Research Fellow, China Center for Contemporary World Studies
In the second round of French presidential election, 39-year-old Emmanuel Macron defeated the far-right candidate Marine Le Pen and was
elected President of France. This is a historic victory to France and all EU countries.
EU in Crisis
Brexit and Trump¡¯s accession to presidency took many people by surprise and caused anti-globalization and populism at the global scale. Stemming from the UK, the populist storm raged across the Atlantic Ocean and catapulted Trump to presidency of the only superpower country. Since Trump came into office, he echoed EU countries and tried to imitate Brexit, appearing to tear EU apart. Again, this storm swept across the sea and reached the European continent.
This heavy storm coincides with Dutch, French and German elections in 2017. Populists take the momentum to add fuel, putting EU in danger. The whole world is concerned with the same issue: Will EU survive?
Early this year, Geert Wilders, known as ¡°Dutch Trump¡±, failed in the presidential election. Though a founding EU member, Holland was not big enough to have major impact.
The French election came next. This is a crucial battle that decides the survival of the EU. France therefore became the final battle ground between globalization and populism.
France is a key member for the founding of EU and a pioneer for European integration and the ¡°United States of Europe¡±. Of the 28 EU member states, France, Germany and the UK were the center. However, being the most important ally of the US, the UK has always been aloof with the EU. It neither joined the Euro zone nor a signatory to the Schengen Agreement. Therefore, despite the negative impact, Brexit would not shake EU to the core. But people are concerned about the Domino effect, because the reasons for Brexit can be found in other EU countries. Besides, Brexit is correlated with the instigation of populist parties and camps in the UK, which are common in EU countries.
After Brexit, France and Germany became the axis of 27 EU countries. Once a French populist party were elected and held an EU-exit referendum, it would be difficult for Germany to be immune from the crisis and EU would be at the risk of dissolving.
Macron¡¯s success owes to the ¡°help¡± from the US and Russia. Trump supported either explicitly or implicitly Le Pen, candidate of the far-right National Front. Her advocacy against elite politics and globalization earned her the reputation of ¡°French Trump¡±. Russia was sanctioned by EU for Ukraine. Since EU has the rule of ¡°one voice¡±, a dissolved EU would mean no sanction on Russia. It is probably because two traditional French parties withdrew from the election. Being a far-right party for years, National Front had been disreputed by Jean-Marie Le Pen¡¯s Fascist tendency. Since Marine Le Pen took the baton, she changed strategy and made a break with her father, therefore won some popular support. Macron, however, has neither root in traditional parties nor rich experience in politics. Both the US and Russia were hopeful of Le Pen¡¯s success, but they were wrong. They seemed to overlook the ¡°unique character¡±of French people, i.e., the independent foreign policies since Charles de Gaulle, opposing foreign intervention.
EU has been facing serious problems in political, economic and social spectrum since the European debt crisis 10 years ago. Sluggish economy and fast expansion of EU leads to grave economic imbalances within the union. Greece, for example, is on the brink of bankruptcy in recent years. Refugees from the war-torn Middle East flock to EU because of US irresponsibility. The mistake made by German Chancellor Angela Merkel on refugees was much blamed by other EU members. Refugee influx leads to disagreements among EU member states and threatens domestic security. Long-term economic downturn results in high unemployment rate. Influenced by US ¡°Neoliberalism¡±, the wide wealth gap in EU countries has even affected the income of middle class and caused dissatisfaction of the workforce and vulnerable groups. Europe has become the soft prey of international terrorist organizations, and the lack of effective counter-terrorism actions and system provides ground for populism, far-right forces and exclusive racism.
Preventing and Containing Populism
Two legacies of 2016 are Brexit and the election of Trump, and the turmoil continues to reverberate in 2017. They caused a global scale sentiment of anti-globalization and populism. Some deem it as a populist revolution that lashes upon economic globalization and elite politics, trying to topple the current landscape of political parties and ternational system. Brexit is an initial step of populism, while Trump¡¯s success in election stands to turn populism into the governing doctrine of the only super power.
