Monday, March 5, 2018

Europe Struggles with the Rise of Populist Nationalism

The tide of national populism doesn't seem to be ebbing.

At WaPo, "Italy election results highlight struggle to govern in Europe as populist forces rise":

BERLIN — After voters from the snowy peaks of the Alps to the sunny shores of Sicily delivered a verdict so fractured and mysterious it could take months to sort out, the banner headline Monday in the venerable daily La Stampa captured the state of a nation that’s left no one in charge: “Ungovernable Italy.”

The same can increasingly be said for vast stretches of Europe.

Across the continent, a once-durable dichotomy is dissolving. Fueled by anger over immigration, a backlash against the European Union and resentment of an out-of-touch elite, anti-establishment parties are taking votes left, right and center from the traditional power players.

They generally aren’t winning enough support to govern. But they are claiming such a substantial share of the electorate that it has become all but impossible for the establishment to govern on its own. The result is a continent caught in a netherworld between a dying political order and a new one still taking root.

“This has been a post-ideological result, beyond the traditional left-right divide,” said Luigi Di Maio, whose populist Five Star Movement trounced its opponents to become Italy’s largest party on Monday.

Now the country has plunged into uncertainty.

“The traditional structures of political alignment in Europe are breaking down,” said Josef Janning, head of the Berlin office of the European Council on Foreign Relations. “It started in the smaller countries. But now we see that it’s happening everywhere.”

Even in Germany, the ultimate postwar symbol of staid political stability.

As Italians were voting Sunday, Germans were learning they would finally have a government, a record five months after they went to the polls.

The establishment had hung on. But just barely, and with no evident enthusiasm, either from the voters or from the centrist politicians who will continue to lead the country even as the public increasingly gravitates to the margins.

A similar phenomenon can be seen in countries from east to west, north to south. It took the Dutch 208 days to form an ideologically messy four-way coalition last year after an election in which 13 parties won seats in the parliament.

The Czechs still do not have a functioning government after voting in October yielded an unwieldy parliament populated by anti-immigrant hard-liners, pro-market liberals, communists, and loose alliance of libertarians, anarchists and coders known as the Pirates.

The fragmentation of European politics takes what had been seen as one of the continent’s great strengths and turns it on its head. Unlike the United States and Britain, where winners take all, continental Europe primarily use proportional systems in which the full spectrum of popular opinion is represented in office.

That worked fairly well when the major parties captured some 80 or 90 percent of the vote, as they did in countries across Europe for decades after World War II.

But lately, the major parties have been downsized.

In Germany, the so-called “grand coalition” won just 53 percent of the vote — hardly grand. In Italy, neither of the two traditionally dominant centrist parties cracked 20 percent. A grand coalition is not even mathematically possible.

The trend has become self-reinforcing.
And the authors haven't even mentioned Austria yet, which has a "far-right" coalition now in power.

But keep reading.