And it bodes ill for the conservative sweep of Europe.
Several weeks ago, I had the opportunity to see His Excellency Simeon Djankov, Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister of Bulgaria, speak on both
the global economic crisis and Bulgaria. He was a brilliant individual and is among the most-cited economists in the world, who has helped oversee a five-fold decrease of the Bulgarian budget deficit since being in power. One remarkable thing that he pointed out, when explaining the economic crisis, is how very different the crisis was in one particular aspect-- the political aspect. Historically in times of economic crisis, the governments of Europe would elect to power socialists and left-wingers. This time around it was all different; today, 23/27 European Union governments define themselves as center-right or conservative, including every major country except Spain and Greece (both of which are floundering). For the first time in Swedish history, the right-wing government has remained in power through two elections.
This was, argued Djankov, because there had been a change in thinking for Europeans. No longer could free markets, capitalism, and economic liberalism be to blame for financial crises-- this time, nations blamed regulations and governments for the mess, and subsequently were clamoring for more economic freedom to get out of it. He used Bulgaria as an example; today, a record number of people are moving TO Bulgaria for work and citizenship due to the low taxes and great job growth. The debate in that country right now is some radical finance reform-- putting fiscal rules into the Bulgarian constitution that include a cap on expenditures, a cap on deficits, and a 2/3 majority to raise taxes.
While conservatives have thus managed to remain in power despite massive public demonstrations against seemingly-draconian cuts in spending seen throughout the United Kingdom, France, and Italy, issues of personality, corruption, and fear may threaten to topple some of these governments. Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi narrowly avoided a vote of no confidence at the end of last year; I happened to be in Italy at the time and witnessed how entirely enraptured the country was in the attempt to remove him-- the general consensus was that they did not like his cuts and really did not like him as a person, but understood the necessity of some of his politics. His personal corruption--mafia ties, media control, "bunga bunga" orgy parties, etc--has led to a trial against him
for allegedly sleeping with an underage prostitute. So far, his strongest defense is that, at his age, it would be impossible for him to sleep with as many women as he is accused of. Combined with his now-awkward friendship with many of the fallen and falling Arab dictators, his grip on power is slipping fast.
Today, German Chancellor Angela Merkel also suffered a serious setback. Her Christian Democrat party lost control of a state government
to the Green Party, giving that party its first governorship in Germany. The Greens campaigned against corruption in her government and, in the wake of the Japanese disaster, against her government's support of nuclear energy. With nuclear power now abandoned
in Germany, it was still not enough for her ruling coalition to maintain power, and bodes as a bad sign for her government's reelection prospects nationally. It is also said that French President Nicholas Sarkozy has been so forceful about Libya in order to bolster his flopping image at home as he prepares for reelection-- government missteps, gaffs, some corruption, and general dissatisfaction with Sarkozy are threatening to topple him as well. Thus while the conservative wave in Europe may maintain its influence in restoring the economies of those states once trapped behind the Iron Curtain, it is increasingly appearing that the personalities of the Western European leaders could return center-left governments to power in the next round of elections despite the fact that their economic policies are what is saving those countries from the brink of bankruptcy.