Normally American conservatives don’t much care what happens in Europe. But there are already signs that they will interpret this weekend’s European Parliamentary elections, which produced poor results for social democratic parties and an outcropping of far-right victories. The leading indicator was a Drudge Report banner that read: “USA Moves Left, EU Moves Right.”
You know how this will go, of course: Obama is “driving” the US towards “European-style socialism” just as Europe is abandoning it.
There’s only one big problem with this story-line: Europe ain’t abandoning what passes for “socialism” among American conservatives. Indeed, the kind of social policies that largely dwarf anything proposed by Obama in this country are so much a part of the landscape that parties of the Left can’t find traction in hard times, as the Financial Times‘ Tony Barber explains:
[I]n France, Germany and Italy, voters preferred to stick with ruling centre-right parties, even though economic conditions are as severe as anything in living memory.
One reason is that centre-right leaders, alert to the risk of being portrayed as defenders of a heartless or irresponsible capitalist system, have sought to protect citizens against the worst effects of the recession by preserving jobs where possible and letting the welfare state take care of those in need.
Unemployment benefits, access to medical care and other forms of social expenditure, which come into effect automatically during a recession, form a large part of the €400bn fiscal stimulus that EU policymakers claim to have been implementing over the past six months.
This Franco-German model, criticised in the US and UK in the boom years as an unaffordable, bloated welfare system, has turned out to be exactly what most voters want during the recession.
You can understand why conservatives here would want to seize on any evidence from any source to create optimism for their embattled cause and their shrinking party vehicle, the GOP. But unless they want to associate themselves with the relative success of anti-immigrant or neo-fascist parties in the EU elections, they should probably look somewhere else.