Tuesday, June 09, 2009

How safe is Europe for democracy?

The most important (and sad) news from the European elections is that the EU continues to raise less and less interest inside Europe.

The percentage of eligible voters who bother to exercise their democratic right has continued to fall, even from the poor show in the first direct democratic elections to the European Parliament (1979).

The last election in 2004 saw a turnout of only 45.5 percent. In this year's elections merely 43.4 percent could be bothered to vote.

My non-startling conclusion: Europe has a decreasing minority committed to the responsibilities entailed by democracy.

Is it therefore worrying that the result of the election is the increased prominence of parties on the far-right and centre-right?: Remarkably, the more or less far-right grouping called the Union for Europe of the Nations (UEN), which includes parties such as Italy's Northern League, more than doubled its seats, from 16 to 35 - though the centre-right European People's Party (EPP) is still the largest grouping in the European Parliament, with 267 of the assembly's 736 seats (that's just over a third of the total, according to the last results available to me at the moment of writing).

Worryingly for the EPP, Britain's Conservatives, Czechoslovakia's Civic Democratic Party (ODS) and Poland's Law and Justice Party (PIS) plan to leave the EPP to establish a new euro-sceptic group. What that will mean in terms of actual political positions remains to be seen, given that the number of seats for the (also euro-sceptic) Independence and Democracy (Independent/Democratic) group went down from 24 to 18.

Meanwhile, the other surprise was the Greens who won 11 seats on top of the 43 they already had, to bring their total up to 54.

The biggest losers in the elections are the centre-left Party of European Socialists (PES), who succeeded in gaining just 159 seats – 56 fewer than in the 2004 election. The other left-wing ("Left") parliamentary group lost 7 seats to be "left" with 34 members. The Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) also saw their seats decline from 102 to 81.

So what is my answer to the question I raise in the title of this post: "How safe is Europe for democracy?"

Well, my answer is that, insofar as the rightward swing is going to be neutralised, it will not necessarily be neutralised by the euro-sceptics, but rather by the range of positions represented. As long as there is no clearly dominant party, democracy in Europe is safe. For the moment. The question is: how long will this moment last?

The centre-right is being given a chance to shape the solutions to the economic woes of the EU and of the world. If that chance is fluffed, what comes after the centre-right? I doubt if the answer will be the centre-left. Sphere: Related Content

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