The Future of Green Parties
By Colin Raaen*
The rise of Green political parties in Europe is relatively unique when compared to democratic systems in other regions of the world. In European states, such as Germany and Sweden, the Green parties have grown to acquire significant influence within national parliaments and in many cases have been able to force mainstream political parties to give greater consideration to environmental policies. This success, however, has brought into question whether these parties can survive in the long-term, as durability in politics tends to rely on the ability of a party to address multiple issues. Some Green parties have already begun to address more mainstream issues, as a way of consolidating electoral success, although environmental policy remains the core issue of advocacy. Furthermore, Green parties may need to focus more on developing their representation supra-nationally, within the European Parliament, for example, in order to advance their goals.
To assess where the future of Green parties lies, we must first look at where these parties came from. Green parties began to emerge in Europe during the 1970s and increasingly throughout the 1980s. Their main focus at this time was on developing as single-issue parties advocating reform of environmental policy to include greater consideration of clean energy and reducing the use of nuclear power. Many green parties were formed out of earlier movements to promote nuclear disarmament and the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, advocating a more pacifist and internationalist foreign policy than that familiar during the Cold War. Green parties were seen to challenge mainstream political systems, implementing a more informal and less structured way of engaging with the public than traditional European parties – for example, being faster to embrace direct action and later on social media.
During the 1990s, many parties responded to poor electoral success with party reform and an assimilation process towards a more orthodox party structure. Along with organisational reform, many also altered their goals and objectives to include issues less related to environmental policy. This process put pressure on the informal nature of green parties. The German Alliance ’90 party probably best illustrates this process of formalisation, as it developed through the 1990s. During this period, the party eliminated term-limits for its party leaders, streamlined its federal executive committee and increased the role of regional party leaders and parliamentary deputies. This resulted, arguably, in a greater willingness from the German political class to consider their views, thus leading to the monumental inclusion of the party into the Red-Green coalition government led by Gerhard Schröder and the Social Democratic Party. Up until this point, the liberal Free Democratic Party had been the kingmaker of German coalition politics and had been included in every coalition, except for periods of grand coalition, since 1945, yet they were ousted in favour of Alliance ’90/the Greens.
Since then, Green parties in Europe have maintained relatively consistent electoral results and representation. Many Green parties have, of course, developed in different ways, with some entering parliament right away with very little pre-parliamentary experience, and others experiencing long pre-parliamentary periods before entering parliament. Similarly, some Green parties have had consistent electoral success whilst others have had relatively weak parliamentary representation.
One way to look at the transformation of Green parties is to consider the extent to which mainstream parties in Europe have acknowledged and developed their environmental policies. In fact, it has been suggested that some mainstream parties actually use green parties, and other single-issue parties, as an electoral tool against their opponents. In 2005, Bonnie M. Meguid proposed a theory, called “adversary strategy”, which contends that some mainstream parties will purposely take an opposing view to a Green party in order to create a divergence between their own ideals and those of the Green party. In doing so, voters are urged to choose between the mainstream party and the Green party based on a single issue, which can alienate voters in a way that reduces the number of votes for an opposing mainstream party. In the 2000 presidential election in the United States, in which Ralph Nader stood as a candidate for the Green Party, for example, the Republican Party went out of their way to make clear their lack of support for environmental issues, thus distancing themselves from Green Party ideals and encouraging voters with strong environmental views to vote for Nader rather than the Republican Party’s real opposition, Al Gore.
It is also important to address the role of Europeanisation and integration and to consider the effect that this may have had in shaping Green parties’ influence in the political system. Green parties have largely shifted their stance on European integration since their creation. Originally, many Green parties had not been in favour of European integration, although this position seems to have softened and they are now generally in favour of an ever closer union. This change in opinion reflects a similar move in left-wing politics, based on an initial distrust of free trade and the single market. Furthermore, green parties tended to view the EU, and Europeanisation, as working against their environmental policy objectives. When the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change began to show what could be achieved by political leadership on an international stage, for example with the Kyoto protocol in 1997, some Green parties begun to turn their attention to Europe and argued for greater reform. In the 1999 European Parliament elections, the Green party coalition called for a more democratic EU with an emphasis on greater transparency and was rewarded with its most successful results to date. In the UK, the Green Party that had campaigned on an anti-EU platform to great success in the 1989 European elections, receiving 15% of the overall vote, abandoned the idea that the UK should exit the Union. Europeanisation of Green parties has also forced them to address mainstream European issues, such as monetary union and sovereignty, on which the parties have generally focused on the role of regional integration as way of strengthening the Union and its environmental policies throughout the world.