As a school of thought and social movement, populism stemmed from Russia between the 1960s and 1970s, when capitalism started to grow while small scale production still dominated. Some revolutionary intellectuals regarded themselves as the best among the masses and advocated for going to the people, wear farmers¡¯ clothes and spread revolutionary ideas to them, so as to mobilize farmers to end the Czar¡¯s rule. They believed that farmers, instead of proletarians, were the engine for revolution, and mobilizing farmers to foster ¡°rural communities¡± was the foundation of socialism. For them, history was made by heroes, who were followed by the ¡°mob¡±. They encouraged individual terrorism to gain power. Populists had been constructive in the fight against feudalism, but their ideas were wrong and obstructed the spread of Marxism and development of workers¡¯ movement. When suppressed by the Czar regime, they retreated to the Kulaks class and compromised with the Czar.
Modern populism has three hallmarks: tiestablishment, anti-elitism and anti-political correctness. Anti-establishment means changing or toppling the current political system and international order. However, it does not aim to overthrow western democracy but only to ¡°launch a rebellion within the system¡±.
Anti-globalization is another hallmark, which blames globalization for Western institutional shortcomings and wealth inequality internationally. Populists use the Internet to feed
this sentiment to the people, therefore reinforcing its development.
As a matter of fact, populism has gradually developed in the last decade and recently seems unstoppable because of Brexit. Though thwarted by the defeat of the ultra-right French candidate Le Pen, populists would certainly not drop their agenda.
The next major election will be the German federal election in September 2017. Different from the French presidential system, Germany adopts a parliamentary system that features the rivalry among political parties in elections. The party that wins the majority becomes the ruling party. The populist Alternative for Germany (AfD), calls for exclusivism and tries in local and federal parliaments. The current ruling party Christian Democratic Union (CDU) failed in local elections last year because of Merkel¡¯s mistake on immigration, but this year the situation turns around in two local elections. CDU still has the upper hand in federal election and Merkel is likely to be re-elected. CDU¡¯s main rival Social Democratic Party (SPD) has made Martin Schulz its candidate, who was President of the European Parliament. Having been working for the European Parliament for a long time, Schulz does not enjoy as good popular basis in Germany as erkel. If CDU wins the majority, it will be the only ruing party. Otherwise it will form coalition with SPD and leave no option for AfD. But AfD may have seats at federal level. Italy will hold parliamentary election in the spring of 2018, or probably earlier. Bad economy and surging populism add uncertainty to this election. In April 2017, former Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi was elected head of the Democratic Party and came back to the forefront of the political arena. When the 39-year-old Renzi was elected Italian Prime Minister in February 2014, he promised a sweeping reform that would restore Italy as a first-class EU country. But he met insurmountable resistance and stepped down after the failed constitutional reform referendum. Now Renzi is determined to win the election and strengthen the EU.
For the EU, the key to containing populism is reforming traditional political parties. Formed by elites, these parties are proud of political correctness and keen on power struggle and party factionalism. The so called ¡°party alternation¡± does not change the fact, and they are indifferent to people¡¯s sufferings. They should reflect upon the emerging populism and changing political landscape and change their strategies and policies.
Working for a More Globalized World
Economic globalization has significantly strengthened the fusion and growth of global economy. All economies are inter-dependent. Global economy grew fast for several decades prior to the 2008 financial crisis, benefiting both developed and developing countries. This period also witnesses the growth of emerging economies represented by the third world. No one can deny such notable progress. However, economic globalization is a double-edged sword and its shortcomings have been felt in the last decade. The gap between developed and developing countries becomes wider. Some countries are marginalized, suffering from stagnant economy as well as social and political turmoil.
The slogans of populism are ¡°anti-globalization¡±and ¡°anti-EU¡±. However, economic globalization is an irreversible trend and will develop soundly after twists and turns.
European integration is the paradigm of economic globalization. Growing from the European Coal and Steel Community in 1951, it evolved into the EU in 1996 with 28 member states and euro as the single currency. Brexit cannot shake the EU to its core, since it is ¡°a peaceful, prosperous and international community of shared interest and cooperation, representing deepening coordination and unity.¡±
International Political Parties Entering a New Phase
As the origin of political parties, Europe has the most mature party politics. Therefore, it is necessary to study the new development of European party politics.
Now global party politics have entered a new historic phase with new challenges and opportunities.
