They are for the world and for Europe, we are for the nation and patriotic … we have touched the spirit and the intelligence of the French people.”
As two countries in the EU, France and Greece, go to polls on Sunday, Marine Le Pen’s words sum up the political mood in many others as well. Far-right or populist nationalist movements are on the rise on the continent even further, to the degree that they will soon seriously challenge the post-WWII order.
The Front National (FN), certainly, is the key actor which sets the trend, because it has managed to hit a record high in the first round of the presidential election by collecting 18 percent of the national vote. Sunday’s second round will therefore not mean a simple choice between the conventional left and right and move on, but will have further reaching consequences in French and continental politics. Le Pen declared, very shrewdly, that she would vote blank; she left her voters with their own consciences. But, she knows that many of them will copy her choice, or never show up at the polling station. The result may mean not only a defeat for Sarkozy, but the beginning of the end of the French right as we know it.
What is more important, no matter what the result is on Sunday, is what the elections in June will present. The FN managed to go above the critical 12.5 percent of the vote in more than 350 election districts, many of which turned into sharp swing centers whose common denominator is the presence of predominantly Muslim immigrants. It means the following: In the national elections, many FN candidates will qualify to run in the second round. If Sarkozy’s party refuses to cooperate with the FN, it will only allow the latter to grow in parliament and the former to face splits and deep cracks within. Le Pen’s project of reshaping a new, pro “nation-state” right has been working rather smoothly so far. No wonder the FN is the focus of similar movements in other countries, like the one in the Netherlands or, say, Finland.
Meanwhile, the recent picture of the political map in Greece, with what are seen as “to be or not to be” elections on the same day, makes more than one commentator sing “Never on Sunday.” With the possibility of between eight and 10 parties entering the parliament in a country which is practically beyond bankruptcy, is exactly as my colleague at the Kathimerini daily, Nick Malkoutzis called it -- a “political moussaka.”
Malkoutzis agrees with me when he defines the elections as “guaranteed to fail.” They are. From the very beginning, I found no rationale in New Democracy (ND) Party leader Samaras’ insistence in going to early elections and his rivals simply following him like cattle. The only reasonable political choice has been, and still is, that in this unique crisis Greece continues to be managed by a wise and non-partisan technocrat, Lucas Papademos, until the conditions are better than those of today.
The political picture of Greece as of May 4 signals the stage before the full collapse of the center, marked by years of misrule, corrupt behavior, populism and nepotism. The misfortune of the decent Greek voters is the persistence of the old-fashioned “quasi center” of left and right, leaving no room for bold, clean and progressive politics. In many ways, Greeks will have to be forced to again vote for the very parties which brought them to the edge of economic and social abyss. Others, defying this, have been shifting to the far-left and far-right, both of which agree on exiting the Eurozone and surrounding Greece with thick walls of nationalism.
In the “moussaka,” the most appalling ingredient is one party called Chrysi Avgi (Golden Dawn), a neo-Nazi faction, which has now managed to attract so many votes from its “less far-right” rivals like the Laos party that it now seems above 5 percent of the national vote. This means a clear entry ticket into parliament, already promising a very fragile coalition (the Panhellenic Socialist Movement [PASOK]-ND) at best, or immediate dissolution for another snap poll at worst.
“Greece is entering a period of political and economic transition in which there will be no foregone conclusions. The May 6 elections will be the first landmark on this perilous path,” wrote Malkoutzis in his excellent analysis for the Friedrich Ebert Foundation (http://library.fes.de). He tips just enough votes for a two-party coalition, but I remain more doubtful. We have, it seems, entered an era which will shatter the traditional map of politics in the EU for years to come.