Merkel’s Defeat Confirms Dismal Trend for Europe
By Roberto Savio is co-founder of Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and its President Emeritus. He is also publisher of OtherNews.
ROME, By (IPS) – Generally, media have failed to analyse why the result of German elections is the worst possible. Merkel is not a winner, but a leader now in a very fragile position, who will have to make many compromises and pay now for her mistakes. Let us make at least the most important four points of analysis.
Point One: the decline of traditional parties
Now for some years, the traditional parties who have run their countries since the end of the Second World War are becoming irrelevant. The last French elections saw the practical collapse of the Socialist and Gaullist parties, with the arrival of a totally unknown candidate, Macron, who has now 60% of the seats in the Parliament. The same happened earlier in the Austrian presidential elections.
This process has now started in Germany. Merkel’s party, the CDU, had the worst performance since its creation. And its sister party, CSU (the Bavarian CDU) has lost a staggering million votes. The same has happened to the SPD, who saw the lowest approval since modern times. The two parties, who had in the last elections 67.2% of the votes, now got just 53.2%. And, as everywhere else, the missing votes went to parties who were recipients of discontent, and the desire to punish the establishment was evident. Linke, a radical left-wing party, got an additional 0.6%, by voters rejecting the increasing social inequality, and did not believe that SPD would be different from the CDU on this issue. The Green got an additional 0.5%, by those who were incensed by Merkel’s promise to increase defense costs to 2% of GDP, to please Trump. But the big winner was the AfD, an extreme right wing party, who was the conduit for people’s dissatisfaction on immigrants, on the European Union, and other nationalist and populist themes. AfD got 12.6 % of the votes, becoming the third party and with 96 members of parliament. AfD got 980.000 votes from the CDU, 470.000 from the SPD, 400.000 votes from the Linke. But, much more importantly, 1,200.000 votes from people who did not vote in the last elections. In a poll, 60% of them said that they were “disappointed with the present political situation’. At the same time the poll company Infratest Dimap, found out that 84% considered Germany’s economic situation “good”, when this was 74% four years ago, and a mere 19% eight years ago. The elections were not clearly on economy, but about immigration and the loss of German identity.
Therefore, Macron’s victory over Le Pen is not the end of the populist wave. And few doubt that if Macron loses his appeal (as it is already happening), and his fight for social reforms is stopped by mass manifestations, Le Pen would win the next elections. And the antisystem parties all over Europe did not win in the last elections, but they did not lose eithe. Now they are the needle of the balance in all Nordic countries, and can declare, like Farage , the founder of the anti-Europe party UKIP, when he lost in the last British election: it is irrelevant, our message has become part of all the political system. And Brexit was the best example that he was right…all parties in the Nordic countries had to incorporate points of the populist, especially on immigration.
It has been generally ignored that it is the middle class, the main actor in this change. Social inequality in Europe has constantly grown, and many from the middle class are impoverished or afraid. Germany is a good example. While unemployment went down with Merkel from 11% to 3.8%, those close to the poverty line went from 11% to 17% of the total. Merkel went from a public deficit of 100 billion dollars, to a surplus of 20 billion, but at the same time poverty doubled to 10%, and there are 2 million people who have two jobs to help them reach the end of the month. And the pensioners who live below the poverty line , have increased by 30%. A full 15.7% of Germans now live under the poverty line. Of these, nearly 3 million are children.
Are the fears and frustrations of the middle class only who have pushed Brexit and Trump ? The economist Homi Kharas, specialized on the middle class, considers that 43% of the world population (some 3.200 million) now form the world middle class. It grows every year by 160 million. What is common to them is that especially the lower middle class have high expectations from the government and they put economic growth before anything else. They are helped by the Internet and social media, to be aware of their rights, and of the risks. In rich countries, massive education helps awareness. In developing countries, the pressure on governments is equally strong. The best example is China. Between 2002 and 2011, there has been a strong increase in protests and loss of trust in the public institution, despite a period of economic growth. The fact is that to keep growth and social justice together, you need resources. And this a problem for the left. Its genetic message is redistribution and participation. How to do this when we are in a world of diminishing resources?
Point Two. The antisystem becomes an entrenched system