By Silvia Martelli
Europe is undergoing a deep political mutation that 10 years ago was unimaginable.Back in 2008, most European countries had governments which were either left-wing or centre-left. But in more recent years, the continent’s political map has turned increasingly ‘black’ as the result of an over ow of populists and sovereignists whose spread has been largely unstoppable. e results of the Swedish elections are the latest and most obvious evidence of this phenomenon.
The ‘old’ continent
In 2008, the majority of European governments leaned towards the left side of the political spectrum. In the United Kingdom, Labour were in Government with Gordon Brown succeeding Tony Blair the year before. France was ruled by the Union for a Popular Movement, but in 2012 were replaced by François Hollande’s Socialist Party. Similarly, Spain was governed by the Socialists’ Workers Party, and Italy was led by the Democratic Party of Romano Prodi; later on during that same year, Silvio Berlusconi was elected, signalling a shift towards the right in Italian politics. The Swedish Social Democrats, the biggest party in every election since 1914, had once again received the majority of the votes. Austria, Slovakia and Hungary were no exception to this left-wing trend.
The spread of right-wing populism
The European geopolitical landscape has heavily transformed since then. The 2008 financial crisis led to wide spread economic alienation which was quickly met with political dissatisfaction towards what was increasingly perceived as a helpless Establishment.
Right-wing populism began to spread and kept doing so consistently as ideologies such as nationalism and nativism grew increasingly popular. It is often argued that this successful spread was the di- rect consequence of the people’s disappointment with left-wing governments that repeatedly failed to address issues such as immigration, whereas populism was able to o er more straightforward answers for it.
As a result, during the previous French elections, the president of the National Front, Marine Le Pen, made it to the second round. In Germany, Alternative for Germany (AfD, a far right-wing party) is growing increasingly popular and for the firrst time has entered the Parliament. In Austria, the junior coalition partner Freedom Party of Austria (FPO) is managing to impose its political agenda upon the ruling Austrian People’s Party (OVP), similarly to how the Italian Lega is hegemonising the government led by the Five Star Movement. In Sweden, a country traditionally left-wing and welcoming towards immigrants, we saw a populist nationalist party winning 17.7% of the vote in the latest elections.
How traditional parties are being affected
The rise in right-wing support across the continent is mirrored by a transformation in traditional par- ties. Socialists and social-democrats are retreating (with the exception of Spain and Portugal) and chances are that the next European elections may see a populist coalition taking over European People’s Party group (EPP) and the Party of the European Socialists (PES), the first and second largest groups respectively within the European Parliament. The metamorphosis of traditional parties is even more evident within those aligned to the centre-right. In the UK for example, the Brexit result has deepened splits within the Conservative Party and has seen an increased mirroring of UKIP’s populist rhetoric. Following the Italian elections which occurred last March, the centre-right party Forza Italia has grown ever closer to the far-right party Lega Nord. In Germany, Bavarian members of the Christian Social Union (CSU) have openly become competitors to their traditional allies, the Christian Democratic Union of Germany (CDU), and even the Spanish party Ciudadanos has abandoned many of its centrist ideologies and opted for a more right-wing approach.
The issue at stake is that democratic and pro-European establishments seem trapped within an outdated logics that right-wing populism has well overtook. And the consequence is that, during next year’s European elections, the far-right agenda may be even more prevalent.