Europe's protest: rebalancing between the US and China

By Dan Steinbock
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail China.org.cn, June 5, 2014
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People hold a giant European Union flag as they take part in a demonstration against the French far-right party Front National (FN) following the vote for the European elections, on May 29, 2014 in front of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, eastern France. France suffered a political earthquake on May 25 as the Front National topped the polls in European elections with an unprecedented haul of one in every four votes cast. [Xinhua photo]

People hold a giant European Union flag as they take part in a demonstration against the French far-right party Front National (FN) following the vote for the European elections, on May 29, 2014 in front of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, eastern France. France suffered a political earthquake on May 25 as the Front National topped the polls in European elections with an unprecedented haul of one in every four votes cast. [Xinhua photo]



Tremors across Europe

Instead of Brussels, Europe is again led by a handful of core economies – Germany, France, UK, Italy and Spain – that collectively account for more than 70 percent of the European economy.

In Germany, Chancellor Merkel’s conservatives and social-democrats retained their dominant position in the European elections, but a new Euroskeptic party, the Alternative for Germany, took 7 percent of the vote, while the neo-Nazi NPD garnered 1 percent. But the political role of the two will remain marginal.

In France, Prime Minister Manuel Valls called the election results “an earthquake” because Marine Le Pen’s National Front garnered 25 percent of the vote and left behind both the conservative UPM and President Hollande’s socialists. In view of past polls, the results were hardly a surprise. Unlike her notorious father, Marine Le Pen has skillfully kept distance to the extreme right, while coopting much of the mainstream vote.

In Britain, the UK Independence Party led by Nigel Farage won 28 percent of the vote. UKIP’s victory reflects a once-in-a-century triumph against the Conservatives and the Labor. If Brussels found Prime Minister Cameron too euroskeptical in the past, it will find him even more critical in the future. UKIP’s triumph has decimated liberal democrats have been decimated, and even Ed Miliband’s role in Labor is threatened.

In Italy, Matteo Renzi’s win has been seen as a triumph of moderate Europe. In reality, he is known as Il Rottamatore (the scrapper): he wants to placate Rome’s “old ruling class.” After he has beaten the more-of-the-same Christian-Democrats, ex-comedian Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement, and Berlusconi’s conservative Forza Italia, his center-left Partito Democratico can force economic and institutional reforms, starting in July when Italy will take over the EU Council’s rotating presidency

In Spain, the two main parties failed for the first time to get a combined 50 percent of the votes, thanks to the gains by Podemos (“We Can”), which opposes austerity cuts and demands fairer wage distribution. Led by the academic Pablo Iglesias Turrión, it is a bottom-up movement, which is dominated by two leftist parties but comprises some 25 fringe parties. It has been influenced by the ideas of Juan Carlos Monedero, who served as a sympathetic but occasionally critical advisor of Hugo Chávez.

But what do Europe’s new leaders want?

Away from US laissez-faire and bandwagoning

While French and German socialists understand the need for structural reforms, they support only reluctantly the austerity obsession, which has caused mass unemployment, new debt and lingering growth in Europe.

With the biggest victory in Italy in some 50 years, Renzi will push for a shift of course in Europe. While Brussels demands tough austerity programs, Renzi hopes to focus on a lower deficit, but slow the schedule for debt-reduction.

In Washington, Europe’s rising leaders have been demonized as “populists” and “hate-mongers.” In reality, it is the approach of the new European leaders toward America and Russia that makes Washington uncomfortable (and could offer a new opportunity window to Beijing).

In France, Marine Le Pen and the National Front have demonstrated how much a broad protest can achieve. Unlike Geert Wilders in the Netherlands, she is not waging “war against Islam” or “fighting the Islamization of French society.” Her predominant political theme has been a protective and strong state that favors secularism, prosperity and liberties.

In foreign policy, she would like to pull France out of NATO. She believes in the idea of the “multipolar world” and would like France to revise its geostrategic relations with the US, particularly Sarkozy-style bandwagoning.

An advocate of more effective corporate tax and lower taxation for small-and-medium size enterprises, Le Pen denounces the “Europe of Brussels,” supports protectionist measures, and opposes unbridled free trade, supranationalism, the euro and the Eurozone. Like her counterparts, she believes that old institutions, such as the World Trade Organization, World Bank and International Monetary Fund have been “expired.”

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