1/11/10

Parties, ideologies and issues in Europe

  
Δευτέρα, 01 Νοεμβρίου 2010 09:19
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In Europe – for a long time the world’s ideological matrix – the traditional left-right cleavage is no longer the key to policy.
Communism has for all practical purposes disappeared. Where nominally communist parties survive – Greece being one of the very few cases – they no longer “dare speak” their program: Does it consist in going back to the failed Soviet model, as perpetuated in its most grotesque version by North Korea? Or in imitating the “communist” brand of robber baron capitalism of China? And if not, what? To these queries no answers are to be had. In reality, the ideological arsenal of post-Soviet communism is reduced in practice to a mindless and vitriolic anti-Americanism.
But what about European Socialism and/or Social Democracy, now that they have renounced the 19th century concepts of the “class struggle” and the “socialization of the means of production” – that many among them, mostly in continental Europe, had originally espoused? What do they represent today? And in what respect do they differ from the right? Does it come down to a question of social “sensibilities”? And, if so, on what basis does one judge somebody else’s humanitarian disposition? The only objective criterion for such a judgment is the specific policies implemented or advocated; as to which, however, the political-ideological fault lines no longer coincide with the traditional divide between left and right – the more so, since the right itself has a major identity problem as well.
The size and especially the powers of the state – a key issue in American political life since the inception of the Republic – have rarely as such been an object of serious contention, at least in Continental Europe. Contrary to the American paradigm, right wing European parties on the whole were not, until recently, proponents of small government – in fact they rather tended to be openly “statist”; as were, of course, by their very nature, the left leaning ones. The two main areas where European left and right have traditionally diverged being the economy and foreign policy.
It is, however, becoming increasingly apparent, especially in the light of efforts to cope with the effects of the financial crisis, that differences between mainstream parties on the two sides of the political spectrum with respect to economic policy have diminished to the point of being imperceptible; this being especially true when the parties in question are in power and thus led by the force of things to opt for pragmatism over doctrine. Thus, Socialist and Social Democratic governments – for example in Spain and in Greece now, and in Sweden and Germany already in the 1990s and in the first half of the current decade, respectively – have characteristically chosen fiscal discipline, at the expense of social programs until then considered sacrosanct; and, in so doing, have aligned themselves with conservative governments in Germany and in Britain. And, on the other hand, a right-leaning Sarkozy in France initially chose a largely “Keynesian” approach to his country’s – and Europe’s – economic and financial problems – only to subsequently adopt more rigorous policies, in line with a developing Europe-wide consensus.
But neither as to basic foreign policy orientations is there a perceptible difference of views today between mainstream European leftists and conservatives. In contrast to the pre-Second World War ideologically driven foreign policy disputes between and within European states; and also to the Cold War division of Europe into East and West and of the populations remaining outside the Iron Curtain into a pro-Soviet minority and the rest; in the aftermath of the fall of the Soviet empire Europeans succeeded in reaching a remarkable consensus on crucial issues such as collective security, NATO and, to a certain extent, the EU. Disagreements on particulars among political parties – especially between parties in power and opposition parties – inevitably arise; but they have very little if anything to do with the left-right ideological split.
New battle lines are however being drawn. The massive influx of Moslem immigrants and the threat to the cultural identity of the host countries it comports, in conjunction with the terrorist activities of Islamist organizations, such as al-Qaida, are arousing within the public opinions of EU member states fears that tend to reshape the European political landscape. New parties appear, brandishing restrictions on immigration and law-and-order enforcement as their main, if not their only, objective. They are mostly to be found on the right, but the alarm is also sounded by voices on the left. (A case in point is the rather phobic, but widely applauded, views of Social Democrat Thilo Sarrazin in Germany.) While traditional parties, both right-wing and left-wing, especially when in government, strive to meet the not unfounded concerns that fuel this unease by adopting stricter immigration and antiterror policies.
But by focusing exclusively on these highly visible – and, it should be repeated, undoubtedly real – issues, one risks losing sight of the wider picture. The overarching, historic danger is that the EU will degenerate into an inward looking, loose association of self-seeking nations, mindful exclusively of their material well-being, outsourcing their military security to the United States, and accordingly incapable of playing on the international scene a constructive role commensurate with their potential. As a result, the most significant dividing line in the foreseeable future will most probably prove to be the one separating the devotees of an uninspired local-patriotismus – no matter whether of the left-wing or right-wing variety – from those who espouse the belief of former British prime minister Tony Blair that “the European Union is about the projection of collective power, wealth and influence” – or the equivalent French notion of “Europe-puissance”.
This existential dilemma is essentially unrelated to the left-right controversy. It is directly related to the élan-vital of the European nations and especially of the leading ones; and to the quest for a new breed of political leaders capable of giving it practical expression – i.e. for leadership equal to the historic task at hand.

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