Confessions of a Political Animal

January 13, 2010

European Leftwatch: The year to come

Ivo Josipović, the new Social Democrat president of Croatia

With 2010 now well underway, and with one election under it’s belt already, it is high time for a quick look ahead at the prospects for the Socialist International‘s member parties over the course of the next 12 months (an overview of what European Leftwatch is about can be found here).

2009 was a pretty mixed bag for the democratic socialist and social democratic parties of Europe, who for a variety of reasons have failed in many cases to reap any significant rewards from the continuing crisis of laissez-faire capitalism. The biggest story was, of course, the disastrous showing for the SPD in Germany, ending the grand coalition and ushering in (an already rather tarnished looking) right-wing coalition. The centre left was also heavily defeated in Bulgaria and Macedonia and failed to break out of opposition in Albania. Positives included victories in Greece and Iceland at the expense of incumbent centre-right governments (although both new leftist governments may well be seeing their victories as poisoned chalices by now) and the Partido Socialista’s re-election in Portugal.

With the centre left firmly out of power for the foreseeable future in France, Germany and Italy, that leaves only Britain and Spain of the major EU powers in Socialist International hands (and if you want to add Poland to the list of major powers, that shows no signs of shifting left any time soon). I don’t think the vast majority of readers of this blog are going to need reminding of the prospects for the British social democrats during 201o; basically, it seems highly unlikely that 2010 is going to be a vintage year for the European left. Below, we take a quick skim over national elections that either will or are likely to be held during the course of the next twelve months, starting with a calendar of those with fixed dates, then moving on to those with flexible term lengths. (more…)

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October 5, 2009

European Left Watch: Gaining Greece

President of the Socialist International, George Papandreou Jnr, into the office of Prime Minister on his third attempt.

Vouli ton Ellinon, Athens
Vouli ton Ellinon, Athens

Whilst most of Europe’s attention was focused on voting in a small country at one end of the EU over the weekend, at the opposite end of the continent another country, Greece, was electing a new government. And, whilst barely compensating for the loss of any left influence in the governance of one of Europe’s economic powerhouses last week, the result will help to ensure the retention of a reasonable sized left-leaning bloc on the Council of Ministers. It has also catapulted the 

Greece has been governed by the centre-right Néa Dēmokratía(New Democracy – ND) and Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis since 2004, following an eleven year period under Panellinio Sosialistikó Kínima (Panhellenic Socialist Movement – PASOK). Since the early 1980s, PASOK has very much been the default party of government – helped by its birth in the struggle against the dictatorship of the Generals – with brief intervening periods of ND rule. Yesterday’s results suggest that this may not be about to change.

The five year government of Karamanlis has been a relatively unhappy period for Greece, beginning with a failure to capitalise on the legacy of the 2004 Athens Olympics, a poor government responseto the series of devastating summer fires, through to the violent rioting of last December. Despite being elected on a promise to clean up Greek politics, entrenched issues of corruption, graft and cronyism seem, if anything, to have got worse during the lifetime of Karamanlis’ government. On top of this have come the inevitable effects of the global recession: 2009 is expected to be the first year of negative economic growth for decades and government debt is touching 100% of GDP. (more…)

September 28, 2009

European Left Watch: Germany & Portugal

BundestagOne weekend, two elections. And two rather differing stories for the European centre left.

Germany: After what was, by all accounts, a dull campaign, Germany went to the polls for elections to the Bundestag on Sunday. This could perhaps be described as a two headline election. The first was already written well before this week: the centre-right CDU‘s Angela Merkel would win a second term in office as Chancellor. The second part was more interesting: who would she be governing with? Merkel and the CDU made no secret throughout the campaign (and well before) that it wanted to end the grand coalition with the centre-left SPD it was reluctantly forced into following the tight 2005 election. The CDU’s choice of partner was quite clear – the economically liberal FDP (who for some reason always get described in the British media as ‘pro-business’, as if the CDU and SPD weren’t), the longstanding king-makers of post-war German politics.

