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EU Parliamentary elections: Europe polarised

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The dominant issue in the elections to the European Parliament was the question of how the votes would be divided between Left and Right. Had the crisis of the euro zone and the harsh social attacks and mass protests led to greater political polarisation?

Across Europe as a whole, turnout was low, 43%, no doubt because the European Parliament has less impact on policy than individual national parliaments. In Germany, however, with 48%, turnout was almost 5% higher than in the last European elections in 2009.

Overall, the bourgeois majority formed by the European People's Party (Christian Democrats) who received 28.4 % and the Social Democrats (25.4%) was able to maintain its position despite some losses. Thus their previous course for Europe was confirmed.

What comes next is also clear; the two largest groups in the Council of Ministers (where the governments have the final say) will agree on a grand coalition in the EU Parliament, echoing the current government in Germany. Thus, Vice Chancellor Gabriel (BRD SPD) wants a Commission led by Juncker and Schulz and in this way the established parties and governments contribute to a cosy compromise.

The rights

Previous results and current opinion polls raised the fear that the demagogues of the Right, from the conservative / nationalists, like the Alliance for Germany, AfD, Geert Wilders in Holland and the "True Finns”, to the openly racist / fascist formations such as the NPD in Germany, Jobbik in Hungary, Golden Dawn in Greece, would be able to use the crisis of the EU and the euro-zone to strengthen their influence.

The election results show that the radical / conservative right has, indeed, been strengthened. The German AfD at 7 percent, Golden Dawn with 10 percent, Jobbik with almost 15 percent, the Danish People's Party with 23 percent and, above all, the "National Front" in France, which increased its vote from 6.3 (2009) to 25 percent to become the strongest party. The upward trend of the right wing "Eurosceptics" is also evident in Britain, where UKIP gained a remarkable 28 percent, doubling its previous result. However, this trend did not apply everywhere, for example, not in Italy or Spain, which were also shaken by the crisis. The "True Finns" (12.9 percent) had clearly expected more and in the Netherlands the right-wing populist Geert Wilders had to accept a substantial loss of support.

In Germany, too, the collapse of the NPD vote to only 1 percent was really bad for this racist gang, particularly because it had appeared that the conditions were actually quite good for them; the percent hurdle was gone, the EU's crisis continued, there was no competition from other extreme right-wing parties (DVU, Republikaner) they had a massive poster campaign and there had been a fevered debate in the press over asylum.

The Left

Many had hoped that the protests against the crisis, especially in southern Europe, would find expression in significant gains for parties such as SYRIZA in Greece. Certainly the policy of SYRIZA and other parties within the European Left, ELP, is very far from consistently driving forward the resistance to austerity, let alone giving it an anti-capitalist perspective, but a vote for these parties is nonetheless an expression of discontent and protest against the policies of the EU, the Troika and the national governments. In addition, a vote for the Left is also evidence that not everyone sees the right-wing populists as the alternative to the politics of Berlin and Brussels.

In several countries, there was a significant increase in votes for parties to the left of social democracy. The most striking case is the success of SYRIZA in Greece, which was the strongest party with 26 per cent. Together with the KKE, the left reached 35 percent. Given the collapse of the Pasok vote, this represents a clear shift to the left.

In Spain, the Left party received 10 percent, trebling its vote compared to 2009. Added to this, the rather more left alliance "Podemos", which is closely connected with the protest movements, gained 8 percent. This was a remarkable success, which should now be used to win militant and anticapitalist forces for the construction of a new revolutionary party. In Catalonia, the clear winners in the election were the left and bourgeois independence advocates, shaking the existing political system in Spain. With the left nationalists in the Basque Country and Catalonia, the combined vote for the forces to the left of social democracy was more than 25 percent.

In Portugal, the Communist Party gained two points to nearly 13 percent while the socialists headed the polls with over 31 percent, while the Left Bloc stagnated at 5 percent. The joint list of the governing coalition of Social Democrats and the Centre party only won 27.7%, just punishment for three years of austerity.

In Ireland, the left - nationalist Sinn Fein, which belongs to the Left Party in the European Parliament, did surprisingly well with 17 percent.

In Germany, the Left Party, Die Linke, was able to maintain its position at 7.5 percent but not to expand. For that, it would have needed a bigger mobilisation and a clear, anti-capitalist perspective against the imperialist EU. Instead, they offered the illusory orientation towards a "social Europe " - on a capitalist basis . In particular what was missing was a clear initiative from the Left Party to organise the potential for resistance across Europe around a clear action programme. While Die Linke participates in movements in Germany such as Blockupy, that could have a potential for a European policy, they are miles away from any active role within them.

The general weakness of the "extreme" left in Europe also explains why the ruling social democratic PD could get 41percent even in Italy, where the social situation is certainly not exactly relaxed. However, given the politics of the "opposition" of Beppe Grillo, who gained a relatively disappointing 21peercent, this is not really very surprising. In Italy, the alliance front of Rifondazione Comunista has resurfaced from oblivion: the electoral alliance "Altra Europe - con Tsipras" (Another Europe – with Tsipras) received 4.1% and thus 3 mandates, suggesting some recovery of the Italian left.

All in all, it is possible to speak of a trend to the left in Southern Europe that, as Spain shows, could benefit formations to the left of the European Left Party. In view of this, we can easily imagine what would have been possible if those forces had exerted more pressure on parties such as Syriza and been more active in collaborating with each other to give a clear political signal to the various protest movements across Europe.

Conclusion

Overall, the European elections confirmed the expected trend of a political radicalisation and polarisation. However, the “extreme” forces benefited from this less than the "moderates". On the right, it was the conservative / nationalist Eurosceptics and, on the left, the left wing of reformism such as Syriza. However, the media only emphasise a "shift to the right", a skewed perspective, especially in Southern Europe, where there is a clear trend to the left.

Especially in Britain and France, the successes of the Eurosceptics point to a crisis in the governing parties. Particularly in France, it is also an expression of real concern that the "Grande Nation" continues to lose ground against Germany. This development is undermining the Paris-Berlin axis that has been crucial for the EU project and poses serious difficulties for the Hollande government.

The "balance" of the EU's leading imperialist states has been disturbed. In France and the United Kingdom, there are divisions within the right wing conservative spectrum. This will mean not only a further sharpening of the EU's political crisis, but also further divisions and segmentation of the conservative wing. In this way, the economic division of Europe could quickly lead to a split in the political caste, in contrast to the "unity" which has prevailed for so long.

In the next few months, the Left in Europe, both the "moderate" and the "radical" need to use the electoral successes in some countries to combine protest and resistance against the effects of the crisis in Europe and to work out a class struggle programme that can go beyond symbolic and limited actions such as demonstrations, occupations of squares or one-day "general strikes" and create a real challenge to the rulers both in their own countries and in Brussels.

In this, the radical left can and must play a role, both by taking its own initiatives, such as solidarity with the resistance against the regime in Kiev or building Europe-wide protests like Blockupy and by pressurising both the reformist parties like Die Linke and Syriza, and the trade unions to be considerably more active and coordinated than before. And coordination has to mean more than a handful of officials adopting a meaningless and inconsequential declaration. What is needed is to build organisations that can coordinate action, based on representatives and delegates from workplaces and unions that can develop concrete steps to take the resistance in Europe forward.

Above all, there have to be two guiding principles; first, that the working class cannot use the European Parliament to create a Europe that benefits them but has to rely on the class struggle on the streets, in the unions, the universities and the schools; second that the left and the militant, anti-capitalist forces need to build an internationally coordinated force that can offer Europe a real perspective: the United Socialist States of Europe.

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