Sunday, June 7, 2009

European Elections

I've been in New Jersey this weekend, but I returned to find that the European elections have reshaped the political landscape a bit more than I expected. The Socialists' terrible showing will put terrific pressure on Martine Aubry to do something, anything, to revive the party. With the Greens and MoDem nibbling at the PS electorate--vindicating the prognostication I made in my Montreal lecture that the next presidential election would be won in the center--the PS now has a choice: define a credible platform that can appeal to the center or fade into the dust of parties on the left. The gauchiste option--Besancenot's NPA and Mélenchon's Die Linke française--together obtained only 11%, well behind les Verts, who now rival the Socialists as the chief opposition party--quite a remarkable showing.

But the big winner is the UMP. While incumbent parties elsewhere in Europe were generally sanctioned (although Merkel also did reasonably well), Sarkozy has shown that he is still the only French leader who is truly présidentiable. His performance as EU president evidently did not disappoint. And both the FN and the sovereignists fared badly, leaving the UMP largely uncontested on the right. And Bayrou, who had made anti-Sarkozysm the centerpiece of his campaign, was soundly thrashed.

Bernard Girard's comment sums up the reasons for the Greens excellent showing.


Daniel said...

Shouldn't be too surprised about Bayrou. Politicians who make the case that they are fit to lead because they are better than the other guy tend to be extremely uninspiring.

gregory brown said...

I need to go back and re-read your "discours de Montreal" to address fully your argument, which seems plausible to me.

However, I'm not sure that the metaphor of "center" adequately describes where the PS lost tonight. (Indeed MoDem seems to have taken relatively few voters from anyone tonight).

I find Wievorka's analysis on Rue89 convincing, specifically item 2 of his 3. Bayrou appears to have lost his appeal as an "homme neuf," or an "alternative" candidate -- not an alternative ideology or program so much as an alternative style.

This appeal is strongest among younger, better educated, more urban voters (the infamous "bobos") who best defined not so much by their placement on an ideological spectrum but by their self-conception as socio-politically and culturally independent -- not closely alligned with any major social institution (church, union, party, or even an employer) or any specific cultural identity (catholic, regional/rural, immigrant, etc).

In that sense, I would venture -- at the risk of being among the last defenders of Royal around here -- that what Aubry needs to do is bring to the fore a heavy emphasis on "democratie participative" in both its program and its mode of operations. Clearly, this is where Bayrou thought he was going to build his base and clearly there is a solid core of anti-Sarkozy sentiment here.

But I don't think its going to be easily translated into support for someone who appears to be -- even moreso given the terms of her election -- so closely tied ot the "old" political world and "old" political tactics as Aubry.

Paradoxically, Cohn-Bendit does not appear to be tainted as "old" or a "politicienne" but rather as a "new" and "alternative" choice.

I am skeptical that he can retain that appeal, especially in a forum less well suited to "sending a message" than EU Parliamentary elections -- such as regional elections for Ile de France, which would appear to be his next logical move after tonight.

Unknown said...

I suspect the rout of the socialist party is a clear message from the electorate to Aubry, as 1994 had been to Rocard: time to go.

As for the results of the Green, I would want to see their performance in national elections before being so certain of a major change.

Unknown said...

Greg, I asserted rather than argued that the next election would be won in the "center." But you provide me with an argument, if by "center" one means the "new" "bobo" constituency you describe, which is in fact what I had in mind. I wholly agree that we need a new language to describe the political spectrum and that the "left/right" cleavage is no longer adequate. I'm not sure, however, that Royal is the candidate or that "particpatory democracy" is the way to reach this group. And I agree with both you and Bernard that the rise of the Greens is not necessarily an indicator of how the party will do in the presidential elections. The European elections are special in several respects: low turnout, issues that appeal particularly to green voters, bobos, and adepts of a regulatory state; and maximal confusion of the PS, which is deeply divided on what attitude to take to Europe.

Anonymous said...

Despite losing his seat, I think the PS's poor results are a blessing in disguise for Benoît Hamon. Had he reagained his seat in Strasbourg, I think he would've become like Harlem Désir, ie a PS has-been heavyweight content with his hefty salary but bereft of ideas or ambition.
Hamon now has to fight to survive and make a name for himself. I think he's going to actually end up working and improving on his talents.
And I say this as someone who's wary of Socialists and who disagrees strongly with Hamon's left-wingism. But I cant but recognize his talent and spunk.

Chris P.