Since they were first established, Green parties have gone through a gradual transition from being informal, single-issue associations, to becoming more professional and mainstream political parties. The ascent of Green parties onto the political scene has allowed them to acquire influence, both on a domestic and international stage, causing mainstream parties to pay more attention to, and in some cases even to adopt, Green party environmental policies. Although they do not achieve nearly enough electoral success to be considered a major party family, Green parties do have decent representation in many national parliaments throughout Europe. The most prominent are the Green Party in Sweden, which holds around 7% of the parliamentary seats, and Alliance ’90/The Greens in Germany, which holds around 11% in the Bundestag. At the last count, specific national green parties represent almost 11 million voters across Europe and hold a total of 185 national parliament seats. The European Green party group holds around 8% of European Parliament seats. In the UK, the Green Party has only one MP in the UK parliament, but this is under a first-past-the-post electoral system and nevertheless puts them one ahead of other minority parties, such as UKIP and the BNP. As a result, many Green parties are gradually putting themselves in a position to increase their influence within the European political system in the future.
Bomberg, Elizabeth. “The Europeanisation of Green Parties: Exploring the EU’s impact.” West European Politics. Volume 25. Issue 3 (2002). 51-76. Online Journal.
Burchell, Jon. “Evolving or Conforming? Assessing organisational reform within European green parties.” West European Politics. Volume 24. Issue 3 (2001). 113-134. Online Journal.
Meguid M., Bonnie. “Competition Between Unequals: The Role of Mainstream Party Strategy in Niche Party Success.” American Political Science Review. Volume 99. Issue 3 (2005). 347-359. Online Journal.
Müller-Rommel, Ferdinand. “The Lifespan and the Political Performance of Green Parties in Western Europe.” Environmental Politics. Volume 11. Issue 1 (2002). 1-16. Online Journal.
*Colin Raaen is a former research intern at the Stockholm Network
This month’s Who Govern’s Europe? report looks at the key election in Greece, the results of which the eyes of all Eurozone leaders were fixed, and the French parliamentary elections, which follow the victory of François Hollande in presidential elections held last month.
New Socialist president, François Hollande, consolidated his party’s political authority by exceeding expectations in French parliamentary elections. It had been initially thought that the Socialist Party would be heavily reliant on smaller left-wing parties to secure its majority in the French parliament, but with 280 seats, from a total of 577, the party has 48% alone. When added with the seats of their closest partners (the Miscellaneous Left, the Greens and the Radical Party of the Left) the presidential majority has 331 seats – around 56% of the parliament. The Left Front party, led by Jean-Luc Mélenchon, will provide a supply and confidence arrangement, although Hollande can expect a majority without them. The Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) saw its seat share drop from 313 to 194.
Significant developments saw the National Front secure their first seats in the National Assembly since 1986. Their leader, Marine Le Pen, did not however win a seat after being defeated in Henin Beaumont by just 118, after which she has called for a recount. Her niece, Marion Le Pen, did win one of the seats for her party and, at the age of 22, becomes the youngest French MP in modern political history. Another individual contest that attracted significant attention was the defeat of the former Socialist presidential candidate Ségolène Royal in La Rochelle. Royal, who is also the former partner of Hollande and with whom she has four children, had been expected to be appointed as the new president of the National Assembly. In response to the defeat, Royal blamed Valérie Trierweiler, Hollande’s current girlfriend and French first lady, whom she accuses of undermining her political career, in particular by publically expressing support for the Socialist dissident candidate she was running against.
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Greece held its second election in as many months on Sunday, with the eyes of the world watching to see if the Greek electorate would continue to stand in the way of implementing the latest EU bailout package worth €130bn. In a welcome result for Eurozone leaders, New Democracy was able to top the poll again but this time with enough seats to put together a pro-EU bailout coalition with the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK). New Democracy secured 129 seats (up by 21 seats since last month) in the 300 seat parliament which, when joined by the 33 seats of PASOK (down by 8 seats), secures 162 seats and significantly provides a majority with which to pass to key conditions attached to the EU bailout package.
