The established political parties in Europe are in decline. This decline is well deserved. For at least 20 years, their policies have been reactive, preoccupied not with shaping the future but with protecting their own positions, writes Prince Michael of Liechtenstein.
It is therefore natural that new groups are rising. The eclipse of the Social Democrats, the Christian Democrats and, to a lesser extent, the Conservatives is part of the normal evolutionary process of creative destruction.
The most startling thing about this process has been the response of the established parties, which still hold most of the crucial power positions in government and a good part of the media. Their misreading of events is more disaster in the making.
Firstly, the mainstream parties have abandoned their roots and their focus. Christian Democrats are not Christian anymore, but inherently socialist. Social Democrats no longer stick up for the working class; they cater to welfare recipients instead – to the detriment of employees and labourers who must foot the bill.
Loss of focus leads directly to loss of vision. The only option left is to cling blindly to the status quo.
Instead of accepting and adjusting to new realities, the mainstream parties have compounded their error by trying to marginalise their challengers as radical extremists or, in the best case, as utopians. In this, they have been loudly seconded by the chattering classes.
In last week’s local elections, 30 per cent of French voters supported the National Front, a party stigmatised as belonging to the extreme right. This victory sent shockwaves through the media and political establishment. Similar trends can be observed elsewhere in Europe. Austria, Hungary, Italy and the Netherlands are just a few of the countries that come to mind.
This does not mean that a large proportion of Austrian, Dutch or French voters have turned radical. Their behaviour is a response to the damage inflicted on democracy by the established parties, which have created a huge gulf between the ruling elite and the public. The growing sense of disfranchisement is shown by the large and increasing numbers of people who no longer bother to vote.
The on-going centralisation and bureaucratisation of government, both at the European and the national level, is a logical consolidation of political power – but absolutely toxic to democracy. One remedy might be a more federal approach, which would support democracy by delegating responsibilities to regions and municipalities.
To properly function, democracies must operate according the principles of individual self-responsibility and freedom of choice. This value system is known as liberalism. Liberalism is intrinsically sceptical of strong political parties, and therefore liberals have been marginalised in most of Europe’s power structures.
If the established parties had faced reality, perhaps we would now have Christian Democrats who are truly Christian, Social Democrats who fight to make sure hard work is properly rewarded (and not taxed away), and Liberals who act as a check against the nanny state. All of them, as true democrats, would at least try to put the common weal before party interests. Then we would not be worrying about extremists.
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