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October 24, 2017

Is Kaczynski tired of ruling behind the scenes?

We don't usually do rumours but, if true, this is significant. The Polish press is abuzz with stories about an impending government reshuffle. The ultimate source for all this is an article in the Polish weekly Sieci Prawdy, summarised in wPolitice. But in Poland it's not the PM Beata Szydlo that's considered the real power, but the PiS leader Jaroslaw Kazynski who rules behind the scenes. So, when the Polish press talks about a reshuffle, it doesn't exclude that Szydlo will be one of the ousted ministers, to be replaced by Kaczynski himself. One possibility is for Szydlo to lead the PiS slate for the 2019 European parliament elections. The foreign minister Witold Waszczykowski is also widely expected to be replaced. 

Ostensibly, Kazynski's move would end the visible infighting in the Polish cabinet. We suspect that the move may also have something to do with president Andrzej Duda's veto of the judicial reforms proposed by the government before the summer. Kazynski may feel he's better able than Szydlo to confront Duda.

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October 24, 2017

An era of movements instead of parties?

Remember Benoît Hamon, the Socialist candidate-by-accident who will go down in history with a record low for the Socialist vote in the French presidential and legislative elections? Hamon now launched a consulting phase for his new movement, called Mouvement du 1er juillet (M1717), to become a party by December. Another new movement on the left.

Are we in an era of movements rather than parties, as l’Opinion sees it? Hamon and Jean-Luc Mélenchon are banking on generating momentum through movements like this. It is possible only because traditional parties have not yet found their place in Macron’s world. 

The left has been pulverised - the Greens and the Communists almost disappeared from the scene, and the Socialists succumbed to deep internal divisions. On the right, the Front National is weakened by the departure of its top strategist, while the Republicans still seek to clarify who they are in this new political landscape. The elections for a new president of the Republicans is certainly an occasion to mark a new beginning. But the current debate of whether or not to exclude Édouard Philippe or others who joined Macron’s government as party members is depressing. Republicans remain divided over its doctrine and, like MoDem or the Costructifs, they still have to find a way to oppose the government without becoming a caricature. Everything seems to come from Macron, or to go back to him. But Macron’s strength is also his Achilles' heel, concludes Nicolas Beytout. His is a movement with great ambition and goodwill, but too vague in its mission. A stable democracy needs a healthy opposition. We are still not there in France.

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October 24, 2017

On the decline of the traditional parties

The German political scientist Wolfgang Merkel has an interesting essay in FAZ, in which he dissects the inexorable declines of what is known in Germany as the peoples' parties - like CDU or SPD - parties that purport not to represent the interest of specific group in society, but of society as a whole. These traditional parties are in a stage of secular decline, the most extreme example being the near extinction of the Dutch labour party at the last elections. There are many aspects of his long essay, which we cannot do justice to in this brief summary, but what we were particularly interested was his analysis of the four stages of the decline of the parties, which started in the late sixties and early seventies.

For the centre-left, the decline started in the early 1970s, an age of a paradigm shift in politics when economic crises triggered the neo-liberal counter-revolution, starting in the UK and the US. This left many people without the degree of social protection they enjoyed earlier.

The second phase, again affecting the centre-left more than the right, has been the conflict between economic and ecological interests, which led to the rise of Green parties recruiting their voters mostly from the centre-left.

The third phase came with the rightward shift among centre-left parties in the 1990s (New Labour, Clinton, Schröder), which opened up a permanent vacuum for parties of the hard left to fill. 

The fourth phase, affecting the centre right, started in the mid-1980s and reached its climax in the current decade: the rise in European integration and cross-border immigration opened up a political space for parties on the far right.

Merkel’s overall conclusion is that the decline of the large parties cannot only - or even primarily - be explained by structural shifts in society and economics, but is mainly the result of decisions taken by policy makers who traded off short-term gains for a long-term decline of their parties. Merkel is pessimistic about the long-term consequences of this development, because parliamentary democracy is critically dependent on strong parties.

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