In response to the results, Antonis Samaras, leader of New Democracy, called for a national coalition government in an attempt to attract the support of the main anti-austerity coalition, SYRIZA, and its charismatic leader Alexis Tsiparas. These attempts ultimately failed and Samaras has instead formed a coalition with PASOK and, crucially, the Democratic Left, which had campaigned against the bailout. In a special post, Oeshae Morgan analyses the results of the poll and its likely effects on the political situation in Europe.
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Greece held its second election in as many months on Sunday, with the eyes of the world watching to see if the Greek electorate would continue to stand in the way of implementing the latest EU bailout package worth €130bn. In this special post, Oeshae Morgan analyses the results of the poll and its likely effects on the political situation in Europe.
Greek Parliamentary Elections 2012
On Sunday, new legislative elections were held in order to elect all 300 members to the Greek parliament in accordance with the constitution, after a coalition was unable to be formed in elections last month. The vote was a key moment in determining Greece’s continued membership in the Eurozone.
The Winners? New Democracy: The Greek electorate nominally ruled in favor of remaining with the single currency, therefore accepting, in part, the implementation of the European bailout and the conditions associated. Syriza also increased its support but was unable to top New Democracy and acquire the 50 extra seats for doing so.
The Golden Dawn Party, a far right party, saw a slight reduction in its votes and seats but it maintained much of its support bettering the Communist Party, despite the recent controversial actions of its party members. Many commentators see the party’s entry into parliament as an indication of the dissention and struggle within Greece today.
Full Results of June 2012 elections
THE CHARGE TO THE WINNING PARTY
Greek President Karolos Papoulias has mandated that Samaras form a coalition promptly, given the immediate need for stability. The New Democracy has to compose a coalition government to achieve a working majority, which in theory means securing 150 seats. With these latest results, the two parties obliged by the latest bailout to implement austerity conditions, New Democracy and Pasok, can now claim a majority with 162 seats. However, indications are that Samaras will attempt to bring other parties into the coalition, to reflect the need for national unity. Pasok are very keen for Syriza to be brought into such a coalition, although Tsiparas has made clear that they have no intention of doing so. This raises the prospect of a minority arrangement in which Pasok would support the government and its implementation of the current bailout, but would remain outside of government. Given the six-week deadline, if the New Democracy were to fail to form a coalition, the President would need to call new elections within 30 days but this is unlikely. Recent developments suggest that the most likely outcome would be a slimmed-down government of 15 ministers dominated by New Democracy with 2 or 3 Pasok ministers and the potential support of the Democratic Left party in parliament.
THE GERMAN DECISION
The German Chancellor Angela Merkel was notably the first European leader to contact Samaras upon hearing the results of the elections. Chancellor Merkel stated that she would “work on the basis that Greece will meet its European commitments”. In the initial period, the election results seem to have reduced demand for German securities as a refuge from Europe’s debt crisis. Samaras is likely to attempt to push for a renegotiable bailout plan and will attempt to use the volatility caused by Greek political instability as his main argument for why European leaders should accept it.
The elections may prove to be a step forward for Greece; although, there is still growing uncertainty as to whether the situation could improve. Opposition parties who chose not to join the national government coalition led by New Democracy could hinder the government’s progress, whilst the support of those that do join may be dependent on the changing public mood.
The prevailing international opinion is that these most recent elections have put an end to the precarious political situation in Greece over the last months, but that all signs continue to point to an eventual departure of Greece from the Eurozone and the continued instability that will likely follow. For many European leaders, the time that is gained from this reprieve will be used to shore up those economies that are perilously close to conditions in Greece.
In a momentous month of European elections and developments, France has elected a new Socialist President while the aftermath of elections in Greece looks set to destabilise the Eurozone for the foreseeable future.
