Indeed, the Socialist Party is expected to become the largest party and the one first invited to form a government.
There are also clear similarities between the political ethos of the Dutch Socialist Party and the Greek SYRIZA, including antipathy toward the State of Israel. SYRIZA wants to end defense cooperation between Greece and Israel, while the election manifesto of the Dutch Socialist Party calls for suspension of the economic association agreement between Israel and the EU. By contrast, good relations with Israel are eagerly pursued by both the New Democracy party and the Panhellenic Socialist Movement. For example, they just awarded (August 6) Israel’s President Shimon Peres the Gold Medal of the Greek Parliament.
So, just like in Greece, the Dutch right is seriously split and the traditional Dutch left has been eclipsed by a radical rival. If the political traditions of Greece and the Netherlands are undergoing the same upheaval, it cannot just be due to economic distress.
THE EXPLANATION must be sought elsewhere. Basically, the main European political parties had sewn up the political system in ways that suited them all, despite their claimed differences. Only the voters grew weary of it and now they are beginning to revolt.
During the late twentieth century, the typical parliament in a Western country was dominated by a large center-right party and a large center-left party, which alternated in office in successive elections. In the US and the UK, the electoral system made it difficult for other parties to get a foothold. Elsewhere, the expense of electoral campaigns and maintaining party organizations meant that other parties had limited success. So the leading politicians in both major parties could be sure of enjoying the perks of office in their turn.
Based on that pattern in national parliaments, also in the European Parliament there formed large center-right and center-left blocks, calling themselves the European People’s Party (EPP) and the Party of European Socialists (PES). The former includes New Democracy along with both German conservative parties (CDU and CSU), the latter includes the Panhellenic Socialist Movement along with Germany’s social democrats (SDP). Seemingly, a permanent united pattern of governance had established itself in the EU. And a cosy arrangement for all involved.
The only fly in the ointment was a little noticed phenomenon: fewer citizens were turning out to vote, least of all for the European Parliament. Voter turnout in Greece, for example, fell from 76.6% (2004) to 74.1% (2007), 70.9% (2009), 65.1% (May 2012) and 62.5% (June 2012).
In the Netherlands, the phenomenon is less conspicuous: the turnout has been in the range 75-80% for two decades. Back in the 1960s, however, it was around 95%. In European elections, 40-45% is typical for many countries.
Among investigators of this phenomenon, there is no consensus about the reasons for it. For instance, when Ioannis Kolovos and Phil Harris asked why less than 60% of UK voters participated in the general election of 2001, they could list numerous current theories. Perhaps the best hint is in a study by José Ignacio Torreblanca of voter abstention in the European election of 2004. He pointed out that a survey of “Confidence in Institutions” showed that Europeans placed most trust in the police and the army, 65% and 63% respectively, and least in political parties – a mere 16%. Curiously, more Europeans trusted the European Union (41%) than trusted the national parliament (35%) or national government (30%), but a minority in all three cases.
So, just when the center-right and center-left blocks have got Europe sorted out to their convenience, the voters are overwhelmingly fed up with the lot of them. This makes Europe ripe for revolution, but only if political forces appear that satisfy two conditions. They must be seen to have a plausible chance of gaining power and they must seem thoroughly different from the current European establishment.
So SYRIZA’s political rhetoric, which rightly appalls anyone with an inkling of economics and good sense, may well have tapped a rich seam of voter discontent.
ALL OF THIS SUGGESTS that the revolution taking place in Greece and the Netherlands could pop up elsewhere in Europe. For instance, “Pirate Parties” have recently appeared in most EU countries; they have already formed a Pirate International. Their parent, the Swedish Pirate Party, played a crucial role in WikiLeaks. Their initial demand was the virtual elimination of copyright, but now they have a broad range of controversial programs.
About the Author: Malcolm Lowe is a regular contributor to the Gatestone Institute.
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