European Elections: Rise and rise of the rebel philosophy: Ruling parties face big losses

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The Independent Online
THE ELECTIONS on Thursday and Sunday will bring to office Euro-rebels and Euro-fanatics, former communists, neo- Fascists, Greens, regionalists and single-issue amateurs. But from this confusion, a few trends can be discerned. The left is holding its own or gaining; the right is fractured; and voters are deserting traditional parties to the detriment of those in power.

The last time voters chose representatives in Strasbourg, Mikhail Gorbachev was leading the Soviet Union and Ronald Reagan was in the White House. A man called Boris Yeltsin was elected to the Supreme Soviet. Chinese troops crushed mass demonstrations in Tiananmen Square. And Margaret Thatcher said she was ready for talks on European Union.

Almost unnoticed, history was unfolding. A flood of East German refugees was crossing into Hungary, trying to reach the West. A few people even speculated wildly that the Iron Curtain was coming down.

The end of the European left that was predicted to follow the collapse of the Berlin Wall has not happened: the Socialists will remain the strongest party in the Parliament, with between 210 and 220 seats out of 567. But this is hardly a swing towards the radical left. The Socialists European voters will elect are more pragmatic, more centrist and less committed to extending the role of the state than at perhaps any other time.

In France, the Socialists will slip: polls show them down at 18 per cent from 24 per cent in 1989. They are losing because they have been in power for most of the 1980s, as are the Socialists in Spain. Indeed, the anti-government effect is heavily marked in most countries. Many of the right-of-centre governments that ruled for the past 10 years are also facing defeat or losses, most markedly Britain's Tories.

The Christian Democrat movement has been the bedrock of European integration since the end of the war. But the party has collapsed in Italy, lost power in the Netherlands and may even lose the general election in Germany later this year. This block, normally the second largest, will be reduced in size from 162 to perhaps 130.

Much depends on Italy, the first country in Europe to see its post-war political system implode. The coalition parties will all make strong showings, but it is uncertain where Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia and Umberto Bossi's Northern League will find their political homes in the European Parliament. Regionalists will win in Spain and Belgium as well, but may not link up with existing parties.

The far right may not do as well as feared by some commentators worried by the rise of neo-Fascism in Italy. The French National Front and the German Republicans will have fewer seats than in 1989. And the Italian neo-Fascists, desperate to promote their new clean image, are unlikely to line up with either.

The Greens, the standard- bearers of an alternative vision of Europe and of post-industrial politics, should see their position underpinned. They may win up to 40 seats, the party believes, with gains in the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany.

Europe's Communists face an uncertain future. In France, the PCF is running at about 6 per cent in the polls, not much less than in 1989. In Italy, the former Communists, the PDS, now sit with the Socialist group. The reformed East German Communists (also called the PDS) will make a strong showing in east Germany - perhaps 20 per cent - but virtually nothing in the west, reflecting the resurgence of reformed Communists all over the former Soviet bloc.

Then there are a host of other parties scattered around the continent. Bernard Tapie, the former millionaire football boss whose yacht was threatened with seizure last week, is running at 8 per cent in French polls. The Sarajevo List in France will continue their platform of lifting the arms embargo on Bosnia, and could win between 7 and 10 per cent.

Parties that are anti-system, anti-Europe or non-aligned may win one-third of the votes this week. The 1970s, a decade of epic change, created a political structure that began to crumble with the collapse in 1989 of the Berlin Wall. Five years on, Europe's political landscape is still undergoing vast changes, and the new mountains and valleys are only starting to appear.