This article is from the July 2004 edition of Socialist Voice
Joe Higgins Column
In the Euro Election Campaign the Fianna F‡il party, with 29.5% of the first preference votes, recorded its lowest result in any national election since the 1930s. This was because of the same factors that influenced the Local Elections - anger over Government failures with regards to the health and educations systems as well as other issues.
It was not just in Ireland that right- wing government parties were given a battering by the voters. In fact, ordinary people throughout the length and breath of the extended European Union used the Euro Elections to register a major protest against their national elites and E.U. policy, either by mass abstentions or by voting against the parties that have been inflicting neo-liberal policies of privatisation, deregulation and so-called pension reform on them.
The turnout in the ten countries which have just joined the EU in central and eastern Europe was only 28.7%. Quite clearly a majority of the population in these countries have no illusion that joining the EU is going to mean a significant transformation in thier fortunes. They probably see that it will be a gravy train for the elite of politics and business at their expense. This view is further borne out by the results in these countries where a number of anti-EU parties and candidates were strongly supported.
While on average, in the "old" E.U. the turnout rate slumped, Ireland, the U.K. and the Netherlands were exceptions. In these countries, voters turned out in greater numbers than five years ago to deal heavy blows to their respective governments.
Throughout the EU, where incumbent governments had been imposing neo-liberal policies of privatisation of public services, deregulation and attacks on the pension rights and working conditions, there was a sharp reaction against them. In Britain, New Labour's share of the vote slumped to 22% - its lowest levels in a national election since 1918. Obviously the hatred of Blair's criminal policy towards Iraq was an extra factor here. In Germany, the Social Democratic party under Gerhard Schroder suffered its lowest vote since 1932 at 21.5%. This was in reaction to the brutal package of economic and social measures impacting on the German working class, which Schroder has been pushing with the backing of the German bosses.
One thing that is evident from the Euro Elections is the glaring lack throughout the EU of mass parties of the left that would reflect the opposition of the working class to neo-liberalism and its hatred of governments pushing through right-wing "reforms", especially governments made up of parties claiming to be Social Democratic or Labour. Unfortunately, this vacuum has resulted in extreme right wing parties getting increased support in some countries where they seemed to be putting up an opposition, such as the Vlaams Blok in Belgium.
Over recent years, important sections of the organised working class have been engaged in mass struggles in defence of living conditions and pension rights across a number of major European countries. These struggles and the opposition of workers to further attacks will be expressed in the creation of new formations that will become mass workers' parties.
Learning from the betrayals of the social democratic and labour parties these new workers' parties have to be committed to socialist policies and to real active struggle to defend workers' rights and to be champions for the poor and the marginalised.