terça-feira, 24 de maio de 2016

OPINION / Austria vote is wake-up call for EU left / Austrian elections are a wake-up call to Europe

Austria vote is wake-up call for EU left
The European left, not just political parties but also civil society, have abandoned the very people who used to be their raison d’être.”
VIENNA, 24. MAY, 18:40

In a nail-biting finale, Alexander van der Bellen on Monday (23 May) secured a tiny majority of 50.3 percent to prevent Norbert Hofer becoming the EU’s first far-right head of state.
It was the happy ending to a comeback-of-the-year campaign that Van der Bellen and his team pulled off in the last two weeks.

Norbert “the pinstriped-Nazi” Hofer, was unable to defend the 14-point lead that he had established in the first round of the election. He was defeated by postal votes that wiped out his tiny lead in the polling stations.

Commentators will, in the days and weeks ahead, pore over what caused the result.

But whether it was ex-chancellor Werner Faymann’s shock resignation after Hofer’s first-round triumph or whether Austrian people choked on their apfelstrudels when they realised what that triumph could lead to isn’t that important.

Van der Bellen’s win merits a collective sigh of relief.

But what’s essential is that the election should be seen as the last wake-up call for EU leaders and, in particular, for the European left.

When I left my apartment in Vienna’s politically green 7th district on Monday, minutes after the BBC had announced Van der Bellen’s victory, I saw people anxiously staring at their phones and then, seconds later, smiling in joy or embracing one another.

Nobody cried from what I saw.

But I am a first-hand witness of just how deeply this vote has politicised and divided Austrian society.

“Whoever wins the election has the duty to unify this country again”, said Hofer on Sunday evening after the polling station results.

It won’t be an easy task, with Austria’s tolerant and open-minded metropolitans on the one side and its apparently xenophobic, rural population on the other.

Commentators and politicians on the left, myself included, have often sneered at far-right voters.

But the time has come to better understand the psychology of the Hofer constituency - a psychology based on fear.

It’s a fear fuelled by globalisation - by broad political, social and technological developments that threaten peoples’ old way of life.

It’s this fear that leads people to embrace politicians who give simple answers to hard questions and who scapegoat others - migrants, the EU - along the way.

One doesn’t have to respect far-right parties that use bluntly racist slogans and that foment the increasing violence that occurs in their milieu. But the underlying fear is real and, what’s more important, it’s justifiable.

Lost political home
The Austrian and European labour market has, in recent years, undergone a drastic change that is most visible and tangible for the working classes.

If you’re a journalist, an academic or a business consultant, it doesn’t really matter that lower-skilled jobs are being outsourced to Asia. It doesn’t really matter that manufacturers are moving toward near-full automisation of their production lines and that more people are competing for low and medium-income work.

But if you’re a farmer, a construction worker or a small, self-employed entrepreneur, these changes mean everything.

This used to be the classic constituency of Europe’s social-democratic parties.

But, as Harvard University scholar Peter A. Hall recently told German magazine Der Spiegel: “Now, the socio-cultural professionals are the natural clientele of the social democrats. And many among them are the children of workers who already achieved social ascension”.

If he is right, it means that those people who are now suffering the most due to the global economic trends have lost their political home.

The European left, not just political parties but also civil society, have abandoned the very people who used to be their raison d’être.

Far-right parties, such as the National Front in France, the AfD in Germany or Hofer’s FPO in Austria address popular fears with simple and aggressive programmes.

But left-wing parties such as Germany’s SPD or Austria’s SPO and PS have nothing new to say on how they will improve the common man’s lot.

Defend the people
While far-right groups such as Pegida in Germany call for radical action against foreign infiltrators and the leftist elite, left-wing movements, such as Nuit debout in France or the Occupy movement, call for nothing but complain, in vague terms, about the social injustice of capitalism.

Austria has the honour of hosting both the OSCE and a UN office. The former was designed to prevent conflict in Europe after the Cold War. The latter was meant to prevent conflict after WWII.

The country staved off, by 0.3 percent, the embarrassment of also hosting a leader who harks back to the darkest hour in Europe’s modern times.

But unless the European left reclaims those people whom it originally promised to defend, Monday’s victory could be the last over a set of authoritarian, xenophobic and anti-European politicians waiting in the wings.

Florian Lang is a post-graduate student at the University of Vienna, specialising in European far-right movements

Austrian elections are a wake-up call to Europe
Voters narrowly saved the country from a far-right presidency, but it’s not much to celebrate.
By CAS MUDDE 5/24/16, 12:22 PM CET

The fact that we are celebrating the outcome of an election in which a far-right candidate got almost 50 percent of the vote shows how dramatically things have changed in Europe. Green party candidate Alexander Van der Bellen won 50.3 percent of the vote to right-wing Norbert Hofer’s 49.7 percent — hardly a comfortable margin.

In the 1980s tens of thousands of people protested the entry of a single MP of the far-right Center Party (CP) in the Netherlands. In 2000 European countries boycotted the new Austrian government, because it included the Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ).