The election of François Hollande as the seventh President of the French Fifth Republic confirmed the Socialist’s popularity over the incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy of the Union for a Popular Movement (UMP). Sarkozy’s presidency of France will be the second shortest in recent French history, longer only (by two months) than Georges Pompidou whose death in 1974 prematurely ended his first term. Despite many polls leading up to the election suggesting a 6% lead for Hollande, the final result in the second round was slightly closer, with Hollande taking 51.6% of the vote. The first round of voting had also been very close between the two main candidates, with Hollande receiving 28.6% to Sarkozy’s 27.2%. The final result was the ninth occasion, out of twelve previous public elections, in which the winner of the first round of voting went on to win the second round as well. Hollande will take office today and becomes the second post-war Socialist French President, after François Mitterrand between 1981 and 1995. The first round of voting was also significant in showing a large portion of France, 17.9%, voting for the far-right Marine Le Pen and, 11.1%, voting for the far-left Jean-Luc Mélenchon. Some early polls for the upcoming parliamentary elections are actually showing the UMP leading the Socialists, which if translated into seats could present France with the possibility of another period of cohabitation, where the president is forced to appoint a Prime Minister of a rival party due their command of a parliamentary majority. There have been three previous periods of cohabitation in France, which have usually been an anchor on the powers and ambitions of the President, the most significant being that between President Mitterrand and Prime Minister Jacques Chirac between 1986 and 1988.
Whilst Greece also went to the polls at the same time as France, the Greeks are nowhere near close to deciding who will govern the country after the results provided no party with any real victory. New Democracy (ND) topped the poll but received less than a fifth of the vote and, even with an obligatory 50 seats bonus for topping the polls, controls only 108 seats in the 300 seat parliament. These seats, added to the meagre 41 seats and 13.2% of votes received by the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK), which had previously been Greece’s largest party, is still not enough to form a majority for the two main parties committed to implementing the reforms necessary to comply with the conditions of a European bailout. The ND leader, Antonis Samaras, was constitutionally obliged to make the first attempt at putting a government together, which he attempted to do by negotiating a “national salvation” coalition, but this failed. The torch was then passed by the Greek President to Alexis Tsipras, the leader of the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) party who finished a surprising second in the election on a platform of anti-austerity and reform based on EU bailout conditions. Tsipras’ attempts were ultimately unsuccessful too and it is now up to Evangelos Venizelos from PASOK. If, eventually, no agreement can be reached between any of the seven parties that now have seats in parliament then it is likely that fresh elections will take place which, according to current polling, would see SYRIZA come out on top.
Other electoral developments in Europe include:
The Stockholm Network’s Who Governs Europe? website has put together a short analysis of the first round of voting in the French presidential election.
The French electorate went to the polls on Sunday 22nd April 2012 to vote for one of ten presidential candidates. It was the ninth public election for the presidency and, as with every other previous vote no candidate received a necessary majority to prevent a second round. François Hollande of the Socialist Party topped the poll with 28.63%, 2.55% less than Nicolas Sarkozy of the Union for a Popular Movement received in the first round of the previous election in 2007. Sarkozy this time finished runner-up with 27.18% of the vote, 1.45% less than Hollande, which is the closest ever gap between the top two candidates. It is the first time in French electoral history that an incumbent president has not topped the first round of voting. Hollande is the third Socialist Party candidate to top the first round of voting, after François Mitterrand in 1974 and 1988 and Lionel Jospin in 1995. Hollande and Sarkozy will now compete against each other in the second round of voting on Sunday 6th May 2012. In the eight previous presidential elections, the candidate that topped the first round of voting has gone on to win the second round on five occasions. Only on three candidates, Jacques Chirac in 1995, Mitterrand in 1981 and Valéry Giscard d’Estaing in 1974, has the second placed candidate topped the second round of voting.
Marine Le Pen from the National Front party finished third with 17.9% of the vote, which is the highest that her party has ever receive in the first round of voting and more even than her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, received when he finished second in 2002 with 16.86%. In total, Le Pen received more than 6.4 million votes, which is even greater than her father received in the second round of voting in 2002, when he received 5.5 million votes. Le Pen also received the second highest number of votes for a female in a French presidential election, after the Socialist Ségolène Royal in 2007. The vote share for the National Front in France is more than any of its fellow members of the European Parliament Alliance of European National Movements has ever received in a national vote and is the most votes received by a far-right European political party in recent history. Jean-Luc Mélenchon of Left Front finished third with 11.10%, despite suggestions that he may have been able to top Le Pen in opinion polls close to the election. It is the fifth consecutive election, since the National Front first contested the presidential election in 1988, that the far-left/communist candidate has finished behind the candidate from the far-right. Mélenchon’s 4 million votes is however almost double the votes received by the Revolutionary Communist League’s (Olivier Besancenot) and the French Communist Party’s (Marie-George Buffet) combined total in 2007. Not since 1981, Georges Marchais of the French Communist Party, has a far-left candidate received more share of the vote than Mélenchon. François Bayrou of the centrist Democratic Movement party contested his third consecutive presidential election. Bayrou received considerably less than his previous attempt, with just 9.13% of the vote compared to 18.57% in 2007. Bayrou did however score more than his first attempt in 2002 when he received just 6.84%. The remaining five candidates received just 6.06% of the votes. Jacques Cheminade of the Solidarity and Progress finished bottom of the poll with just 89,545, repeating his last attempt in 1995 when he received just 84,969.
