terça-feira, 6 de dezembro de 2016
Europe’s blurred lines between populism, mainstream
Europe’s blurred lines between populism, mainstream
The far-right tried to play the anti-establishment card. But that’s no longer appropriate.
By MATTHEW KARNITSCHNIG 12/5/16, 7:09 PM CET Updated 12/5/16, 11:02 PM CET
For once, Austria did the right thing. The country of Waldheim and Haider (not to mention you know who) rejected right-wing populism to elect a liberal, pro-European “establishment” president, prompting relief from Vilnius to Valletta.
Media across Europe heralded the vote as a sign of hope for Europe’s battered political elite. Could the populist tide be turning?
In fact, the Austrian vote no more represents an endorsement of traditional establishment ideals than the Italian referendum signals their rejection.
If anything, the two votes illustrate how the increasingly blurred lines between populism and mainstream across much of Europe are shaking the political landscape.
The Italian decision, for example, has been seen as the mirror image of the Austrian result: the rejection of an establishment prime minister in favor of populists.
Yet here, the populists, who normally sell themselves as radical reformers, were cast in the traditional establishment role as defenders of the status quo.
Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s proposed constitutional reform would have meant a radical departure from Italy’s post-war democratic norms. Seen in that light, the No vote suggests above all that Italians are resistant to radical change, even at the cost of political instability.
Put another way, the resignation of a prime minister in a country that has had 64 governments is less of a shock than a constitutional reform that would have rewritten the rules of Italian democracy.
Van der Bellen tried to soften his image during the campaign to attract more mainstream voters.
That also helps explain why financial markets confounded predictions of doom and gloom in the wake of the vote. For better or worse, Italian democracy is no more dysfunctional today than it was before the vote.
Austria represents an even clearer example of Europe’s upside-down politics.
Consider Alexander Van der Bellen, Austria’s president-elect. A former Green leader whose party never garnered more than 11 percent of the vote under his stewardship, Van der Bellen tried to soften his image during the campaign to attract more mainstream voters. He declared himself an independent and even donned Tracht, or traditional Alpine garb, a favorite tactic of establishment conservatives, but anathema to those on the Left.
Van der Bellen’s transformation into an establishment figure was all the more surprising given that he made his career as a politician in the Catholic country attacking mainstream positions on everything from conscription to gay marriage.
Though Van der Bellen’s opponent, Norbert Hofer, was on the opposite side of those debates, representing the status quo, he tried to sell himself as as the candidate running against what he called “the system.”
His Freedom Party typically defines “the system” as the centrist Social Democrats and the Austrian People’s Party, which together have dominated the country’s politics since the war.
But Hofer’s loss to Van der Bellen shows that it’s increasingly difficult for his right-wing Freedom Party (FPÖ) to play the anti-establishment card. While the party cultivates an upstart image, regularly lashing out at the Haute-Volée, it has been a fixture in Austria’s political scene since the 1950s.
The FPÖ has governed at the national level as the junior coalition party twice over the past 30 years and has led regional and municipal governments. It currently has representatives in all nine of Austria’s provincial assemblies as well as in the European Parliament.
In contrast, Austria’s Greens have never been part of a federal government. The party rarely polls at over 12 percent, about one-third of the FPÖ’s support.
There’s no question that Van der Bellen’s metamorphosis, though more form than substance, helped him prevail. He won the backing of both Austria’s center-left chancellor and the center-right vice chancellor. Their own candidates failed to make into the runoff.
As a result, many Austrians, like their southern neighbors, believed they were voting for the status quo. In Van der Bellen, they’ve elected a grandfatherly figure who’s unlikely to threaten the country’s reputation abroad.
For many Austrians, the isolation and criticism the country faced, both during the Waldheim years and after Haider’s FPÖ joined the government in 2000, remains a trauma they would rather not repeat.
And yet to conclude that the FPÖ, with its nativist, anti-immigrant message, has lost momentum would be a mistake. The party currently leads national polls with about 34 percent, well ahead of the Social Democrats. With voter frustration with the governing grand coalition showing no sign of waning, there’s a fair chance Austria’s next chancellor will be from the FPÖ.
By then, it will have become clear that parties like the FPÖ don’t threaten the establishment, but rather are the establishment.