British reporting of the Euro elections won’t help anyone make sense of what has happened in the EU. Great clouds of Farage gleefully fanned around by Fleet Street obscure the view . A deep commitment by the news papers not to report what happens in Southern Europe doesn’t help. The gains for the far right were truly worrying, but there were also gains by the left.
But it is easy to paint a fair picture in broad strokes. The details are different in each nation, depending how and how much the different parties have seized on the crisis. But the big picture looks like this.
The crisis has broken many people away from the main centre parties. Stagnant wages, social cuts, businesses going bust make people very unhappy. And that makes them unhappy with the mainstream parties – Conservative and Social Democrat – who were in power when the crisis hit. They blame the mainstream parties for creating the crisis, especially as many of the politicians personally enriched themselves in the process: During the boom, bankers were allowed to invest in risky, speculative and dangerous schemes – including completely fraudulent and artificial ones. Local politicians and their business friends enriched themselves – often corruptly – in these schemes. Few were prosecuted when they fell apart in the financial crisis, but jobs, social spending and small businesses did suffer in the slump.
Former Tory voters – both suburban middle class and working class Tories – are more likely to vote to the right of the mainstream. Former Socialist voters are more likely to break to the left. The right wing parties blame immigrants for the crisis, the left wing ones put blame on the banks. The proportion of people breaking from the mainstream parties is not fixed, and it is the job of active socialist campaigners to shift the balance in favour of the left wing break.
In Northern Europe the right wing parties did better, in Southern Europe the left made more breakthroughs: This reflects an economic as well as a geographic reality, and for this map, Ireland heads southward. This puts pressure on the EU in both cases, but for very different reasons. In Northern Europe, right wing parties like UKIP or the Front National blame the EU for immigration. In Southern Europe people blame the EU for forcing the banker’s agenda. This part of the picture is barely described on the UK TV news or on the British front pages. Words like “Troika” and “Debt” and “Restructuring” which are central to the Euro elections are absent from too much British reporting. The crisis was caused by the banks, but the solution has been to cut ordinary people’s living standards to bail the banks out, leaving the bankers rich and dominant. In Greece or Spain or Portugal, the EU is the instrument used to force people to pay the banker’s price: Southern Europeans hate The “Troika” made up of the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund which arranged the bail-out. This will sound odd in the UK, because the press haven’t really explained how the bailout works for Southern Europe. How can people in Southern Europe hate the bail outs ? The answer is, because they bailed out the bankers at the people’s cost: The bail outs were given so that EU countries could pay their debts to banks: In effect the bankers were bailed out. The “Troika “ did negotiate “haircuts”, where the bankers agreed to take less than the full debt (because without “haircuts”, the debts were unpayable and they would have faced default). But they negotiated far harsher social “haircuts”, enforcing cuts in social spending and austerity to fund the bailouts. The EU, as part of the Troika, are a mechanism to take money of ordinary Spanish or Portuguese or Greek pockets and pass them on to the banking system. The Troika is enforcing wage cuts, spending cuts and privatisation to bail out the banks.
Hence the growth of Left wing parties who are angry at the EU in Southern Europe. This includes results for groups based on the traditional Communist left or some variety of the “new left” or some combination of the both . Newer organisations included Syriza in Greece, Podemos in Spain or O Bloco in Portugal. More traditional Communist Party-ish organisations like Izquierda Unida (united Left) in Spain
Some standouts of the Euro Elections
(1) If you want votes, get active in the streets – Syriza and Podemos built whole new parties not just by issuing manifestos , but by a hard , broad struggle of demonstrations, strikes and meetings.Podemos were able to relate to the "Indignados" who occupied Spanish squares in a rebellion over the economic crisis. In the process Podemos helped make the Indignados much more a part of the left. In turn, this gave a new language to the left:- A party called "Yes We Can" formed out of the "Indignant" is quite clearly finding a new way of talking about social change.
(2) Italy was the worst “Southern European “ result for the left, with Beppo Grillo’s “Five Star” movement filling the space that the left took in neighbouring countries. Grillo’s party is a bit like if voters got so sick of politicians that they voted for a ‘Topical Comedy Panel Show’ instead : Sneery, but are they pretty right wing (Jimmy Carr?) or sort of left-ish (Phil Jupitus?). Grillo is making friends with Farage, so it looks more Jimmy Carr.
(3) Even among bad results there are good moments – Italy elected Three MEPs from a party called “Anther Europe With Alex Tsipras”. Tsipras is the leader of the Greek party Syriza – so this is the equivalent of British voters electing four French socialist radicals as the MEP’s for London or Manchester or Leeds or Bristol.
(4) Even in the EU “North” there were some good results . The Front National winning the French EU elections was a very bad problem: Marine Le Pen’s party are full fat fascism compared to the semi-skimmed right wing populism of UKIP. But even in France the left had some good results. Melenchon’s Left Front had four seats. France’s “Green” party EELV, which is a left-ish leaning party took 6 seats.
(5) One of the more standout results from Northern Europe was the first Feminist Initiative MEP elected. Soraya Post is the first MEP ever elected under the “Feminist” banner. Her election slogan was “Out with Racists and in with Feminists”. In a charmingly Swedish touch, the Feminist Initiative has been built with the hard work of many members , aided by a donation of around £80k from Benny from Abba.
So beyond the headlines about extreme right success, there were also gains for the left : Gains made by new left wing groups who were able to use new language, form new alliances and find new ways of relating to movements on the street.