The Wall Street Journal takes a bemused look at political trends in Western Europe, and wonders why left parties are struggling:
The economic recession should have meant easy votes for Europe's left-wing movements, longtime critics of unchecked capitalism.
Yet as Europe goes to the polls, left-leaning parties across the continent are looking likely to falter. That's true both for those in government, such as in the U.K. and Spain, and in the opposition -- such as France, Germany and Italy.
There are three possible explanations given: first, that right-of-center parties in Europe have generally moved left during the crisis; second, that the left-of-center parties are in a general disarray; third, that economic hardships foster nationalism, and nationalism is the traditional domain of right parties.
While there are probably elements of truth in all three, there is another possibility that has nothing to do with "Europe" (which, in any case, includes more than five countries). All politics is local, as they say, and each of the countries discussed in the article are faced with different domestic concerns. In the U.K. the criticisms of the government well run beyond the current financial crisis (which occurred on Labour's watch) and include the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, corruption, and fiscal imprudence that was well underway before the financial meltdown. In Germany, Merkel's coalition includes the left-of-center Social Democrats, does not have to apologize for foreign military adventurism, is able to lay the blame for the economic collapse at the feet of the U.S., and has remained dedicated to a strong welfare state and fiscal discipline. In Italy, Berlusconi just came to power last year (so blame for the current crisis can be deflected) and is thought as the best option for economic reform, while the left showed its inability to govern well in the last government. Zapatero's rule in Spain has always been tenuous, and his re-election early last year (before the economic collapse) followed years of solid economic growth. And I think it would be difficult to argue that Sarkozy is more popular now than when he took office.
Of course there are many other possibilities. But when looking at the political state of play, context is everything. The Journal has done a poor job of providing that context to its readers.