What is a democracy?Above all, democracy means to have a government and legislation supported by a majority of the voters. Clearly, this is not the case in the U.S., where the current president fell short of nearly three million supporters to his opponent [official result PDF]; a fact debated not only by him (see his tweets on this and similar number-related topics), but also the ‘other’ U.S. media; the non-mainstream, non-liberal, not ‘fake news’ outlets, which reach as much people in America as the mainstream media does. All thanks to an anachronistic, utterly unrepresentative election system (check out the The Green Papers to see how it works). Electoral college? No-one needs to ride on horseback anymore to gather in Washington to elect the president. And the steadily increasing amount of undoubtable unfit-for-office U.S. lawmakers (from state parliaments to the Oval Office, see examples in part 3 of the series) and number of U.S. Americans rejecting the evolutionary “theory” are symptoms of a failing democracy and devolution of a once leading, in education, science and society, nation. The particularities of the French political landscape helped France to maintain a semi-representative parliament (regarding all parties except for the Front National) over most part of the fifth republic, until the last election (see part 2). Nevertheless, an actual majority of voters in the second round voted for the sitting president (some surely quite reluctant), in contrast to the U.S.
|Public acceptance of evolution (study from 2015) vs. |
percentage of "right-wing" parties in latest elections.
Red = false, yellow = don't know, green = true. Quite a co-incidence.
Ideally, the electorate would be directly asked on each piece of legislation, but this is not overly practical, even in case of small countries (see Switzerland). Who has the time to inform himself, between a busy job, updating the Facebook profile, WhatsApp-ing, reading The Donald's tweets, and all the other distractions of the modern world? So, we, the sovereign, delegate our power to a parliament and parties. Our part is easy (in theory): Gather every four years and judge them. At least, this is what we are supposed to do, if we don't, it's our failure, not theirs. Sweden (part1), Germany (part3), and Austria have such nearly representative parliaments by employing a 4% (Sweden, Austria) or 5% threshold (Germany) for entering the parliament. But there is a size issue. The 5%-threshold in Germany can mean that millions of voters are without political representation. Which is worrisome in a EU framework. EU decisions are mainly made by the head of states, thus 2.3+1 Mio Hungarian voters of parties with fascistic tendencies (Fidesz, Jobbik) and 5.7 Mio Polish nationalists and conspiracy theorists (PiS), have a voice, but the same number of Germans may not even be represented in the national parliament (to crack the 5% you needed 2.32 Mio votes in this year's election), let alone the government.
Representative democracy: Coalition and minority governmentsIn representative democracies, coalition governments represent the majority of people that bothered to vote, but there is a hook. Parties may engage in coalitions based on very little common ground, because more natural coalitions are rejected per se. Schröder’s SPD rejected forming a centre-left government in 2009 (Merkel just killed off the FDP), because they considered the Left Party (Die Linke) not fit to rule or support a SPD-Green minority government. Consequence was that we had parliamentary majorities for many social and some environmental topics that did end up in a soft-washed or opposite legislation because SPD (and female CDU/CSU) MPs had to support the essentially conservative-neoliberal government politics. In contrast to Austria, where the FPÖ has become an attractive partner for both the "centre-left" and "centre-right" main parties, Merkel’s (partly) conservative Union and the neoliberal FDP reject the politically close AfD – Germany’s Trumpians (see below) and Tea Party equivalent – as Schmuddelkinder, untouchables (see part 3). [Info to non-Germans: we have a (modern) constitution (the Grundgesetz), and fully operative jurisdiction, including safeguards against political parties that could threaten democracy. So, even with an AfD in government, no Braunhemden will roam the streets again.]
|Minority governments and shifting majorities, some examples what could be decided. Top, shifting majorities in Austria (based on party programmes and statements); bottom, legislation by a hypothetical CDU/CSU-FDP minority government (based on the answers of the parties to the Wahl-o-Mat, see this post [in German])|
*State-funded affordable housing is a long-time policy of the SPÖ, and something the FPÖ put on its election agenda (while rejecting increased taxes to fund it)
Sweden and other small western/northern European countries demonstrate that minority governments are better than forced coalitions of unwilling partners (Be responsible! To the death...) Minority governments are fundamentally democratic and representative as legislation initiatives have to find parliamentary majorities on a case-to-case basis. This may require more work by the politicians (which are handsomely paid for doing the job). But: each party (or even its members) can decide guided by their official policies and consciousness, and not forced by a coalition contract signed years ago. There little risk for chaos, since our established European democracies and welfare states have a quite efficient public sector and well-trained state employees (compared to other parts of the world), hence, we only need politicians to pass legislation. That is why e.g. the deeply divided (Flemish vs. Walloons) Belgium did not tumble into anarchy without any government for 589 days (but wasted the time to negotiate a coalition, rather than just do their jobs passing legislation).
