Global warming threatens to muzzle the rise of the West’s far right – TheSpec.com
The results were largely as expected. By Monday, after the European Union’s 28 nations participated in an election for the bloc’s parliament, the continent’s traditional factions — the Social Democrats and the mainstream right — ended up the biggest losers, deprived of a majority for the first time. Voters drifted in different directions that seemed in line with the broader fragmentation of European politics, opting for Euroskeptic, ultranationalist parties on the right and upstart liberal and environmentalist parties instead of the old centre left.
The potential rise of the far right dominated news coverage ahead of the vote, and they indeed were significant. In Britain, the newly formed Brexit Party led by anti-immigration gadfly Nigel Farage won the most votes in an election that became a referendum on the country’s painful wrangling to quit the European Union. In France, the party of far-right leader Marine Le Pen narrowly eclipsed that of centrist President Emmanuel Macron. And in Italy, the far-right League of deputy prime minister Matteo Salvini won more than a third of the vote, cementing its place as the country’s preeminent right-wing party.
“The rules are changing in Europe,” Salvini declared in Milan on Monday. “A new Europe is born.”
But, at least as far as the stewardship of the European Union is concerned, the far right will remain on the margins. That’s thanks to the strong showing from liberal, pro-European parties as well as a dramatic surge of votes for the Greens. A likely alliance between these forces and centrist parties means the EU’s agenda could be even more antithetical to that of the Euroskeptics who often hog the headlines.
“As always, a wide variety of voices will be represented in the European Parliament,” Stavros Lambrinidis, the EU’s top envoy in Washington, told Today’s WorldView. “There is a clear majority that supports the European Union and that will work as in the past to make our union stronger, more secure, happier and wealthier.”
The biggest surprise may be the gains of the Greens. They finished second in Germany, third in France and gained ground across northern Europe and parts of western Europe. Their victory in Germany came largely at the expense of the Social Democrats, who, despite years as part of the bulwark of centre-left politics on the continent, have hemorrhaged support to parties on both sides of the political fringe. Their role over the past decade as the junior partner in a grand coalition led by centre-right Chancellor Angela Merkel exposed them to anti-establishment ire.
That isn’t the only reason behind their rise. “More than a protest vote, Green strength also rests on deep concern in Germany about the state of the planet. German voters told pollsters that the environment was their top concern going into the vote, and that was apparent in the outcome,” the Washington Post reported. “Exit polls in Germany showed the Greens to be the overwhelming top choice for young voters and for first-time voters. The party also did especially well in cities, while taking voters from both the center-left and the center-right parties.”
It’s not an isolated trend. In neighbouring France, some 25 per cent of voters aged 18-25 voted for the Greens — compared with 15 per cent for the far-right National Rally, whose proponents long claimed they represented the aspirations of the country’s youth. Green parties also did well in Britain, Austria, Sweden, Ireland, Denmark and the Netherlands. From winning just 17 seats in the 751-seat European parliament in 2014, the Greens secured 69 seats this time around, a haul that may make them the fourth largest bloc in the continental assembly.
“This is confirmation for us that the topics we’ve been working on for years are the topics that matter to the public in their everyday life and for the future of their children,” said Sergey Lagodinsky, a newly elected Green member of the European parliament from Germany, to the Washington Post. “We had times when we wondered: Is this a fringe agenda? Now we know it’s not. It’s the mainstream agenda.”‘
In recent months, massive demonstrations over climate change have rocked European capitals, dwarfing the mobilizations of the continent’s far right. Fridays for Future — a movement inspired by Swedish teenage activist Greta Thunberg — has seen countless European teenagers walk out of school to protest climate inaction. It underscores a growing consensus among the next generation of voters that governments must do more to mitigate environmental disaster, and an impatience with political parties that refuse to recognize the urgency of the situation.