Over the past few years we have seen sweeping changes across the board in European politics. Immigration and terrorism are now at the forefront of the minds of voters in the EU. The new findings by YouGov, who have asked more than 11,000 people from eleven countries to place their top two issues that they think face the EU today, show the discontent that is spreading around the EU. Only Italy and Spain placed unemployment higher than terrorism but all 11 placed immigration in their top two concerns, yet the former has just elected the EU’s first truly populist government.
One of the major changes in Italy is the rise of Matteo Salvini and the populist party Lega. As the campaign went on, they forged themselves out to be the new leaders of the right in Italy, with them well and truly replacing Forza Italia, who were a much less radical, less anti immigration choice for voters, and they had no serious thoughts of ever leaving the European Union or the Euro, like Salvini’s Lega. One would be foolish to think this is just an isolated incident and will just remain inside the borders of Italy. Just last weekend we found out the results of the Slovenian elections and they did not bode well for the European Union’s hierarchy, with The Slovenian Democratic Party, led by the former two time Prime Minister Janez Jansa, receiving nearly 25 per cent of the vote and finishing first. Although they will unlikely form a government, this continues the trend of nationalist parties making huge inroads into the political mainstream, especially in eastern Europe, with nationalist leaders now alining themselves with Hungarian Prime Minister and this paying dividend come election time.
Obviously with the right on the march in Europe making such gains there has to be parties that are haemorrhaging voters, and we see the mainstream social democratic left being the parties feeling the brunt of this shift right. In Italy, the centre-left Partito Democratico dipped below 20 percent of the vote for the first time in the party’s history. Over the course of the past 18 months, the social democratic and centre left parties have hit single figures and all time lows in the Czech Republic, France, and Netherlands. Even in major pro EU nations such as Germany, with the rise of the AfD, this meant we saw the social democratic parties poll their lowest vote share since 1933. That last stat of all things should be one of the most worrying for the EU, as it was always thought that populism and nationalism could never loosen the grip of the social democratic parties in Germany.
This makes one question just why and how this has came about, some would say this trend started as far back as the 1980s, with social democratic parties drifting further away from the working class, the group of people that voted in swathes for these parties and made sure they were elected all across Europe. With new concerns such as immigration and terrorism, social democratic parties have failed to adapt and ease these concerns of ordinary voters, and in some cases, labelled these genuine concerns as ‘racist’ further pushing away what was their core vote. Although the left has had some successes, it has come in the form of left wing insurgents like Spain’s Podemos and The Labour Party lead by Jeremy Corbyn and these have attracted a new kind of core vote in the form of highly educated middle-class liberals. This left an open goal for new nationalist movements to take a hold of such issues like immigration, national identity and terrorism, even before the financial crisis happened and put a major dent in the mainstream political parties credibility, a study found that the working class were three times as likely as the middle class to support nationalist and populists parties in Belgium, so it does leave little shock that post financial crisis these nationalist parties have flourished in an era huge distrust between the mainstream political parties and the ordinary voter.
The trend that I take away from political landscape in Europe currently is that there is a far greater openness and willingness to lend a vote to a parties that have never been in government before or parties that are new to the political scene all together, thus making it easier for a new party like MS5 or Lega to form and win elections without having to wait decades to build up foundations of trust. I don’t believe we will see this trend take a downward turn anytime soon, with polling this week showing MS5 have actually risen in the polls since their election victory and with no clear change of course from the EU over refugees and immigration, this will only lead to further national populists increasing their support and leave Europe further than ever away from political stability and the return of mainstream party dominance. So be prepared for more nationalism, more populism and less certainty.