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
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.
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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.
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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.