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OPINION AND ANALYSIS | 15-06-2024 06:24

Right is always right, right?

Fragmentation is the name of the game both here and there – Europe’s far right is merely the loudest and most visible.

Looking behind the headlines is at least as necessary as beyond – something President Javier Milei and various media both at home and around the world failed to do when gauging this month’s European elections. On the eve of flying out to Italy for the summit of the G7 (a majority of whom are European) hosted by the furthest right of that septet, Milei enthused over “the tremendous advance of the new right in Europe … sweeping the [parliamentary] elections,” clearly projecting it in his mind’s eye to next year’s midterms here. Such is his big picture from the headlines but the whole is not always more than the sum of the parts, which upon closer examination point to continuing parliamentary fragmentation both there and here.

These multiple parts may be dissected later within the limits of this space (and these are many indeed with 720 European Parliament seats scattered around 27 member countries) but first a couple of general points. The advances of the far right have been widely and validly interpreted as reflecting a growing anti-system rage but frustration and anger do not necessarily send people heading to the polling-booth – in most European Union countries only around half the electorate voted. And when the rage is translated into ballots, these will not necessarily favour President Milei. One paradox of the European voting was that the badly beaten Spanish PSOE socialists headed by the demonised (by Milei at least) Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez were actually the most successful ruling party in Europe with a higher percentage than the few incumbent winners such as Italy’s premier Giorgia Meloni. So strong indeed was the anti-government trend that the election’s biggest loser, shattered French President Emmanuel Macron (with under 15 percent for his party), seems almost to be wishing that the snap legislative elections he felt obliged to call force him into “cohabitation” with a far-right premier so that his followers can slip into the more comfortable role of opposition come the next general elections.

Yet this column cannot repeat often enough that fragmentation is the name of the game both here and there – Europe’s far right is merely the loudest and most visible of many fragments with less seats than in 2019, contrary to general belief and media hype (133 for its two caucuses out of the 720 seats as against 135 of 751 in 2019 when Britain was still a member). Talk of polarisation is too often a crutch for lazy pundits rather than an actual reflection of reality. There is also a growing trend among media analysts to reduce highly complex issues to a single face in order to package them for mass audiences – thus the multiple travails of the omnibus bill in the Senate all revolve around Unión Cívica Radical Senator Martín Lousteau, the growing problems of a dysfunctional Human Capital Ministry all centre on its singular legal beagle Leila Gianni and the whole vast universe of the impoverished can be encapsulated into a sole activist such as social leader Juan Grabois or picket leader Eduardo Belliboni.

The European Parliament breaks down into eight different caucuses each housing multitudes of parties with fully 50 of the 720 deputies outside these folds. Nor are even the multiple components always atomistic – thus in Spain the left wings of Catalan, Basque and Galician separatism pursuing entirely different national visions felt obliged to pool forces in order to scrape three seats. Tails wag dogs both here and there. Thus in Argentina Patagonia with barely three million out of 46 million accounts for a quarter of senators while the EU’s biggest four (Germany, France, Italy and Spain with well over 250 million of the EU’s almost 450 million people) have only 314 of the 720 seats between them – Italy has only 12 times Malta’s seats with over 100 times its population. Adding up the two leading parties, polarisation loses out to fragmentation time after time – a combined 46 percent in France and Germany (with the far right among the top duo in both cases), 51 percent in Italy, 64 percent even in Spain, etc. etc. This columnist – whose first post-university job was working towards a uniform electoral system for the first directly elected European Parliament in 1979, evidently a failure from this month’s electoral process spanning four days – would love to continue the number-crunching but better give it a rest.

It could always be argued that a mosaic European Parliament is more in keeping than solid majorities with what is at the end of the day a representative rather than executive institution – even if Brexit is just one consequence of the perception of this continental bloc being run by Eurocrats rather than its elected voices and although even the world’s biggest tech titans (recent chums of Milei) might not consider the European Parliament all that toothless after its recent legislative intrusions into their digital turf. According to that argument, the Strasbourg talking shop plays an even more secondary role than Congress in Argentina’s ultra-presidential democracy and there is thus no basis for comparison. 

Yet Milei has chosen to make that comparison. This columnist sees that comparison as far more valid for fragmentation – almost half of Argentine deputies (120 of the 257) are neither libertarian nor Kirchnerite – than for any rightist surge. If Milei could reach the Presidency with 30 percent in last August’s PASO primary, the French right would be entitled to similar aspirations with 31.5 percent this month. Yet this support is always a fraction of the electorate (one-sixth at most) and always a protest vote which can fade (the Greens dropped from 74 to 53 European seats this month) or mellow like Meloni. The right across the Atlantic is just as fractious as the Milei administration, as Marine Le Pen’s expulsion of her German brethren from the European Identity and Democracy caucus shows. Milei might be right without fail but not always right.

Michael Soltys

Michael Soltys

Michael Soltys, who first entered the Buenos Aires Herald in 1983, held various editorial posts at the newspaper from 1990 and was the lead writer of the publication’s editorials from 1987 until 2017.

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