Many western democracies in the second half of the twentieth century had two main parties competing for power – a centre right party and a centre left party. This model is being blown apart by Euro membership and the austerity policies it has generated.
The most extreme outcome so far is in Greece, which has arguably the worst experience of Euro membership to date. There latest polls for the forthcoming General Election put Pasok, the old centre left party, on just 5.8% of the vote, with electors put off by its implementation of EU austerity when it was in government. The centre right party is in second place on just 29% of the vote, also damaged by its association with the iron discipline of the Euro. The relatively new left wing anti austerity party, Syriza, currently leads in the polls on 33%. So the two old parties that used to alternate as governments command just 35.2% of the vote.
In France a recent poll for the 2017 Presidential election showed Hollande’s socialist cause struggling on just 15% and the recent version of the Gaullists, Sarkozy’s team UMP, on 27%, both behind the National Front. So there the two main old parties (and successors) on this particular poll were on just 42%.
In Spain PP, the right of centre party is on 28.6% and PSOE, the left of centre party on 23.4%, before the onslaught of Podemos, the left wing anti austerity party on 23%.
In Italy, with no tradition of stable majority governments, the present left grouping is polling well at 37% whilst the right of centre alternative, Forza Italia, languishes on 14%. The 5 Star challenger movement is on 19%. The latest surge has come for the regional party , the Lega Nord, with 13% of the overall vote, concentrated in the north where they seek a largely independent Padania under a loose federal structure. In both Italy and Spain the richer parts want to split from their nations, or at least control more of their own money.
Even in Germany, where the Euro has worked well for the country and where recent economic performance has been much better, the CDU and SPD only marshall 65% of the vote between them and have ended up in grand coalition as neither can win outright or win in coalition with similar allies.
The interesting question is why do these traditional parties across the zone remain so keen on the whole project, when increasing numbers of their electors reject it or want it modified, and when electorally it is so damaging to these parties? It appears that the southern countries cling to the idea that Germany will pay more of the bills and they need to stay in and try and change it, whilst Germany makes clear she can only put up with it if the Euro is on German terms of no bail outs, no cross guarantees, and tight control of spending and deficits.
It is also interesting that none of the challenger parties so far have managed to win a majority, and none of the challenger parties outside Germany (save in France) want to get out of the Euro anyway. The Euro has helped make a mess of the old parties, but has so far not triggered its nemesis with strong anti Euro parties. The Greek election will be fascinating, to see if Syriza can win as a challenger, and then to see if they can stay in the Euro and deliver their promise of debt cancellations and less austerity.