What's Wrong with Europe's Right?

WARSAW: Everywhere in Europe, traditional right wing parties are in crisis. Britain's Tories appear on a suicidal march to isolating themselves in an imaginary little England. A civil war grips the French right, with a Euro MP grandson of Charles de Gaulle abandoning the Gaullists to join Jean-Marie Le Pen's National Front. Even Germany's rock solid Christian Democrats are poised over an abyss of scandal. Only the extreme right-wing Freedom Party of Austria's Jörg Haider is on the march. Is Europe's right doomed to extinction or extremism?

I am neither a man of the left, nor of the right. Still, the troubles of the right should worry all thinking democrats; and these troubles are not confined to Europe's western half. Two years ago I admired the professionalism with which Poland's and Hungary's rightist parties came to power. Since then, like Western Europe's conservatives, they managed to – at least in political terms – botch nearly everything. Both movements now garner only around 20% of support in opinion polls. So-called post-communists are flying high with around 70%.

Perhaps the collapsing popularity of the right in our new democracies tells something about the right in Europe's old democracies. For like their Western counterparts, the Polish and Hungarian conservatives are caught between their increasingly unappealing neo-liberalism and their increasingly anachronistic communitarian traditions.

Fidesz in Hungary and the Solidarity Electoral Alliance (AWS) in Poland gained power two years ago because of a reaction to their post-communist predecessors. During their tenures, neither post-communist party rocked the reform boat very much, nor did they threaten democracy. Yet the voters were ready to move away from the old ties – the electorate had become much younger in the 1990s and the improvements over the old regime, after the recession of the early 1990s had run its course and the reform policies began to pay off, became palpable. In fact, people may have been somewhat ashamed at having allowed the post-communists to win the second round of democratic elections in mid-1990s.