If you have been paying attention to the British mainstream media’s foreign coverage, you might be forgiven for thinking that Europe is on an unstoppable slide to the right, with populist parties dominating the continent’s elections.
This narrative is supposed to give succour to the Braverman-Truss wing of the Conservative Party as it faces electoral oblivion in the next 14 months, after which (certain media owners hope) the Tories will re-emerge as a hard right, Europhobic, culture war machine.
Fortunately, this narrative was punctured last month by the failure of the anti-EU, anti-women, homophobic Law and Justice party in Poland’s elections, although Donald Tusk’s return as prime minister has been held up by president Andrzej Duda.
Now another setback for the European right and their press followers in London has come in the shape of Pedro Sánchez returning as Spain’s prime minister, four months after the election in which the Spanish moderate centrist voters did enough to deny a majority for a coalition of the conservatives in the Partido Popular (People’s Party, or PP) and Vox, the rabidly right wing party that reeks of Francoism.
Yet they also refused to give Sánchez an overall majority; he is now governing only with the support of six Catalan deputies who belong to the most rabidly secessionist of the Catalan independence parties.
There has been much criticism of Sánchez for the means by which he has returned to power – a new law that will offer an amnesty to hundreds of people involved in efforts to bring about Catalan independence, including those arrested and jailed in the attempt to unilaterally separate from Spain in 2017. Protests, some of them violent, have erupted across the country.
Yet the same Spanish Conservatives now condemning Sánchez promoted the Pacto del Olvido (the Pact of Forgetting) to turn a blind eye to crimes committed under Franco after Spain transitioned to democracy in the 1970s, and Tony Blair, with the support of all British MPs, offered amnesties to get the Northern Ireland peace deal to work. The Sánchez amnesty proposals, while messy, are part of the normal trade of politics in any democracy.
If in 2024 Sir Keir Starmer joins Sánchez as a Labour prime minister, it will mean nine European nations are headed by governments of the democratic left, with a further three having social democratic deputy prime ministers.
The idea that all of Europe is turning sharply to the right doesn’t make sense; but that won’t stop the line being peddled by our monolingual London pundits and media.
Denis MacShane is a former Labour minister for Europe.