Democracies can make bad decisions, but that doesn’t make them bad democraciesIt pains me to write (as western German). Democracy is more alive in the tiny little remnant of the great k.u.k monarchy than in the forefront runners of the EU such as France (part 2) and Germany (part 3). In Austria the people, as unhappy with their inevitable 'Great coalition' (SPÖ-ÖVP) as the Germans (CDU/CSU-SPD) will probably get their right-ful government. The chancellor will probably be Jungchen Kurz, the young (that's it, nothing else to say about him) leader of a Jovial En Marche!-mimicking movement labelled Die neue Volkspartei (the new People's Party), formerly known as the dust-conservative ÖVP (in contrast to their German sister party, Merkel's CDU, still a really conservative bunch [Wikipedia/ homepage]). He won the election by combining Jupiter Macron's technique, spiced with Marine Le Pen's rhetoric to steal voters from his future coalition partner, and no actual political programme (the ÖVP was so down in the polls before he took over, he couldn't afford scaring off any possible voter).
The ‘junior’ partner will be the ‘blue’ FPÖ, the Freedom Party of Austria [wp/hp] – Austria's original receptacle for those who were (would have been) happy to have their Adolf back and partner of Marine's Front National (FN) in de-constructing the EU, an “Europe of Nations and Freedom” [wp/hp]. Now soft-washed of course, much like the Sverigedemokraterna in Sweden (see part 1) and the Marine's FN in France, and to a degree that even the Austrian social-democrats (SPÖ [wp/hp]) bed them at state level (ironically, in one of the least-Austrian states, the tiny Burgenland, with many ties to Hungary and Slovenia, and worth a visit, and if only to buy Uhudler). The FPÖ didn't fare as well as hoped (because of Kurz), but also was a winner. Two winners joining to form a coalition government with their majority. That is democracy as good as it gets.
|The recently elected Nationalrat, Austria's lower house of parliament. ÖVP and FPÖ were the clear winners of the election, and are likely to form the government coalition. Alternatively, the SPÖ will be ready to enter in a coalition with the FPÖ. Abbrev.: PILZ = Liste Pilz, a non-party [wp/hp]; KPÖ = Communistic Party of Austria [wp/hp]; Grüne = Greens [wp/hp], SPÖ = Social-democratic Party of Austria; NEOS = New Austria and Liberal Forum [wp/hp]; ÖVP = Austrian People's Party; GILT = "My vote counts!" [wp/founder] ; FPÖ = Freedom Party of Austria. |
And they will get … well, they’ll see. Last time, they only got one corruption scandal after the other, ended up with two (finally three) FPÖs and couple of Eurofighters (Typhoons), which are too powerful to start and land within the airspace of Austria and useless. Germany can learn a lesson here, too. But aside this political excitement, living in Austria was good – compared to most other parts of the world, including most states in the U.S. – before Schüssel's first Black-Blue coalition, and not significantly worse after it, or whatever other government (i.e. SPÖ-ÖVP or ÖVP-SPÖ) ruled the small but beautiful country in between the Alps and the Hungarian Puszta. In fact, Austria is a typical example of proper-sized (8 Mio inhabitants) western EU countries that can easily survive without a government (like Belgium).
- The public service sector can be slow but it’s efficient.
- The social backup is nearly as good as in Sweden; although Austrian complain much more about it than Swedes do, but Austrians also seem to consider complaining a sport (whenever I was there, I watched them practising). In fact, the diffuse fear of potentially losing the high standard of public welfare because of immigrants (including the many Piefkes, Germans) was the main reason Austrians voted for Kurz and the FPÖ.
- Austria is a federal, fully structured state (like Germany and similar to Belgium), so you alway have some other government closer to you, dealing with things like kindergartens, schools, police etc. The essential things of living.