In total, 35.9 million people voted in the French presidential election, which is the second highest number of people in presidential election history, though less than the last election when 36.7 million people voted in the first round. The turnout was 79.48%, which again was slightly less than in 2007. The turnout in this French presidential election is higher than the last presidential election in the United States, which was 57.37%.
Although presidential elections are not usually directly translated into legislative elections results, which take place a month later, they provide a pretty useful indication of intentions. Usually, the party of the winning candidate will finish above the other main party, even if they did not top the first round of presidential voting, as in 1981 when Mitterrand finished second in the first round voting, first in second round and then topped the parliamentary election with the Socialist Party. The National Front’s second placed finish in the 2002 presidential election did not translate into any seats for the party in the parliamentary elections that followed.
This post provides a monthly overview for April of the most recent electoral happenings on the Who Governs Europe? website, at http://www.whogovernseurope.com. The Who Governs Europe? website is dedicated to documenting electoral developments in Europe. The blog also features individual country profiles and regular previews and reviews of major elections taking place across the 27 European Union Member States.
Recent polls from the French presidential election suggest that the incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy still has some way to go to convince the French electorate that he should be given five more years in power. Going into the campaign Sarkozy trailed the front runner, Socialist François Hollande, in some polls by almost 15% and, although much of this has been recovered, it seems that it still may not be enough. Some polls show that Sarkozy could in fact win the first round of voting, a marked change from only a few months ago when it was suggested that he would finish third, but samples on a second round contest between Sarkozy and Hollande still show the latter with a 6 to 8% lead. Similarly, the fortunes of the far right candidate, Marine Le Pen, have swung from her being thought a possibility for making the second round of voting to now being predicted to finish fourth, behind the far left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon. France goes to the polls for the first round of voting on Sunday.
Meanwhile, Greece has dissolved its parliament in preparation for a general election that will take place on Sunday 6th May. Former finance minister Evangelos Venizelos will lead the PASOK party against New Democracy, led by Antonis Samaras. Current polls suggest that New Democracy lead PASOK by around 5%, but that the two main parties combined may only achieve 29.5% of the vote, which would prove too small to implement austerity measures needed as part of the European bail-out package. Smaller parties opposed to the austerity measures are currently projected to win a combined 43.5% of the vote. The Communist Party (KKE) and the Coalition of the Radical Left (Syriza) are both expected to perform well amid general anger over Greece’s financial woes. A few weeks ago, a pensioner shot himself outside of the Greek parliament in protest over the country’s economic troubles.
Other electoral developments in Europe include:
Robert Fico and his Direction-Social Democracy party (Smer-SD) have been returned to power after snap elections gave them an outright majority in parliament. Robert Fico’s government will replace the four-party coalition that has been led by Iveta Radičová since 2010.
It is the first time since independence that a party in the Slovak Republic has been able to achieve a majority and it gives Fico the opportunity to govern alone. Preliminary results suggest that Smer-SD have captured 83 seats out of 150 available in the National Assembly. Although Smer-SD have remained the largest party in the Slovak Republic since 2006, when Fico first became prime minister, in 2010 they were prevented from governing by a right of centre coalition led by Iveta Radičová and the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union – Democratic Party (SDKÚ-DS).
