In Europe, centrists struggle to dislodge left-right blocs

24th April 2007, Comments 0 comments

HELSINKI, April 24, 2007 (AFP) - The elimination of centrist Francois Bayrou from France's presidential election illustrates the difficulties experienced by Europe's centre parties to dislodge traditional left-right politics.

HELSINKI, April 24, 2007 (AFP) - The elimination of centrist Francois Bayrou from France's presidential election illustrates the difficulties experienced by Europe's centre parties to dislodge traditional left-right politics.

Finland is currently the only exception in Europe.

The Finnish Centre Party, which has 200,000 members or as many as Nicolas Sarkozy's UMP or Segolene Royal's Socialist Party, has headed a government coalition since 2003.

From 2003 until March 2007 it held a majority with the left, and since March legislative elections it has governed with the right.

According to historian and political expert Seppo Hentilae, the Finnish Centre Party's unique position in Europe is attributed in part to local factors: there is still a large agrarian vote in Finland, representing the party's traditional voter base.

Another factor is Finland's system of proportional voting, which limits the dominance of larger parties.

Elsewhere in Europe, centrist parties, whether they lean to the left or the right, have tended to act as junior coalition members, filling the gaps to help bigger parties achieve a majority, or as marginal parties occasionally sought out by governments to help pass legislation.

Such examples are Sweden's Centre Party, which is a member of the four-party centre-right coalition, and Spain's right-leaning regional nationalist centrists, who occasionally provide support in parliament to the Socialist government.

In Denmark, there are no longer any centrist parties in parliament after poor election showings by the Centre Democrats in 2001 and the Christian Democrats in 2005.

"The space between the left and the right is limited, political traditions are strong and persist," French historian Jean Garrigues, the head of the French Committee of Political and Parliamentary History, told AFP.

"It's much easier in countries where you have proportional voting systems, such as Germany. Conversely, in Britain (which has a majority voting system), attempts to create a (majority) centrist party, the Liberal Democrats, have failed. British politics remain bipolar," he said.

But, he noted, as in the Nordic countries Britain's Labour Party "is centrist without saying so."

Britain's Liberal Democrats have gained ground in recent elections, garnering 22 percent of the vote in 2005. But the system of majority voting limits the party's influence in parliament while boosting that of the two main parties, Labour and the Conservatives.

The same is true in France where, with the exception of Valery Giscard-d'Estaing's 1974-1981 presidency, the centre has been relegated to a support party on the right wing.

Francois Bayrou, who tripled his 2002 score by winning 18.5 percent of votes and placing third behind Sarkozy and Royal, has called for a "healthy dose" of proportional voting in the French election system.

In Italy, Pierferdinando Casini, the head of the centre-right Christian Democrats, would like to see the emergence of a centrist force, proposing an alliance with the left-leaning Catholic centrist party Marguerite.

The latter has rejected such a tie-up and instead merged with the Left Democrats.

"The bipolar system is holding its ground in Italy," political scientist Sergio Romano said.

Jean Garrigues predicted meanwhile that the stage could be set for the emergence of a centrist force in Europe.

"It's too early to speak of the establishment of a kind of 'Centrists International' but there is clearly an attempt to seek out a compromise between the liberalist systems that characterised the period between the two World Wars and the welfare state that has characterised postwar democracies," he said.


Copyright AFP

SUbject: French news

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