The threat of de-politicization looms over Eurozone
by Miguel Coelho and Mario Schmidt (January 4, 2017)
But it is not the national elections in member-states that trigger concerns, but the electoral behavior of the European citizens. The major problem that has been observed during these last six years has to do with the narrowing mobilization of the electorate and a growing trend of de-politicization within the most active parts of the society, especially in the age groups of 18-34 and 35-50. The first segment has been direly affected by austerity politics that has caused sky-rocketed unemployment, with many high-skilled young people missing to enter the labor market or working under precarious conditions. The second segment has lost a great part of its income, suffocating in conditions of social inequality and moving downward in the social sphere. The part of middle class that was once defining consuming trends and soaring the economy, is now having hard times managing its household.
The first visible consequence is the increase of abstention rate in many member-states. The second visible consequence is the de-politicization of politics and the support of far-right populist parties, not as a genuine ideological alternative, but as an act of blame against the political establishment.
In this context, left-wing radical political forces should live up with their responsibility to provide a new vision and a concrete alternative for Europe. So far, there have been some important developments bringing closer left-wing and socialist parties in the European level, mainly in the European Parliament. In national level, only Portugal has achieved to merge a political formation composed by the Left, the Socialists and the Communists. This could be the case in Germany as well, even if it is a distant scenario.
The major impediment towards fostering broad alliances is the fact that many socialist parties are still attached to or absorved by the conservative political mindset, endorsing neoliberal policies that engender division in the EU. At the same time, the European Left has difficulties in inspiring broader segments of the European society because it has abandoned engaging political activism and street mobilization. The rhetoric of left-wing trade unions has been softer whereas those forces beyond the socialist/left-wing spectrum cannot develop a convincing strategy and inspire the people.
Another point that poses threat over the future of the European establishment is that decision-makers in Brussels can no longer argue in favor of the fundamental political values of the Union. Lack of transparency and accountability in decision-making, and a narrowing appeal of a bottom-up political pressure to the European institutions turn positive developments for the European Union almost impossible.
This year we might experience an even worse political vacuum in the EU or, worse, a surge of populist parties that will defy what EU has achieved since the 1950s. For a distant obsever, it seems easy to focus and invest on growth-oriented policies that bolster social cohesion - but it is not the case. In the contrary, we risk to see a big rupture by the end of 2017.
Miguel Coelho and Mario Schmidt are Policy Analysts at Bridging Europe
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