The SPD, going into the election trailing heavily in the polls under the grand coalition Foreign Secretary Frank-Walter Steinmeier was less clear about its preferred outcome, guessing perhaps that beggars weren’t in the best of positions to be choosers. Having, foolishly to my mind, ruled out a coalition government with Oskar Lafontaine’s Die Linke party – which the opinion polls briefly suggested could take power as part of an SPD-Green-Linke coalition, they appeared to go through the campaign seeing a forced continuation of the grand coalition as their only hope of retaining power. At no point did it look like the SPD and their Schröder-era coaliton partners in the Greens would by themselves be able to command a majority.

Fan or not of his heavily reformist brand of social democrat politics, it has become increasingly clear that the SPD is still suffering from being deprived of two term chancellor Gerhard Schröder. On two occasions he bought the SPD back from seeming certain defeat: to a narrow victory in 2002 and to a defeat so narrow in 2005 that it gave some of his colleagues four more years in ministerial Mercedes. Equally, it is clear that Merkel (or someone else in CDU high command) drove a great bargain in demanding that Schröder should play no part in the CDU-SPD government. (more…)

July 14, 2009

European Left Watch: Bulgaria, Albania…and Henin-Beaumont

Bulgarian Parliament, Sofia

Bulgarian Parliament, Sofia

What Harold Macmillan would describe as ‘events, dear boy, events’ have prevented me from catching up on two European parliamentary elections held in the past couple of weeks. One was disastrous for the European centre left, the other mildly encouraging.

Bulgaria went to the polls on 5th July to elect its 240-seat National Assembly, with 87% of the seats being awarded nationally through a new proportional system. The remaining seats are elected through plurality rule.

Until the elections, the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) headed a coalition government with the centrist Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS) under Prime Minister Sergei Stanishev. In common with many avowedly centre-left governments in the former Soviet bloc, the actual programme of the coalition took a decidedly rightwards slant, including the introduction of a 10% flat tax rate. Throughout its four-year term of office, Stanishev’s government was mired in allegations of corruption and entered the election very much on the back foot, trailing the centre-right Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria(GERB) grouping – itself founded as recently as 2006 and led by Sofia mayor Boyko Borisov. (more…)

April 27, 2009

European Left Watch: Mini-states head left

Althing, Reykjavik

Althing, Reykjavik

April 27th 2009 represents a bright new dawn for the European Parliamentary left. With the global financial crisis throwing traditional right-leaning governments into disarray, over the weekend left-of-centre parties romped to victory in no fewer than two European nations. With a combined population a little more than that of the London Borough of Croydon.

Iceland has, since January of this year, has been governed by its first ever centre-left government, in the form of a caretaker administration of the Social Democratic Alliance (Samfylkingin) and the Left-Green Movement(Vinstrihreyfingin – grænt framboð) led by the Social Democrat’s Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir, who as well as being her country’s first left-leaning Prime Minister, is also thought to be the world’s first openly gay head of government. Following Sunday’s elections, this pairing of parties is now in a position to form a fully-fledged four year administration, having taken 34 of the 63 seats in the Althing, and 51.5% of the vote. The caretaker administration, laking a parliamentary majority, had required the support of smaller Progressive and Liberal Parties, with which Sigurðardóttir can now dispense – indeed, the Liberal Party has now lost all parliamentary representation. (more…)

March 25, 2009

European Left Watch: Macedonian Misery

Outgoing Macedonian President Crvenkovski

Outgoing Macedonian President Crvenkovski

The first European national elections of 2009 took place over the weekend, with Macedonia going to the polls on Sunday in the first round of its Presidential elections, choosing a replacement to outgoing incumbent Branko Crvenkovski. Crvenkovski, who had been Macedonia’s first post-independence Prime Minister before becoming President (in 2004), is from the Socijaldemokratski sojuz na Makedonija (SDSM), Macedonia’s Socialist International member party.

