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The European left is on the rise

It wasn’t just the far-right but the radical left and new anti-austerity parties that delivered a rejection of the EU agenda in the Euro polls, says TOM GILL

In Portugal, the radical left vote topped 17 per cent, with the Communist-Green coalition (CDU) emerging as the third political force with 12.68 per cent of the vote and three seats. 

For the Portuguese Communist Party, the most eurosceptic of all the continent’s radical left parties, with the exception of Greece’s KKE, this is the best result for 25 years. 

PCP general secretary Jeronimo de Sousa said the government’s electoral setback “clearly shows it was censured by the Portuguese people.”

The Left Bloc (Bloco de Esquerda), less Eurosceptic than the communists, saw its share of the vote fall to 4.7 per cent, from 10.7 per cent in the previous European poll.

The Socialist Party (PS), which has upped its anti-austerity message in recent times despite becoming a co-signatory to the hated 2011 troika memorandum that imposed one of Europe’s most brutal “stablisation” programmes on Portugal, won last Sunday’s election. It garnered 31.5 per cent of the vote. That compares with 27.7 per cent for the coalition of the right-wing Social Democratic Party and CDS party. 

The two parties together recorded their worst-ever score due to their zealous slash-and-burn policies.

Also notable is the rise of the Party of the Earth, an ecologist movement of right-wing origin calling for greater food “sovereignty” and which campaigned for a referendum on the EU’s Lisbon Treaty of 2007 that introduced new curbs on national sovereignty, particularly on budget-setting. 

On the back of its green and Eurosceptic-lite politics, it won a surprise 7.1 per cent.

For the Socialists, their victory was too narrow and this has triggered a war of leaders in the Socialist Party, including heavyweight, Mayor Antonio Costa of Lisbon, who said he was ready to challenge party leader Antonio Jose Seguro.

 

The most significant positive result was in austerity-and-recession-capital Greece. 

Syriza, led by EU presidential candidate Alex Tsipras, topped the poll. It garnered 26.5 per cent of the vote, against the ruling conservative New Democracy’s 22.7 per cent and a catastrophic 8 per cent for its coalition partner Pasok, once the country’s main social democratic party until it become enslaved to the hated IMF-EU-ECB troika, with its “centre-left” alliance Elia.

Syriza’s advance was foreshadowed in its impressive local election performance earlier in the month where it won the governorship of Attiki, the country’s largest region.

As Panagiotis Lafazanis, a Syriza MP, told Bloomberg: “It’s the first time in Greece’s political history that a party of the radical left wins an election with a real margin. The result of the Greek election brings hope to the country and is positive for Europe.”

Coupled with the 6 per cent score for the communists (KKE) — which, however, refuses to work with Syriza — that’s a third of the electorate clearly on the “transformational” left.

Syriza immediately called for early elections — a step rebuffed by Athens. But the ruling coalition may be not be able to resist for long.

Before the austerity crisis, ND and Pasok governed Greece interchangeably since the return to democracy in 1974 with a combined vote of around 80 per cent, but together they now only command some 30 per cent of the vote.

 

In Spain, home to six million unemployed and a €130 billion bank bailout, the non-socialist left vote rose to 18 per cent.

The communist backed United Left (Izquierda Unida) added 900,000 votes, bringing its total to 1.5 million, or a 10 per cent share, its best result since 1996. And the Republican Left of Catalonia is the wealthy north-eastern region’s top vote-getter for the first time since the 1930s.

But the big surprise was the success of a three-month-old party linked to the country’s “indignados” occupy movement, Podemos (We Can), which scored a remarkable 8 per cent after a low-budget but high-profile campaign led by 35-year-old political science professor and TV presenter Pablo Iglesias.

Both United Left and Podemos agree on cancelling most of the debt, halting evictions, nationalising subsidised banks and ending privatisations, so it made sense that following the election results United Left sought an alliance with Podemos. 

However, there may be resistance to this among Podemos supporters in Spain’s Occupy movement who will be suspicious of United Left’s co-operation with the discredited Socialists in the Andalucia region.

In Europe, Podemos and its ponytailed leader say they want to work with Greece’s victor, Syriza. Some believe it will focus more on an apolitical anti-establishment approach, typified by Italy’s Five Star Movement.

The elections were a massive blow to the Socialist Party whose support dropped to just 23 per cent down from 39 per cent five years ago. Party chief Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba has resigned after admitting he’d failed to provide an adequate response to the onslaught from the ruling Popular Party of Mariano Rajoy.

Rubalcaba’s resignation has led to much internal factional turmoil within the party, underlining the sense that Spanish social democracy — which kicked off the austerity fest that was subsequently sharply accelerated by Rajoy’s Popular Party — is now fighting for its survival.

 

Italians broke with the southern European trend by voting for a mainstream party. The Democrats — described as “centre-left” but pursuing neoliberal reforms with more enthusiasm than any of their sister parties — took a historic 40 per cent of the vote, a success not achieved by any party since the early days of the Christian Democrats in the 1950s. 

Indeed as the party is the result of a “historic compromise” between the heirs of the right-wing party of the late Christian Democrat leader Giulio Andreotti and those of Italy’s other great movement — the communists of Togliatti and Berlinguer — this perhaps shouldn’t surprise us at all.

Observers say Democrat voters, swayed by the fresh face at the top, have returned to the fold after flirting with Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement, which failed to maintain its top spot. 

Although the bearded loud mouth, as he’s now oft-described, Grillo shouldn’t be written off as he still commands a fifth of the vote and holds second place on the back of an anti-corruption, anti-establishment and Eurosceptic platform (he’s called for a referendum on Italy’s membership of the euro).

No doubt Matteo Renzi’s newcomer status, his positioning as an party outsider and his tax cuts for those on lower incomes just ahead of the polls have helped his fortunes. 

But becoming the largest delegation in the European Parliament is no substitute for power in Rome. 

And in the Italian capital, co-operation is needed from the ever unreliable Silvio Berlusconi, who is undeterred by community service for a tax fraud conviction and, although now trailing third, is still enjoying 17 per cent backing, thanks in part to a media stranglehold Renzi won’t touch as well as continued attacks on Germany and Chancellor Angela Merkel for lording it over Italy.

What’s for sure, the vote for Renzi isn’t a vote for neoliberal “reforms” as the BBC would have it — but is a vote for change. Unemployment in Italy is at a record 13 per cent and youth joblessness is an epidemic, as it is in Greece and Spain. 

And as in 17 other states, wages have been slashed, wealth inequality continues to widen, essential public services cut to shreds or otherwise sold off along with other public assets to privateers. And still the public debt is as big or bigger than ever. 

The question is how long will it take before Italians realise that, just like their fellow Europeans, they won’t get the change they want — and that they are being taken for a ride.

 

Tom Gill blogs at revolting-europe.com.

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