Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The EU Elections

The results of the European Union's parliamentary election were about what one would reasonably expect given the current deepening of decades-old economic frustration, the continued dominance of neo-liberalism as the conventional wisdom, the predictable tepidity of government response to the problem and little hope for better (especially from a left widely regarded as enervated if not corrupted), widespread cynicism about the EU, and the strength of anti-immigrant and "law and order" sentiment.

There was plenty of Euroskepticism, and plenty of apathy in general (a record low of 43 percent of the electorate cast its vote), as well as plenty of resentment of both the ruling parties and the most established "left" parties, Britain's Labour getting hit from both directions to end up in an astonishing 4th place, and Spain's Socialists similarly took a beating, while Germany's Christian Democrats and Italy's People of Freedom, less badly hit, still picked up mediocre numbers. (France's UMP was an exception in doing relatively well, boosting its share of the vote from 17 to 29 percent over the last election-though the Socialist Party was not, suffering a sharp drop from 29 to 17 percent.)

The results have been described as leaving the center-right dominant, but smaller parties scored points. Green party fortunes have been advertised as "wildly fluctuating" across the continent, with the Maltese and Czech parties performing poorly, and their Belgian, Danish and French counterparts showing impressive gains, the last (given France's number of seats) largely accounting for a 10-seat gain for the Greens (from 43 to 53 of the 736 in the EU parliament).

Attracting more comment, however, has been the performance of right-wing populists, the British National Party and Hungarian Jobbik getting their first-ever seats, the Austrian Freedom Party and Italian Northern League improving their positions, and the Dutch Freedom Party getting a fifth of the Netherlands' seats, making Geert Wilders the face of this election.

An interesting side story: the Pirate Party, which began as a protest against Sweden's recent Draconian, even Orwellian, legislation regarding file-sharing (which actually led to a 40 percent drop in Swedish Internet traffic, and was only recently outdone by a French law regarded as even harsher), won a seat. The story is being treated as a joke in much of the media, but one can also see this as a noteworthy moment in the high-stakes battle over the proper limits of information property rights-as well as state intrusiveness into personal privacy.

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