1. Integration develops in tandem with pluralism. Globalization comes first in the economic sense. Global economy is more intertwined and interdependent. Globalization leads to integration that impacts international politics, culture and party politics. As the foundation, economy surely influences the superstructure. Party strategies and policies must consider the impact of globalization. Decisions regarding local economies adapting to globalization and norms of party-to-party exchanges must prioritize economic development
and cooperation in a globalized world. At the same time, however, globalization should not be interpreted as political and cultural globalization, but diversity instead. Such diversity manifests in political, social and cultural fronts. Though integration and diversification seems diametrically different, both are inevitable trend of the society. Society will progress with integration and diversification reinforcing each other. Party politics must be aware of this trend so as to grow stronger.
2. International and national features develop at the same time. The world is ever more connected economically, politically and culturally. International and regional organizations and forums are playing an important role. Nations must work together to tackle global challenges and grasp development opportunities. Therefore, party politics must be international with a modern world view. The international features should not eliminate, but instead be reinforced by national ones. Modern party politics must integrate the two elements by taking into account national interest and a global perspective. Only in this way can they succeed in the changing international and domestic environment.
3. The idealism and realism of party politics. It is important to summarize lessons and experiences of international political parties, while still remain committed to one¡¯s own theoretic principles and core values. Western political parties seem to move beyond ideologies, but in fact they are reinforcing their own ideologies and values, which they brand as public or universal values. But in the last two decades, political parties are becoming more realistic, and realism is gaining the upper hand compared with idealism. Everything must be fact-based, this is how political parties improve their governance. They need to balance idealism and realism, caring people¡¯s realistic demands without compromising
grand ambitions and ideals, so as to stand firm and develop in the changing world.
4. Adapting to and guiding the information age. Party politics are tested in the information age, which is closely related with new scientific revolution. This breeds two results: The first is the change of social class in the developed Western world, where white-collar and R&D employees outnumber blue-collar and industrial employees. The second is increasing social and political influence of the mass media. Social democracy becomes more plural. Besides, the development of the information age is highly correlated with a
country¡¯s political system, cultural traditions and economic development. As a result, party politics must adapt to the information age and channel the influence of the mass media and social democracy.
5. Adaptation and containment of international schools of thought. International schools of thought are like tides with ebbs and flows. Neo-liberalism had been raging between since 1980s, and was only challenged after the 2008 financial crisis. Some European social parties could not stand the pressure of neo-liberalism and proposed ¡°the third way¡±to attempt to combine social democracy and neo-liberalism. However, this weakened the characters of social democracy and lost support of the middle class. As a result, these parties soon lost their ruling or coalition position. But we need to take a long-term perspective for the emerging populism as it experiences ebbs and flows, yet it should be reflected upon by traditional political parties.
6. Traditional Western political parties face the danger of ¡°decay¡±, including: i) decreasing, aging and pessimistic party membership; ii) weakening political and social functions; iii) stagnant party awareness, waning ideological differences, ambiguous ideas and the loss of unique political identity; iv) members uninterested in party activities; v) left-wing parties ¡°turning right¡±and nice versa, blurring their lines; vi) political parties increasingly becoming the voice of interest groups and intra-party disagreements replaced by conflicts among interest groups; vii) widening rift between European political parties and the grassroots as the former are no longer mass-based organizations; viii) traditional Western political parties being reduced to ¡°election parties¡±and apathetic about people¡¯s suffering; ix) mass media and the Internet reaching the public directly, taking a big share of parties¡¯ social functions; x) US Republicans and Democrats going to extremes, causing severe dysfunction in the political system.
7. Traditional and mainstream political parties in the West have become ¡°election parties¡±, which
for decades center on election and experience
scandals like money-for-power and vote buying.
They can only implement governing ideas when
they are elected and their leader becomes head of
state or government. Their campaign promises,
which aim at winning elections, cannot be
delivered. People are tired of party alternation.
Shocked by populism, the immediate task of
traditional political parties is to get closer to the
people to address their problems.
8. The division between left-wing and right-
wing blurs, center-left and center-right prevails.
We should analyze both their similarities and
differences. They are becoming more similar
because of the seismic changes in social class
and social fabric of the West. The middle class
are central and have similar demands; political
parties need to meet similar popular requests
like overcoming the economic crisis, creating
more jobs, protecting the environment and
improving people¡¯s well-being. They play down
ideologies and strategies and uphold opportunism,
pragmatism and mediocrity. The Macron
phenomenon is the triumph of the centrists.
(Translated by Yang Le)