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Conservative governments in Europe: If they fail, what comes next?

By Paul M. Weyrich
web posted June 24, 2002

French President Jacques Chirac
Chirac

French voters sent the Socialists and their Communist and Green party allies packing in the final round of elections earlier this month. The first two rounds of elections produced the astounding result of the Socialists not even making it into the final runoff election for the French Presidency. That in turn saw incumbent President Jacques Chirac in the second round being re-elected by the largest margin in modern French history.

Then came the parliamentary elections. The Socialists and their allies have had control of the last two sessions of parliament and for the past five years have had to share power with Chirac. This time voters gave Chirac's center-right coalition a huge margin in the parliament. He should be able to enact any legislation he wishes now.

What happened in France follows similar results in Spain, in Italy (where the center-right holds a solid majority in both houses of parliament for the first time since just after World War II), in Austria and even in Denmark and Norway. Moreover the CDU-CSU coalition is currently leading the incumbent Socialists in the polls for the September elections in Germany.

Tony Blair in Great Britain was re-elected to a second term last year or he too might be caught up in this shift to the right. After September he may stand alone among the major European nations with his center-left government. The voters seem to be willing to give conservatives one more chance to try to govern.

Of course some of the reaction of the voters has to do with the relatively bad economic times in the various countries of the European Union. Still the profound shift, which these astonishing elections reflect, has been more culturally based than rooted in economics. In every one of these elections, immigration and the resulting crime from immigrants who refuse to integrate into their new nations have been the dominant issues. The Socialists were not only unwilling to deal with these issues, their policies were seen as fostering the problems in the first place.

The right of center parties made their usual promises about creating jobs and cutting taxes. This time, however, the chief spokesmen for the conservatives promised to crack down on crime and to reform immigration laws. France has been so liberal in its immigration policies that at least ten percent (some estimates run as high as a third) of the nation belongs to Islam. Voters have begun to be fearful.

Whether or not the victorious center-right parties will now actually have the political will to act on these issues remains to be seen. Voters are becoming more and more cynical about the ability of political parties to keep their promises. Voter turnout in French elections was the lowest since the Second World War.

If the center-right parties actually produce some meaningful results, they might well usher in a new era of conservative governance in Europe that could be a model for the rest of the world. If they fail to produce, and given the fact that the left is seen to have already failed, it could mean the end of democratic government as we know it and as it has been practiced on the European continent for the past half century. Failure of the center-right might well bring about a new era of dictatorships or even in a couple of places in Eastern Europe, perhaps a restoration of the monarchy.

Voters are more serious about expecting results than at any time in the modern era. If democracy won't solve their problems they are ready to look to alternative forms of government.

And it may be even more serious than that. Failure of these center-right parties to act could mean the end of the nation-state itself. If national governments led by conservatives fail to produce results, citizens will turn to ethnic groups, religions, families or tribes with whom to cast their allegiance. Similarly, more regional separatist movements are likely to arise.

Just how Chirac's new government (and the other center-right governments mentioned) deals with the immigration issue will be most instructive to watch. That is an issue that will be on the doorstep of the United States in due course. Representative Tom Tancredo (R-CO) is the leader of the immigration caucus in the House. He and President George W. Bush are locking horns over how to handle the immigration question. What Europe does may be instructive to both Bush and Tancredo.

Believe it or not there are actually Tancredo for President bumper stickers floating about the body politic. In this past century it has been the United States that has often led Europe when it comes to political trends. Who knows, this time the situation may be the reverse. If so, Tancredo will become a household name. Won't that surprise the rest of the world?

Paul M. Weyrich is President of the Free Congress Foundation.

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