Western democracies have traditionally produced two main parties, one centre left and one centre right, who compete for power. In sovereign states the party out of power can offer an alternative in big matters like how to run the economy. Those who dislike or disagree with the government can rally round, hope to win the next election and then see the major policy change they want if they win. Sometimes centre left parties adopt more of the centre right agenda to win as with New Labour. Sometimes centre right parties adopt some of the policies of their rivals to win.The important things are they must offer genuine choice and can change things when elected. Sometimes it is because they sell a convincing message of change that they win.
Belonging to the Euro and the EU alters all that. Belonging to the EU without joining the Euro has changed quite a bit of that. As we have seen in Greece, it does not matter what economic policy the voters or the winning parties want, they end up with EU policy which does not change. Greek voters used recent elections to issue a strong protest, but ended up with the same EU austerity policies they rejected. In the EU, now there are large areas including energy, fishing, agriculture and the EU budget and tax requirements that cannot be changed by a change of UK government.
As a result we are seeing in the Euro area the collapse of the traditional parties as frustrated electors seek a change which will still be denied them. Ireland has now followed Spain in producing an election result that does not produce a stable government owing to the decline of the two main parties. Even Germany has the two main parties governing in coalition with each other. In Greece the two old main parties have been hugely damaged by events.
In the most recent results in their respective countries the two main traditional parties managed to poll just 34.4% together in Greece, 40.7% combined in Spain and 49.8% in Ireland. Such is the impact of recent events and of EU policy and the Euro on their economies that now more than half of all voters in each of these three countries rejects both traditional alternating governing parties of the last century and the previous decade. In the UK where the absence of the Euro has allowed a better economic recovery from the crash, the two main parties received the votes of 67.3% of voters, well down on the much higher proportions in past decades. In Germany too, despite being relatively well served by the Euro compared to the badly damaged countries of the south and west, the two main parties only managed to get the votes of 67.2% of those voting in the last election.
The two main parties look hard in each country at seeking to prop up the EU/Euro establishment by entering coalition together,to keep the challenger parties who want a change of policy out of government. Junior partner parties in coalitions often do badly in subsequent elections, so not every country goes this route. It will be interesting to see what the two traditional lead parties in Ireland do now they are faced with this dilemma. Although the UK has not yet needed or wanted a grand coalition, in practice we have experienced a grand coalition of Labour, Lib Dem, Conservative front bench and SNP to drive through many EU measures which Conservative Eurosceptic MPs have fought against. Labour is usually keen to avoid all discussion of the EU, and in office refused to set out just how much power it was surrendering.
What the voters seem to be saying in many Euro and EU countries is they want changes to policy which the EU will not allow. Only the UK so far has tried to get changes to the EU following a General Election result producing a win for a party that represents the UK voters worry about EU policies on welfare and borders. The lack of success in negotiating proper change will confirm many people’s views that the EU cannot be made democratic. The UK model is also one which other countries will not be allowed to follow. The EU as it stands cannot face a renegotiation of membership terms with each country following a General election. However, unless it does so and allows proper changes, the wishes and views of electorates from Greece to Portugal and from Cyprus to the UK will be ignored.