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Opinion

Rightwards

FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno - The Philippine Star

The results of EU-wide elections for the European Parliament came as no surprise. Domestic elections had indicated a strong shift in voter preference for rightwing parties.

Nevertheless, the results came as a shock. Sunday night, French President Emmanuel Macron dissolved his country’s National Assembly and called for elections at the end of this month. He has been long under pressure from the rightwing National Rally party led by Marine Le Pen, forcing the centrist president to shift more to the right.

On the same evening, Belgium’s prime minister resigned his post. Although the rightwing parties did not win there, Prime Minister Alexander de Croo’s liberals lost heavily to the Flemish nationalist party led by Bart de Weaver.

The rightwing parties gained most heavily in France, Germany and Italy. Nearly half of all the EU countries are led by right-of-center parties. In Italy, the strong performance of the rightwing parties reinforced the position of rightist Prime Minister Georgia Meloni. In Austria, the conservative People’s Party took the largest share of the votes. In Germany, the ruling Social Democrat’s grip on power has been weakened.

Except in Denmark, where the Green-Left party won gains, the strong performance of the rightwing parties is evident. In France, Le Pen’s party won more votes that Macron’s ruling party. The same happened in Germany, where the ruling Social Democratic Party took less votes than the hard-right Alternative for Germany.

Despite the surge in rightwing votes, the centrist-liberal parties still hold the biggest number of seats at the European Parliament. The center-right European People’s Party holds 191 seats, forming the largest bloc in the 720-seat assembly. The Socialists and Democrats is the second largest bloc, holding 135 seats. The liberal Renew party lost 22 seats and the Greens lost 20.

Although the centrists still control the European Parliament, they will have, as Macron has been doing, to shift slightly to the right to hold on to their position. The center-of-gravity of European politics has moved rightwards.

The biggest losers of last weekend’s elections were the leftwing parties. There is widespread disenchantment with the leftwing agenda. The leftist parties appear ideologically moribund, unable to muster a following from voters.

As a general rule, the rise of the European right-wing is driven by three themes: wariness over the increasing power over nation-states of the EU bureaucracy; weariness with the costs of the green transition that made everything more expensive and the desire for more effective regulation of the tide of immigration that has swamped many European countries.

The increased influence of the European rightwing parties translates into the erosion of the decarbonization agenda. This is not good news for those worried about global warming becoming irreversible.

European open market policies have been opposed by farmers in the higher cost economies. This caused the widespread farmer protests we saw in the last few months. The irony here is that renewed agricultural protectionism will probably cause heftier food price increases in countries such as France and Germany.

Suspiciousness about the power of the EU bureaucracy based in Brussels has been longstanding. There has always been agitation over the power wielded by unelected “Euro-crats.”

Recall that those who campaigned for Brexit wanted greater self-determination for the UK. Brexit, however, produced an outcome that is probably direr for the British. Today, there are voices in Britain clamoring for a return to the fold of the EU. When British paratroopers landed in Normandy last week as part of the 80th anniversary of D-Day, they had to submit to French customs authorities – a once unthinkable spectacle.

European voters pining for a revival of the continent’s manufacturing prowess tended to vote for the rightwing parties. They blame the policy predispositions of the leftist and Green parties for the weakening of Europe’s industrial base. This weakening, in turn, explains the rise in unemployment and the propensity of several large economies to stagnate.

The same anti-immigrant and anti-environmental protection sentiments animate the conservatives in the US. As in Europe, many Americans want to see the reinvigoration of US manufacturing – although this is expressed in the clamor for raising tariffs on the exports of other countries. Raising tariffs on imported goods will, however, translate into higher costs for consumers.

The rightwards shift in European voter sentiment will probably be a long wave. Low birth rates among the core European economies will create the need for more immigrant labor. The poorly performing African and South Asian countries are just too ready to dump their populations on Europe.

This long rightwards wave will also be due to the bankruptcy of the leftwing agenda. Other than supporting terrorist groups like Hamas, it seems the leftwing groups have no policy agenda to offer voters. These ideological groups seem out of touch with the real-life concerns of ordinary citizens.

The ideological bankruptcy of the political left is almost universal. Over the last few decades, the traditional left has tried to reinvent themselves by weaving in with other fashionable “woke” social trends such as environmental militancy and feminism. Lately, leftist groups have tried to win back relevance by condemning Israel’s “genocide” in Gaza – although this has led them to glorify terrorist groups with an even more pronounced genocidal agenda.

The political left in Europe is not immune from the global decline of their ideological tendency. But they have managed to subsist largely by taking more opportunist populist positions. That has not produced for them the gift of ideological coherence.

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