Putting all togetherWhen you follow politics in different countries (like me, because I have the time), it is obvious that one should be very careful with terms like fascist, extreme-droite, and Nazi. Not a few statements of the Bavarian CSU would be considered far-right in Sweden, but fully acceptable by Austrian parties with large parliamentary majorities. On the other hand, the political programme of France Insoumise or the PCF in France is fully compatible with that of their Swedish counterparts and acceptable to parts of the German Left Party, but in Austria would be considered far-left (and in the U.S. ... I don't know ... what is worse than communistic?). Parties officially adhering to the same ideology, e.g. social-democracy, may be quite different in their agendas and everyday policies. The German SPD of the 21st century has more in common with the Moderaterna, the Swedish sisterparty of Merkel's CDU than with its Swedish or French counterparts. The latter are now again, where the SPD was in the 70s and the German Left Party is now. The SPÖ is probably somewhat inbetween them and the Bavarian CSU. Both SPD and SPÖ are however great fans of Jupiter Macron, the socially liberal and economically neoliberal French president, advocating policies that at least in case of the SPD are the sole reason they are down on 20%, battling the AfD for second place.
To sum up the four parts, I included all major players in the parliaments of Sweden (tentatively), France (extrapolated from their presidential candidates), Germany (assessment by the Political Compass) and Austria (tentatively) into the 2-axis concept of the Political Compass (which I find quite fitting; just make the self-test).
The only constant is that left parties are actually left and libertarian, green parties are green, and those that call themselves liberals, are typcially neoliberals these days. Freedom only for those that can afford it! And, naturally, freedom from taxes needed to build and equip schools and hospitals for everyone.
Nationalistic-(pseudo)socialistic parties such as SD, FN, and FPÖ pose no risk for our high standard of living or our democracies. The societies in Sweden, France, Germany and even Austria (or other EU countries) are quite modern ones, e.g. far the most people don't think homosexuality is an illness that can be cured. Essentially free-sprited, libertarian in a classic sense, and not rarely more open-minded than their parliaments and governments. This differentiates us from the U.S., where one of the two parties has been taken over by thoroughly Medival mass-movements confusing faith with science, and belief with facts. The U.S. also has never experienced left politics, which means putting the collective well-being above that of the individual jingle-boy. But maybe they are too social for many modern-day voters. How else can one explain the success of distinctly or far-right (economically speaking) parties in countries like France (the Jovial majority of MoDem, LRM, UDI, and Agir) and Germany (CDU, AfD, FDP) in a time of social friction and distress? Maybe, there are more millionaires living among us than visible from the statistics. Or Die Anstalt [video in German] was right again, and the political parties and than their faithful electorate finally sucked up the neoliberal candy seeded 70 years ago by Friedman and his bunch, the founders of the Mont Pèlerin Society [advertising EN-wp/sourcewatch/GE-lobbypedia/hp]. Na dann, gute Nacht public welfare and welcome to the U.S.E.! (probably will have to move back to Sweden at a some point)
- Official site of the Austrian parliament, including the main legislative chamber, the Nationalrat (lower house), and the accessory Bundesrat representing the state parliaments (upper house); in German and English: https://www.parlament.gv.at
- Austrian parties on Wikipedia (the English one): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_political_parties_in_Austria
- Results of 2017 parliament election at the homepage of the Austrian Ministry for the Interior [in German]: https://wahl17.bmi.gv.at/
- Magistratsabteilung MA2412 on YouTube, the city department for Christmas decoration [Language: Central Bavarian]: a comedic depiction of Austrian administration, not as far of the original as one may think (personal experiences). My favorite episode is Geiselnahme (Taking hostages). Like in the real MAs, it takes a while, may escalate a bit, but usually the Parteienverkehr (lit. party traffic; a nice Austrian word for receiving a customer) ends well.
- Eurofigher Affäre, first big bad decision (involving potential bribery) of the first Black-Blue (ÖVP-FPÖ) government and not unlikely blue-print for what might happen in next four years [in German only]: Wikipedia with many links; timeline in Der Standard.
- Site of the Southern Burgenland, naturally in Austrian, English, Romani, Slovenian, and Hungarian: http://suedburgenland.info
- The Political Compass – classifying politics in 2-dimensions (along an economic and social axis): https://www.politicalcompass.org/
- Post explaining the title choice: French and German – the sound (and meaning) of two important words.