Sunday, 4 March, may well go down in history as the death knell for Europe’s mainstream parties. The day started off with the announcement that Europe’s oldest social-democratic party, Germany’s SPD, would once again enter a coalition with Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats. France’s pro-European president, Emmanuel Macron hailed the development as “good news for Europe”.
But the good vibes in Paris, Berlin and Brussels did not last long. A mere 12 hours later, exit polls from Italy’s general election suggested that the two mainstream parties on the left and the right had been demolished by populist and far-right parties.
The populist Movimento Cinque Stelle (M5S) and the anti-immigration La Lega led by Matteo Salvini jointly won 50% of the vote while support for the traditional mainstream parties born out of the ashes of the Communist, Socialist and Christian Democrat parties which forged Italy’s first republic was at an all time low.
2017 was the year many feared would mark the end of mainstream parties in Europe but although traditional centre-left and centre-right parties suffered huge losses in elections in Germany, France, Austria and the Netherlands, the expected earthquake did not materialise.
Italian voters had other ideas and voted in full force for parties which are diametrically opposed to Macron’s integrationist project.
M5S and La Lega have shown greater enthusiasm for Moscow than for Brussels, with both parties ready to consider withdrawing Italy from the eurozone and NATO.
The demise of mainstream parties in Europe did not happen overnight. Macron himself benefitted from the slow death of the once-proud French Socialist party and the neo-Gaullist centre-right. In Germany, both the CDU and SPD suffered an unprecedented haemorrhage of votes in last year’s election which saw the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) became the third largest party in the Bundestag and now the main opposition party.
For decades, mainstream parties on both left and right in Europe have championed an economic system which has resulted in nothing but growing social inequalities, an obsession with ‘growth’, complete dependency on the market, turbo-consumerism and global warming. And now they are paying the price.
Centre-left and centre right parties are suffering from an identity crisis. They lack charismatic leaders and seem to be oblivious to their growing detachment from voters’ realities.
The death of mainstream parties might not be such a bad thing. For years they have done the bidding of global corporations which put profits before the environment and human life.
Mainstream parties did nothing to stop global warming before things got out of hand. They have done nothing to stop weapons flowing into the hands of warlords and dictators and have shown little interest in ending global inequalities.
Cosmetic differences between centre-right and centre-left parties on how to manage wealth created by the system has seen power oscillating from one party to another which in turn made the enduring capitalist system appear to be imperative, beyond political dispute. There is no alternative to the system championed by Thatcher, Blair, Berlusconi, Merkel and Renzi.
Now, when faced with the inexorable consequences of greed and the obsession with growth – namely immigration and anger among their voters – mainstream parties have no solutions. The multinational corporations and the global rich cannot come to their rescue and the vacuum is being filled by far-right, populist and anti-immigration parties.
But populism and nation-first politics will only fuel more injustices and anger. We need to look beyond the traditional methods of doing politics. The global crises we are facing and will continue facing require international cooperation and global economic planning.
Global economic democracy and redistribution of wealth can only thrive in the context of global economic equality based on the peculiar realities of different people living in different territories.