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Anti-Establishment Populists Gain Again In Euro Elections

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05/28/2019

The European elections took place over a span of four days from last Thursday, May 23, to Sunday, May 26, and yet, considering results were held back in those countries that voted earlier, the first major shock came Sunday, 6pm, when Germany’s polling stations closed and first projections were possible.

What happened in Germany would, as it turned out over the next hours, be the trend in Europe overall : The Christian Democrats, supposedly on the center-right, would lose, but still be in first place. The Social Democrats - the democratic socialists Bernie Sanders loves so much - would lose big, often being relegated into the lower echelons of parties - in Germany, they ultimately were in third place, at 15 percent.

In the meantime, movements either new or historically small would make major gains. In the biggest country of Europe, it would be the Green Party, coming in at 22 percent, the best nationwide result in party history. The “Green Wave” would continue in other countries. In the UK, they garnered 11 percent, in France a surprising 13, in Finland 16, in Luxembourg 19, and in Austria 14. That was it - no Greens were elected in any country in the south or east of Europe - but nonetheless, the gains were impressive with 67 members in the new European Parliament, up from 50 so far, for the fearmongers of our age - some of them believe the world will end in the next decade or two if governments around the world don’t stop global warming, which makes the cheerfulness of them yesterday slightly irritating.

Another wave that conquered Europe - though less geographically limited - was one of nativist movements, often derogatively called “right-wing populists.” Matteo Salvini, the leader of Italy’s Lega and who has tried to unite the right-wing (so far unsuccessfully), garnered 34 percent, easily coming in first place. More surprising, Marine Le Pen beat her long-time opponent Emmanuel Macron, who will from now on have a slightly more difficult task to reform the EU to the worse, considering he is not even in first place in France when it comes to EU politics.

Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz and the Polish Law and Justice Party both made gains once more, Fidesz scoring 52 percent in Hungary, while the latter came in at 42. Additionally, the German AfD increased its tally to 11 percent, more than in the last European elections in 2014, but less than expected, and Spain’s Vox as well as the Dutch Forum for Democracy enter Parliament for the first time. Most prominently of course, but with (probably, depending on the continued Brexit debate) little consequences in the long run, Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party is first in Britain by a wide margin with over 30 percent.

Next to a good outing for the centrist, often fanatically pro-EU group ALDE, which will come in in third place, all of this is bad news for the establishment. Their size has been decimated, both for the center-left and center-right. This merely continues a trend which has been ongoing for many years. Germany - where the CDU is at least still in first place - is merely the tip of the iceberg. In France, the Republicans and the Socialists are long gone from the picture, in Italy, the left-wing Partito Democratico was in second place, but Forza Italia with only 8 percent in fourth. The Tories in Britain came in fifth. The list could go on and on.

Whether these results, and thus, this extreme fragmentation in European politics, will become the new norm, remains to be seen - European elections are still seen as an election where one can try something new or simply vote for a party out of protest. Nonetheless, these results fit in the bigger picture in which the status quo in the largely two-party systems, regardless of whether on the national or European level, is losing out, while new forces are gaining steam. These new forces are very different from each other, focusing on up-and-coming topics like climate change or fighting against this very status quo like the Euroskeptic movements try to do.

While different, they do share an important similarity: they all advocate for more government interventionism and centralization in one way or another. The federalists, i.e. those arguing for an “ever closer union” and more integration at greater speed, such as Emmanuel Macron agree on most issues with the current status quo, if not for the fact that they just want more EU, more centralization in Brussels and quicker. Greens want to centralize at some level of power, regardless of whether it’s a national government, Brussels, or globally right away, to save the world. And the nationalists, the right-wing collectivists that are sadly way too often hailed as the saviors of the Old Continent by conservatives and libertarians alike today, want more centralization in their own country - the EU is problematic in this vision, because it prevents them from doing so, from attacking their own rule of law, from curtailing the freedom of the press, from constraining free enterprise or building a new oligarchy.

It is difficult in this net of centralization to find any breathing room. But as I wrote in an article on Sunday, the election day, there is still a glimmer of hope: the rise of alternative voices - regardless of whether it’s the Greens, the EU apologetics, or the nationalists - shows that Europeans want something different, an alternative to the status quo. It is now incumbent upon those in favor of liberty and the market to provide this alternative, one which is defending liberal principles, provides a European vision based on decentralization and pluralism - and also, a way the environment can be protected not by the government, but by private initiative.

Kai Weiss is the Research and Outreach Coordinator at the Austrian Economics Center and a board member of the Hayek Institute. Follow him on Twitter.

Note: The views expressed on Mises.org are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.
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