And today, we celebrate the fact that the Austrian far-right was defeated by the narrowest of margins. Meanwhile, a neo-Nazi party enter has entered a national parliament in Cyprus — a fact that has largely gone unnoticed, let alone protested. Europe has come a long way — and not in the way we had expected.

* * *

Although Hofer was narrowly defeated at the eleventh hour, the results of these Austrian elections should still serve as a wake-up call to all European liberal democrats.

Many have relied on the pseudo-science that radical parties and politicians have so-called “glass ceilings” of support — a direct consequence of the fact that they are both very popular and very unpopular. Donald Trump is a perfect case in point in the United States.

The truth is that these ceilings are relative and temporary. They depend heavily on political context. When this context changes — as a result of the refugee crisis, for example, or a corruption scandal — that “ceiling” shifts.

Neither can voters be relied on to bail out “democratic” candidates. At least since the French presidential elections of 2002, when a very unpopular Jacques Chirac had a decisive win in a run-off against National Front (FN) founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, commentators convinced themselves that far-right politicians could not win majorities.

Voters might save France once more from a Le Pen presidency in 2017 — the way they stepped up in regional elections last year — but this phenomenon will increasingly become the exception rather than the rule. Note the only marginally higher turnout in the second round in Austria — 72.7 percent, up from 68.5 in the first — and the slim margin by which Hofer was defeated (31,026 votes).

Increasingly, elections have become choices between unfavorable options. People cast their vote for what they consider the better of two evils
There is no doubt that far-right parties are profiting from a “perfect storm:” Europe is “besieged” by immigrants and “threatened” by jihadi terrorism. But to see their success as merely a consequence of recent crises ignores the more structural causes that launched these parties in the mid-1990s. Let’s not forget that parties like the Belgian Vlaams Belang, the French National Front (FN), the Italian Northern League (LN) as well as the FPÖ had similar results in the decades before the latest recession.

What is new is not simply the rapid growth in support for the far-right — it is the explosion of broader political dissatisfaction. As the self-professed “democratic parties” lose favor, more and more people no longer see a fundamental difference between established parties and those of the far-right. Both are equally (il)legitimate.

Increasingly, elections have become choices between unfavorable options. People cast their vote for what they consider the better of two evils. The upcoming U.S. presidential elections, mostly likely between two candidates with a majority unfavorable score among registered voters, are an extreme example of this phenomenon.

As a result, many voters do not deeply support a far-right political agenda and election winners are almost destined to lose in the next election — to someone considered a “less bad” alternative.

* * *

The Austrian case is also a powerful reminder of the end of “big parties” in Europe. Austria — alongside Greece and Spain — was known as a country with two major parties. Together, the established parties would attract between 80 and 90 percent of the national vote. These days are over, probably forever, and reflect structural social changes.

In the first round of the Austrian presidential elections, the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPÖ) and the center-right Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) gained a mere 11 percent each. In current polls for the parliamentary elections both hover around 20 percent.

The same phenomenon can be seen across Europe. In many countries, no party attracts more than one-third of the vote. In some, like Belgium and the Netherlands, no party will get more than one-quarter of the vote. Within this new political context, far-right parties have gained unprecedented influence, not only because they have grown in size, but because others have shrunk.

Most mainstream parties have stated they will never govern with “non-democratic” parties and spare little effort to lament the alleged “dangers” of the far-right. Few parties have been as adamant on this point as the SPÖ. But despite years of open opposition towards the FPÖ — and pressure put on fellow social democratic parties to ostracize far-right parties in their own countries and in the European Parliament — the SPÖ was quiet when it really mattered.

In a run-off between a far right and a Green candidate, the party refused to officially endorse Alexander Van der Bellen, a professorial Green politician who is so moderate he could almost be an Austrian social democrat.

There is only one possible explanation for this opportunistic (and hypocritical) silence: The SPÖ is (once again) eyeing a coalition with the FPÖ after the next elections — as has already happened on a smaller scale in the state of Burgenland.

So the far-right is no longer “niche.” Academics still discuss them as “challenger parties” or “niche parties,” outside of so-called “mainstream” politics.

But parties like the FPÖ, the Danish People’s Party, the National Front, the Italian Northern League and the Swiss People’s Party have become just as “established” and “mainstream” as the social democrats in their respective countries.

They have been around for decades and have well-developed party organizations. Dismissing their place in the mainstream ignores fundamental changes to the political context, in which issues like immigration and security dominate the political agenda, and pluralities, if not majorities, of the population are closer to the positions of the far right than those of the mainstream. If we continue to ignore this new reality, we could end up paying a very high price.

Cas Mudde is associate professor in the School of Public and International Affairs (SPIA) at the University of Georgia and researcher in the Center for Research on Extremism (C-REX) at the University of Oslo. He is the author of “On Extremism and Democracy in Europe” (Routledge, 2016). He tweets at @casmudde.

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