Is the Left Capable of Governing in Europe?

This article was originally posted on RealClearWorld.

Contrary to the imaginations of most Americans, Europe is not a socialist utopia — mainly because it’s neither socialist nor utopian. Yes, Europeans favor bigger government and more generous social safety nets, but (depending on the country) they can be surprisingly conservative, particularly on the issues of abortion and immigration.

This reality, however, has not killed the European stereotype. Indeed, one prominent American journalist referred to conservatives as a “remnant party” in Europe, despite the fact that as recently as March 2012, according to this nifty interactive map in The Guardian, 20 of the then-27 member nations of the EU were governed by center-right parties. (Note: The map has not been properly updated since 2013.) Today, the left-right split is roughly even.

Yet, an intriguing trend has emerged from the natural ebb and flow of political dominance. Center-left parties, particularly in the major European nations, appear weak, shriveled, and unable to govern.

In Germany, for instance, the moderately conservative Chancellor Angela Merkel has been in power since 2005. Her first government was a grand coalition between her center-right party (CDU) and the center-left opposition (SPD). Her second government, beginning in 2009, disposed of the SPD and replaced it with another conservative party, the FDP. In 2013, the SPD hoped to take back complete control of the Bundestag. It failed. Now, it finds itself in yet another grand coalition under the auspices of Mrs. Merkel.

In France, the center-left and hapless Francois Hollande is the most unpopular president in modern French history. Nicolas Sarkozy, who was booted from the presidency in 2012, is making a political comeback. He is now the president of his center-right party (UMP), and he is well poised to recapture the presidency in 2017. Hollande, should he choose to stand for the election, is unlikely to survive the first round of voting. Instead, polls suggest that Sarkozy’s biggest rivals are fellow UMP member Alain Juppé and far-right nationalist Marine Le Pen. The center-left will not even be a factor in the next election.

Similarly, in the United Kingdom, Labour’s love has been lost. Ed Miliband, the current Labour leader, is widely perceived as weird and uncharismatic. There is even an entire website dedicated to his weirdness. The Conservative Party, which for the past couple of years appeared dead-in-the-water, looks increasingly likely to be re-elected, especially if the 16% or so of British voters who prefer UKIP, an anti-EU party, get cold feet and pull the lever for the Tories.

Now, the brand new center-left Swedish government, not even three months in power, hascollapsed. Fresh elections will be held in March 2015.

Of course, none of this means that Europe is going to suddenly take a hard turn to the right (much to the chagrin of several ultra-nationalist and racist parties). Eventually, center-right politicians will prove themselves incapable of governing, and the center-left’s fortunes will be revived. But that scenario, under the current circumstances, appears to be a rather distant prospect.