O Europe, today you are fog

Image: Johannes Plenio
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By FLAVIO AGUIAR*

In Europe, traditional conservatives find themselves facing an impasse: if they move further to the right, they could be swallowed up by the extreme right; If they stay where they are, the same thing could happen to them.

1.

The result of the legislative election on March 10th in Portugal provoked a wave of comments highlighting the progress of the extreme right in the country. The Chega party, led by jurist André Ventura, obtained 18,06% of the votes, achieving third place and catapulting its number of deputies in the Assembly of the Republic to 49 out of 230. Some commentators even stated that, even if it does not part of the future government, Chega and André Ventura were the big winners of the election, and will probably be the tip of the balance in parliament.

At the same time, the election result exposed the dilemma of the Democratic Alliance, center-right, led by the Social Democratic Party which, despite its name, belongs to the traditional conservative camp. The AD received 29,49% of the votes and 79 deputies, just two more than the center-left Socialist Party, which received 77 deputies and 28,66% of the votes, a minimum difference of 0,83% towards the winner.

The Democratic Alliance now finds itself faced with a dilemma: either negotiate with Chega to govern or with its traditional adversaries, the socialists. Or you can still govern in a minority, having to negotiate case by case with these two contenders, in addition to the small parties that, whether on the right or on the left, are not in a position to offer a stable majority of votes.

At the moment, the leader of the Democratic Alliance, Luís Montenegro, from the Social Democratic Party, announced that he does not intend to form an alliance with Chega. His position is fragile, because, for example, if he fails to approve the Budget, the country's president, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, will be forced to call new elections.

2.

Luís Montenegro's complicated situation in Portugal is the same as that of other traditional conservative leaders in Europe. The far right is an integral part of the conservative government in Finland and provides decisive support for the equally conservative government in Sweden. The ultra-rightist Giorgia Meloni, with her party Brothers of Italy, overrode the other conservatives and today leads the government in Rome, going from 1,9% of the votes and no deputies elected in 2013 to 26% in 2022, with 26 deputies. 

In Spain, the traditional Popular Party agrees to negotiate regionally with Vox, which declares itself heir to the falangism of former dictator Francisco Franco.

In the Netherlands, the radical Gert Wilders gave up on forming a government due to a lack of alliances, but the situation for the other parties is far from comfortable.

In France Marine Le Pen, from National Gathering (National Meeting) has been growing from presidential election to presidential election, and is a serious candidate in the next one, scheduled for 2027.

In Germany, the alternative for Germany, which has members accused of being neo-Nazis, is the second electoral force in current polls of voting intentions for 2025. In the Christian Democratic Union, on the traditional right, the still dominant position is not to negotiate with the AfD, but there are currents within of the party that admit this possibility.

In Austria, the radical right-wing Freedom Party is the leader in voting intentions in the elections scheduled for the second half of this year and, if this position is confirmed, it should propose an alliance with the traditional right-wing People's Party.

Behind this growth of the extreme right, taking votes from all parties, but above all from the traditional right, lies a condition that is rarely commented on in the media. mainstream from Europe and also from other continents.

3.

Europe has a flagship, which is the European Union. This began to be built after the end of the Second World War, at a time when in Western Europe the hegemonic thought, even among conservatives, was of social democratic roots, with its consistent social policies, as an alternative to the dominant communism in the “other Europe”, the Eastern one, under the leadership of the now extinct Soviet Union. 

However, it was formally created by the Maastricht Treaty, signed on February 7, 1992 and in force from November of the following year. At this time, the Soviet Union no longer existed, the communist world was falling apart and the hegemony of social democratic thought in Europe was declining. In its place, the hegemony of neoliberal thought grew, with its austerity plans and the withdrawal of social policies, gradually creating a feeling of insecurity and helplessness. The current war in Ukraine has accentuated this feeling, promoting inflationary surges everywhere and pushing the continent into a recessive alley.

In other words, the economically conservative policy that was imposed in the Union and in Europe in the 21st century undermined the bases of traditional conservative politicians, taking the social democrats, greens and socialists by storm, who also weakened their social platforms. The left, divided, have not been able to assert themselves as an option. The extreme right began to gain votes, with their easy and simplistic flags of xenophobia, exclusionary nationalism and doubts about the European Union itself.

Following a sad tradition, in the face of deep economic crises, Europe returns to the radical right and looks for a “different” culprit. Before it was the Jews; today they are Muslims, immigrants or refugees from the “South of the World”. And traditional conservatives find themselves faced with an impasse: if they move further to the right, they could be swallowed up by the extreme right; If they stay where they are, the same thing could happen to them... Can they make a magical leap, changing their policies and their way of thinking, contributing to the survival of a democratic Europe? We can only gloss the Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa: “Everything is uncertain and final/Everything is dispersed, nothing is whole/O Europe, today you are fog”.

* Flavio Aguiar, journalist and writer, is a retired professor of Brazilian literature at USP. Author, among other books, of Chronicles of the World Upside Down (boitempo). [https://amzn.to/48UDikx]


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