Europe’s Anti-Ideological Election

Confronting a crisis that undermines decades of free-market thinking, why did Europe's social-democratic parties nonetheless lose ground in the European Parliament elections? With right-wing governments embracing regulation and even state intervention – the cornerstones of leftist ideologies - the crisis, it seems, has destabilized Europe's long-standing ideological divides.

PARIS – In each of the 27 states of the European Union, the campaign for the just concluded elections for the European Parliament occurred in an atmosphere of indifference, with voters, candidates, and the media focusing mostly on domestic issues. Perhaps for precisely this reason, the abstention rate (an average of  57%), was the highest since the first vote in 1979, while the composition of the Parliament, with its right-wing majority, underwent no significant changes.

Following the 2004 elections, the European People’s Party (EPP), which regroups right and center right parties, held 288 MPs of the Parliament’s 785 seats. In 2009, it is still the first force in the new parliament, with 267 deputies out of a total of 736: the decrease in its membership is also due to the stated commitment of the British Conservatives and the Czech right party to defect from the EPP to create their own party, with a stronger right-wing line. That opens the way to the possible return for a second term of José Manuel Barroso as president of the Commission.

This situation is paradoxical, as Europe is experiencing one of the worst economic crises in its history, with falling employment and living standards and rising worries about the future. One should have expected the right-wing to be punished in countries where they govern. But that threat did not materialize.  The latest returns, indeed, show quite the opposite – in France, Italy, Poland, Denmark, and even Germany, where the CDU had won a large number of representatives in the 2004 elections. Where the right is in opposition, such as in Spain and Portugal, it has improved its position.

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