The failure of Radičová’s government to avoid a vote of no confidence prompted the elections and pulled apart her coalition with Freedom and Solidarity (SaS), Christian Democratic Movement and Most–Híd. All the previous governing parties have suffered badly from this weekend’s election, with the elections of the Christian Democratic Movement party that gained one seat and finished second with 16 altogether. SDKÚ-DS dropped from 28 seats to 11, SaS dropped from 22 to 11 and Most–Híd dropped from 14 to 13. The nationalist Slovak National Party lost all of their nine seats after finishing below the necessary 5% threshold. Aside from Smer-SD, which now has 67 seats more than any other party, the other main benefactors from the government’s electoral collapse was the new Ordinary People and Independent Personalities party (OĽaNO). OĽaNO, led Igor Matovič, had previously existed as a branch of the SaS party but its refusal to approve government proposals caused it to break away, in part contributing to the fall of the government, and now has 16 seats in the parliament.
Politically, the Slovak Republic now faces an interesting few years with Smer-SD elected on a platform of tax increases for companies and the wealthy, which will be used mainly to maintain an EU-mandated deficit target of 3% of GDP in 2013. Fico has also promised to support the EU’s efforts to protect the euro, even though it was the previous government’s agreement to participate in the bailout for Greece that prompted their downfall. In fact, it was Smer-SD’s support for the measures, in exchange for early elections, that allowed them to be passed in the Slovakian parliament. In response to the results, Fico said:
“We succeeded with what we offered as an alternative…We’ve achieved a result that is a pleasant surprise for us, to be honest”.
Turnout was surprisingly high, at 59%, given a widespread expectation that many would choose to shun all parties following corruption allegations. The allegations, known as the “Gorilla files”, suggested that government ministers and opposition politicians in 2005-06 had been bribed by companies keen to secure privatisation contracts. A former economics minister was alleged to have received €10 million and it appears that SDKÚ-DS, which were in power during the period when the bribes were alleged to have been paid, have suffered the most political damage from it. Mikulas Dzurinda, who was prime minister at the time and had been serving as foreign minister up until this weekend , said in reaction to SDKÚ-DS’s defeat:
“It’s clear … Gorilla is to blame”.
Radičová, who was the Slovak Republic’s first female prime minister, has now indicated that she will quit politics altogether and become a lecturer at Oxford University.
Finland’s main governing party, the National Coalition Party, has claimed the presidency for the first time in more than 50 years after Sauli Niinistö defeated the Green candidate Pekka Haavisto in the second round of voting. Niinistö received 63% of the vote and will replace the Social Democrat Tarja Kaarina Halonen, Finland’s first female President, who has reached the end of her maximum two six-year terms.
The result strengthens the power of the National Coalition Party and marks the first time that Finland has been ruled by both a conservative President and a Prime Minister at the same time. In response to the results, Niinistö said:
“The president in Finland has to understand that there are many different thoughts and opinions and that they must be taken into account so that he could be the president of the whole nation”.
Niinistö failed to win a majority of the votes in the first round of the election, receiving 37%. This triggered a second round with the runner up, Haavisto, who had received 19% initially. It was the first time that the Green party had reached the second round of a Presidential election, with their previous best performance of fourth in the 2006 with just 3.5%. Haavisto was also the first openly gay candidate to run for President in Finland, although this didn’t seem to play a large factor in the Presidential debates.
Significantly, both candidates supported continued membership to the Eurozone in an election dominated by Finland’s role in Europe, whilst the Eurosceptic party the True Finns were unable to build on their success in last year’s parliamentary elections. In those elections they managed to received 19% of the vote and 39 seats in the parliament forcing a six-party coalition to be put together to exclude them and the previous rulers, the Centre Party. In this presidential election however, their candidate and party leader Timo Soini finished fourth and received just 9.4% of the vote. The Centre Party’s Paavo Väyrynen managed to rebuild some of their support following disappointing parliamentary results last year with 17.5% of the vote and third place in the first round and the former Social Democrat Prime Minister, Paavo Lipponen, finished a disappointing sixth with 6.7%.
Niinistö, who is a former finance minister and speaker of the Finnish parliament, will assume office on 1st March 2012 and will be the 12th Finnish President since the country became independent from Russia in 1917.
Early elections in Slovenia have propelled Positive Slovenia, a centre-left party created by the mayor of Ljubjana two months ago, into government as the country’s largest party. Elections were due to take place in September 2012 but the fall of the Social Democrat-led government, headed by prime minister Borut Pahor, and the failure to appoint a replacement compelled President Danilo Türk to dissolve parliament.
