Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Anne Applebaum's strange take the EU elections

Here's an example of how even our "quality" newspapers are, instead of serving the market for serious news and commentary, serving up second- or third-rate infotainment instead. In this case, it's Pod Pundit Anne Applebaum writing in the Washington Post, Where's the Revolution? 06/09/09.

We've been waiting and waiting, but the widely predicted European backlash -- against capitalism, against free markets, against the right -- has not come. There are no demands for Marxist revolution, no calls for nationalization of industry, not even a European campaign for what the Obama administration calls "stimulus" -- a policy more colloquially known as "massive government spending."
What the ...?

Since our infotainment outlets provide so little in the way of actual news about internal European Union politics, our Pod Pundit is probably not worried about much specific pushback on something like this. Her topic is this past Sunday's EU elections, which to the extent they appeared at all in the US press were headlined as a victory for "the right".

I got into much more detail below. But the short version of my take on her column and the first paragraph in particular is:

  • The concept of "conservative" in Europe is more a Christian Democratic concept, which does not mean a theocratic concept and does not easily compare to today's American brand of Republican Party conservatism.
  • To illustrate the previous point, the head of the overseas department of the conservative, Christian Democratic party in Spain (it's actual name is "People's Party") says that if Obama were voting in Spain, he would vote for them. Just after the American Presidential election, the head of that party said that Obama was more conservative than his party. (Alfredo Prada: 'Obama votaría al PP' El Mundo 05.06.2009)
  • I've tried hard to think about something meaningful to say about her opening comments about these predictions she apparently heard from somebody somewhere that there could be an upsurge of support for "Marxist revolution" in Europe, or whatever it was she heard. But the whole thing is so vague and frivolous I don't see much more to say about it than that.

Applebaum's point is that the trend in the European elections is that the social-democratic parties tended to do less well than the conservative parties. And I'll give her credit for stating clearly that turnout in EU elections are typically smaller than in national elections.

When you get a little bit below the clouds in which she begins the piece, she seems mainly to have been impressed by the results in Britain, when the Labour Party of Prime Minister Gordon Brown did unusually poorly. And she generalizes:

In France, Germany, Italy and Poland -- four of Europe's six largest countries -- center-right governments got unexpectedly enthusiastic endorsements. In the two other large countries, Britain and Spain, left-wing ruling parties got hammered, as did socialists in Hungary, Austria and elsewhere.
And by the time she slogs through vague alibi comments saying that maybe the EU elections don't tell us that much about political trends in the US, in her final paragraph, she draws conclusions for US politics anyway. And, guess what? They reflect the Big Pundits secular religion of High Broderism, in which Centrism is the be-all and end-all of political virtue:

But if nothing else, the success of the European center-right during the current crisis proves that there is something to their political formula. They are fiscally conservative. They are, if not socially liberal, then at least socially centrist. They haven't been swayed by the fashion for big spending. They are trying to keep some semblance of budget sanity. And, at least at the moment, they win elections.
Let me just say that this conveys extremely little about what conservative parties in the EU are about. As in Germany, Austria and Spain, the "conservatives" are Christian Democrats. They love big corporations, but don't embrace what American conservatives would call "free market" economics. In Europe, it's the small parties that call themselves liberal who embrace that approach, which should be a clue that it pays to be cautious about superficial comparisons between parties in Europe and America. Conservative parties in the EU aren't out to abolish their national health programs. In fact, at least for conservative parties in the EU Continental countries with which I'm most familiar, campaigning to adopt the current American system of health-care finance would be about as clear a prescription for political suicide as I could imagine.

I haven't spent the last two days pouring over EU election results. But I did pay some attention.I posted late Sunday about what was being reported then about the results in Austria and Germany. I would also read the results in both countries as relatively good news for the Christian Democratic (conservative) parties and relatively bad news for the Social Democrats. But there are other angles to those elections, as well. In Austria, the combined vote for the Social Democrats, the Greens and a protest-vote list with vague grumping-about-the-government reformist demands was around 52%. In terms of EU parliamentary seats, the combined Social Democratic/Green number was equal to the Christian Democratic party's. Is that a conservative result?

In Germany, the Christian Democratic Party won 38%. The combined vote for the Social Democrats, the Greens and the "postcommunist" Left Party was around 40%. Is that a conservative result?

In Spain, the ruling-majority Social Democrats got 39%, the Christian Democrats 42%. As in Austria, the number of EU parliamentary seats one by the Social Democrats and Greens together equaled those of the Christian Democrats.

There's little doubt that the elections left the Christian Democratic Parties, called the People's Party of Europe in the EU Parliament, in a much strengthened position. The Social Democratic parties took a hit, which as Andreu Missé point out in El fracaso socialista abre una nueva etapa en la construcción europea El País 09.06.2009, the social-democratic vote Europe-wide is particularly sensitive to turnout, which was significantly lower than in the prior EU election of 2004.

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