Following on from the SDSM losing parliamentary power in a general election of June 2008, it appears that the party’s run of bad form has continued, with the party’s nominee, Ljubomir Frčkoski trailing in a poor second, with 19.81% of the vote,  to the centre-right Gjorgje Ivanov’s (of the wonderfully named Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organisation) 33.95%. (more…)

March 4, 2009

European Left Watch: Spanish Regional Elections

Spain held regional elections at the weekend, which turned out to be something of a mixed bag for the ruling Socialist Party (PSOE). Generally, for reasons of time, the Animal doesn’t propose to cover regional elections – particularly as the materials that need researching tend to be in languages over which I have a very shaky grasp. And there’s inevitably someone with more of an insight of me.

In this instance, I’d like to point you to this excellent post by the Animal’s good friend Dave Cole, who writes about the possibility of the first post-Franco non-nationalist coalition in the Spanish part of the Basque Country, with PSOE as the possible leaders, combined with the main centre-right opposition party.

December 23, 2008

European Left Watch: Looking to 2009

socialist-internationalSince the Animal started tracking the fortunes of Labour’s sister parties in August, there have been four elections in Europe, which have led to centre-left parties entering government in two new countries: as the senior coalition partner in Slovenia and as junior coalition partner in Romania. Meanwhile, the social democratic SPÖ retained the Austrian chancellorship as the senior partner in a grand coalition, whilst the centre left parties lost their position in the government of Lithuania.

What then of the twelve months to come in 2009? There are, of course, any number of imponderables, with non-fixed term parliaments potentially coming to an end, most obviously in the UK. Likewise, despite the fact that there isn’t an election scheduled in 2009, you would be unwise, given the last fortnight of anti-government rioting, to bet against an early parliamentary election taking place.

However, even if no ‘wildcat’ elections take place, there is plenty to be getting our teeth into during 2009, perhaps most notably the German (more…)

December 3, 2008

European Left Watch: Neck and neck in Romania

the world's largest administrative building

The Romanian Parliament: the world's largest administrative building

What will almost certainly be the EU’s last legislative election of 2008 took place on Sunday in Romania (the first since accession to the EU), with the results finally being announced late yesterday. Not that the results shed much light on the likely make-up of the country’s next government.

Romania is pretty unique in having a bicameral parliament where both houses (The Senate and The Chamber of Deputies) are elected on the same day in their entirety, using exactly the same electoral system. The system in use, closed list proportional representation should, in theory, produce a highly proportional outcome, although it has not on this instance prevented the party that came narrowly second in terms of vote share from coming narrowly first in terms of seats.

Over the past four years Romania has experienced relatively turbulent politics, following an inconclusive outcome from the 2004 elections. Following these elections, a broadly centre-right coalition government was formed of the National Liberal Party (PNL), the Democratic Liberal Party(PDL), the Democratic Union of Hungarians in Romania (UDMR) and the Conservative Party (PC). To form a narrow parliamentary majority, the modestly named ‘Justice and Truth Alliance’ government, (more…)

November 25, 2008

European Left Watch: Austria – as you were

set to be Austria's social democratic Chancellor

Walter Faymann: set to be Austria's Social Democrat Chancellor

It has taken the best part of two months since Austria’s inconclusive Nationalrat elections, but the country at last seems on the verge of having a new government. ‘New’ is only a formally acurate description in this instance, however, as the party make-up of the coalition will be precisely the same as that which governed Austria (with very limited success) for the previous 18 months.

The two months since the elections at the end of September have been pretty tumultuous in Austrain politics. The election was called early following the breakdown of the grand coalition government of the centre-left Sozialdemokratische Partei Österreichs (SPÖ) and the centre-right Österreichische Volkspartei (ÖVP), with polls showing that very few Austrians wanted the continuation of this form of government, which had proved highly ineffective. Prior to the elections, the unpopular sitting SPÖ Chancellor announced he would not be remaining as party leader and Chancellor candidate, being replaced by Walter Faymann in both roles.

The elections themselves saw both major parties losing electoral support (results table in the last post) and the two populist, anti-immigration hard-right parties (the FPÖ and the BZÖ) gaining significantly, to a combined total of nearly 30% of the vote. This effectively left two options for (more…)

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