By William Pfaff
PARIS—While the Republican leadership in the United States would have people believe that the country is being remorselessly driven to the far left under Barack Obama, European voters are moving toward the right, so far as the recent electoral evidence indicates. Even in Portugal, the Socialists—elected by a landslide four years ago—lost their parliamentary majority in Sunday’s vote, and will be looking for legislative allies.
In Germany, Angela Merkel’s success has dispensed with the need for her Christian Democratic alliance to prolong its coalition with the Social Democrats. Now alliance with the market-friendly Free Democratic Party will assure her the chancellorship and a more conservative government than was possible within the SDP partnership.
The SDP can go back to being Socialist, although its total vote was the lowest since the Second World War. Its members might try becoming more radically socialist, since the far-left group Die Linke, founded three years ago by former SDP leader Oskar Lafontaine, brought together the disillusioned of the SDP and those others disillusioned (or perhaps not so disillusioned), the former East German Communists. Die Linke did very nicely in the election, with 11.9 percent of the total vote (against the SDP’s 23 percent in exit polling).
But do the German people really want to move to the right, even though they want to keep Merkel as chancellor—whom they see as a solid value? She campaigned on a platform that said a center-right coalition was necessary to undo the damage caused by the global credit crash.
The Free Democrats’ leader, Guido Westerwelle, seeks more than twice the tax cut that Merkel promised in her campaign. Even her proposal would mean severe reduction in social spending.
Moreover, her re-election certainly does not mean any increase in German government support for American wars, as dearly sought by Washington.
On that subject, whichever way Barack Obama chooses between the conflicting advice he is supposedly hearing from his advisers—downplay Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s expanded war plan for Afghanistan, or up-play Vice President Joe Biden’s proposals for “nation-building” and other measures of meddling in Pakistani affairs—the Germans will have as little to do with it as possible. This is as the German electorate wishes.
Generally, in the major European countries, people do not seem to be looking for major change, even if they are unenthusiastic about the governments they have. Probably more to the point, the left has run out of gas. Germany has its enthusiastic new far-left party, Die Linke, and the staggering Labour Party in Britain is dreaming at its annual conference of a miracle to block the rejuvenated Conservatives from replacing them. (A possible candidate-miracle may have been provided by the Conservative leadership’s decision to abandon the center-right grouping in the European Parliament, and join an isolated and powerless far-right bloc: The new Tory voters are on the right, but not that far on the right.)
The French Socialist Party is almost surely beyond salvation. Its long-established leaders hate one another, and together hate Segolene Royal even more for having revealed how empty the party is of serious ideas and people. Its electorate is being eaten away by the youthful parties of “the Left of the Left” on one side and by the centrists and Greens on the other. The only energetic politicians in the country are Royal and Nicolas Sarkozy and some on the far left and in the Greens.
How distant all this must appear from Washington, where seemingly titanic battles are being fought in Congress and on television and radio over war and peace, global terror and global order, saving the global economy and saving the global environment!
But from backstage it is evident that this is sham, too: Congress won’t save the world environment if it takes any money from American shareholders and commodity speculators; the American capitalist model is now a world disgrace; the American wars are against adolescent gunmen with religious missions and can never be won; and there has been no serious anti-Western terrorism in nearly a decade—except in Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine. Poor peaceful, complacent Western Europe!
Visit William Pfaff’s Web site at www.williampfaff.com.
© 2009 Tribune Media Services, Inc.