The Voters Responded Smart to Populism
A non-resistible force that incites fear: the political establishment framed the rise of right wing populism and nationalism like this or in a similar fashion. In the European Election, EU voters responded for the first time with a convincing answer. This answer has essentially two facets.
Firstly, the turnout has increased drastically almost everywhere, also in Germany. The right- and left-wing populist parties underperformed in comparison to their support in the polls over the last years. It seems that this motivated and mobilised the centrist middle-class to vote – and to strengthen the political centre. This is encouraging: if a threat becomes serious, the middle class does not remain as lethargic as commonly assumed – in fact in all of Europe. Our democracy seems to be more robust than what was apprehended. And people seem to be not as indifferent to what happens in Europe, as many observers believed.
The second facet concerns the composition of the centre. Here, severe shifts happened – away from the traditional European People’s Party (EPP) and the Social Democrats towards “concept parties”, the Liberals and the Greens. The biggest winner was the Alliance for Liberal and Democrats in Europe (ALDE) that will now have approximately 100 seats and be the third strongest parliamentary group – thanks to own increases and in particular to the coalition with the centrist “La République en Marche” of French President Emmanuel Macron. Consequently, the power cartel of the Christian Democrats (EPP) and the Social Democrats has been destroyed – after 40 years of dominance in the European Parliament. It established a permanent Grand Coalition that exists no longer.
Some observers speak of a “fragmentation” of the parliament, as if something precious and important has been destroyed, namely the harmony between the grand powers. This view misinterprets the development that has more a character of emancipation. The time has come to an end, in which parliamentary pluralism only existed on paper, while EPP and S&D negotiated everything in back-rooms – angering many European citizens that felt excluded and who did not go voting or voted populist out of bother. Since Sunday, there is a chance to change this: through a new culture of debate and compromise with strong “concept parties” that put programmes and not persons forward. This is good for democracy. It could help to reduce the division in societies – between those who call the political shots and those who do not feel represented.
But there are also risks: pluralism is a democratic value in itself. However, it needs to be used in a way that does not end in chaos and indecisiveness, as it is unfortunately the case in UK concerning the Brexit-debate. The politicians, who enter the European Parliament for ALDE or the Greens, carry a huge responsibility. They must prove that they actually have concepts for the future that convince and can be enforced in reasonable compromises. This is the right way to successfully fight right- and left-wing populism: no power and silence cartel, no moralising maudlin, but an open parliamentary debate.