bth, 2bds.). The similar and more rundown house next door to it was for sale last year for $189,000. Yes, I know that seems fine compared to your situation, but the “good” jobs here for the people living in that neighborhood are at the Foster Farms chicken plant and pay $11/hr.
@michael reynolds: Relative decline may be part of the discontent. But the expectation is progress, absolute progress.
I am a leading edge Boomer, Born at the start of Les Trente Glorieuses to use Piketty’s phrase. The three decades when GDP improved steadily here and around the world. Most of my life things got better every year, for me, for those around me, for everybody. Rich people were richer, but not ridiculous. We had a pretty well functioning democracy. Occasionally we’d elect a Republican, but that wasn’t cause to panic. And pretty much every year you’d get a little raise. Those days started to end in the 70s, when wealth concentration started to increase and wealth became more politically active. But I don’t think I realized it was over til around 2000.
People still have an expectation that life will get better, they don’t understand why it isn’t, and they blame exactly the wrong people.
@Just nutha ignint cracker: Yes, that makes perfect sense. Given what I do, the DC area just makes sense for me. I could get a comparable job at Air University in Montgomery and get a lot more house for the money. But my pay would go down commensurately (I’d lose the DC COLA) and pretty much everything aside from housing costs just as much down there. Plus, if that job went away, I’d have a much harder time finding a comparable job without moving.