Pahor has governed in Slovenia since 2008, forging a coalition with Zares – New Politics, Democratic Party of Pensioners of Slovenia (DeSUS) and Liberal Democracy of Slovenia. However, tensions within the government in particular this year on the management of the economy has caused divisions that ultimately led to both Zares – New Politics and DeSUS leaving the government over the summer and a vote of no-confidence in September. Such antics ultimately have proved unpopular and results show that the Social Democrats have dropped from 29 seats to 10 seats, DeSUS went from 7 seats to 6 seats and both Zares – New Politics and Liberal Democracy of Slovenia saw their 9 and 5 seats respectively disappear entirely.
Instead, the vacuum has been filled by Zoran Janković, the mayor of Ljubjana and former CEO of the large Balkan supermarket Mercator, whose new Positive Slovenia party took 28 seats. In addition to this another new party, led by Gregor Virant, called Gregor Virant’s Civic List finished fourth and won eight seats. The main conservative party, the Slovenian Democratic Party led by former prime minister Janez Janša, finished second with 26 seats.
The main focus now will be the formation of a new governing coalition. Janša had been expected to win the election, but instead the spotlight will first be on Janković to try to convince potential partners that he will be able to govern effectively. During the campaign he promised to insulate Slovenia from the sovereign debt crisis within the eurozone, of which Slovenia is a member, and pledged to reform healthcare and pensions. The Slovenian parliament consists of 90 members meaning that either Janković or Janša will need to find a total of 46 seats in order to secure a majority, meaning an extra 18 and 20 seats respectively.
Slovenia has been hit hard by the economic crisis in the eurozone and the latest figures show a contraction in GDP of 0.5%, indicating the real prospect of another foray into recession. Slovenian public debt has more than doubled in the last four years and the country plans to raise a further one billion euros in an auction today despite its credit rating being downgraded to AA- status.
As expected, Mariano Rajoy has led his People’s Party to gain an absolute majority in parliamentary elections held against a backdrop of economic uncertainty. Official results have shown that the People’s Party will hold 186 in the 350 seat Congress of Deputies. The incumbent Socialist Workers’ Party, led by Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba drop down to 111 seats, their worst showing for 30 years.
The economy was unsurprisingly at the top of the election agenda, in particular the extraordinarily high unemployment rate of 22% (more than 5 million people). Added to this, were continual fears about future economic growth and the government’s inability to maintain budget deficit targets, especially in respects to spending by regional governments, to a level that is deemed sustainable by fellow eurozone leaders and, possibly more importantly, the financial markets. However even though the outcome of Sunday’s election was always likely, markets have remained cautious about Spain’s future and auctions of 10-year government bonds have seen their yields hit the dreaded 7% that triggered crises in Greece, Ireland and Portugal. Although markets in Spain are generally expected to rally in response to the result, the immediate reaction on Monday saw stocks in Madrid drop by 1.8% in line with other European markets.
One the main reasons for this is the uncertainty around the economic programme likely to be implemented by Rajoy, who has claimed that any specific pledges during the campaign would likely be irrelevant when he finally becomes president. The People’s Party’s campaign has however indicated how Rajoy is likely to approach many of the decisions he will face when in office. Rajoy’s campaign focused around the issue of austerity and argued for a smaller state, with lower taxes, less regulation and some commitments to privatisation. A target for bringing the budget deficit down to 3% by 2013 has been established and there has been suggestions that the new president may attempt to rush through emergency measures immediately upon winning the election. Rajoy’s administration will not officially be sworn in by the King until mid-December, but given the immediacy of the current crisis in Europe, the new president may be able to find a way to introduce interim measures until then. The outgoing socialist president José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero had been working hard to ensure that Spain remains unnoticed within the Eurozone, at a time when countries such as Greece and Italy have garnered so much attention. Following these elections, he will no longer need to worry about remaining invisible as he will be exiting the political scene altogether. Upon winning the poll, his successor said:
“Difficult times are coming. Spain’s voice must be respected again in Brussels and Frankfurt… We will stop being part of the problem and will be part of the solution”
In many ways, Mr Rubalcaba’s role in these elections has been to try and keep Mr Rajoy on his toes and in recent television debates he has accused the People’s Party of having secret plans for major spending cuts and privatisation. In fact, Rubalcaba’s chances of victory were played down by such an extent by some that it has been suggested that he was already playing the role of opposition leader against a “president Rajoy”.