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Is anybody listening?
The Euro Zone opinion

Is anybody listening?

At a meeting of the European centre-left back in March, Spain's PM Pedro Sánchez, in full save-the-world mode, announced that in the upcoming EU elections "the very soul of Europe is at risk"

Mark Nayler

Malaga

Friday, 7 June 2024, 13:48

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Something has been bothering me ahead of the EU elections this Sunday, but it's taken me a while to figure out exactly what. It's not just that the phrase "the threat of the far right" has been repeated by Pedro Sánchez and his centre-left allies across the bloc so often that is already a worn-out cliché; nor is it that that phrase becomes inadequate, like a typical EU policy, when applied to all countries indiscriminately (it has more applicability, for example, to Viktor Orban's Hungary than to Giorgia Meloni's Italy).

I now realise that that ubiquitous combination of words was bothering me for a third reason, which only became clear when I discovered the following quote earlier this week.

At a meeting of the European centre-left back in March, Pedro Sánchez, in full save-the-world mode, announced that in the upcoming EU elections "the very soul of Europe is at risk". That's what did it.

Sánchez makes it sound as if the success of right-of-centre parties across Europe is a sort of freak, autonomous phenomenon, unconnected with voter behaviour. Describing parties such as National Rally, Brothers of Italy and Vox as "threats to democracy" only reinforces that impression, making it sound as if they've somehow risen to prominence outside the usual democratic channels - as if everyone wants saving from these tornadoes that are sweeping the bloc, unbidden and hugely destructive.

But of course this is wrong. National Rally, Brothers of Italy and Vox have grown in power precisely because they exist in democracies, and in each case because they exist in their specific respective democracies. Although centre-left parties and individuals - and even old-fashioned liberals and libertarians - might disagree with many or all of their policies, the (perhaps uncomfortable) fact is that they are addressing the concerns of sizable portions of their respective electorates. 'How?' is a fascinating question.

One way for politicians to halt or slow the progress of such parties is to listen to what their voters are saying and speak to those concerns - a radical notion, perhaps, for Sánchez, who secured a third term in power with a deal that caused protests all over Spain. Which begs the interesting question of whether he thinks doing something like that is compatible with respecting democracy.

A friend of mine, a British journalist, recently encapsulated the problem in one of our frequent email exchanges. "Sánchez doesn't seem to realise that democracy is [about] much more than an election every four years," he wrote, "It's [also] about communicating with and persuading the people." Perhaps that inattentiveness and complacency is why centre-left parties are expected to perform badly in many countries across Europe this weekend, including this one.

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