By Bavneet Kaur, UVic student at the Department of Political Science
I happened to find a video on EUCA.net that showcased a panel with Dr. Oliver Schmidtke, Dr. Valerie D’Erman, and Dr. Kurt Hübner entitled “Austerity and Social Inequality: The Rise of the Populist Right and the European Budget Crisis”. The discussion mainly focused on the new Italian coalition’s economic policies that steer away from the austerity measures that they are obligated to follow under European Union Commission rules. Many interesting points were brought up during the discussion which included: the rise of populist parties and the blurring of left and right ideologies on the spectrum, and economic disparities in relation with its divisive characteristics that are resulting in spatial divides.
Both Dr. D’Erman and Dr. Schmidtke brought up an interesting point regarding the weakening of many left-wing parties. The reason that left-wing parties are losing voters to populist parties is because they have adopted numerous left-wing policies, while still retaining characteristics that align the party on the right of the political spectrum. An example of this is the populist coalition government of the Five Star Movement and Lega Nord, the former is more left-leaning and the latter is described as far-right, but they have managed to form a majority government. This coalition has brought forth policies such as guaranteed income for the poor which would cost an estimated €17 bn to implement, and also go against the austerity measures that Italy is obligated to follow, as negotiated previously with the EU Commission. However, what I see as one important point of contention that has started to change the political landscape in Italy, and potentially spreading across Europe, is that two parties from different sides of the spectrum are able to form a coalition and put forward left-wing policies. One wonders how the electorate feels about such coalitions forming, or do they no longer value the political ideologies when voting? In the past, the electoral tended to support a political party that aligned itself with a specific political ideology.
The panel discussed a very interesting point that acts as a solution towards voters who are disenchanted with democracy, and that is to recreate the social contract in respective societies where disenchantment with democracy is occurring. Both Dr. D’ Erman and Dr. Hübner interestingly brought up the social contract in the discussion with regard to effectively meeting the needs of the public. Hobbes states that the world is essentially an anarchy, in which each person lives and survives by protecting themselves. This sense of insecurity cannot last long, and at one point a ruler capable of protecting the majority is selected. A social contract is created in which the majority hands over a significant amount of power to the ruler (or Leviathan), essentially making decisions on behalf of them, and in turn, the ruler will ensure what the majority want- security and protection. The social contract will only be applicable in society if the majority feel the contract is being upheld. Today, when one sees the anger and resentment amongst people against the elite and cosmopolitans, and the uneven economic changes occurring due to globalization, the social contract needs to be reformed so the “left- behind” feel less alienated and more secure with the new changes occurring in today’s world.