They are in a pickle, mostly ... and it is as most things are - a failure of the fundamentals.
A government should exist for one reason; to serve and improve the lives of its citizens and their liberties. That only works if that is the goal of those who hold the levers of power as well. There is the rub, there is the disconnect.
With a properly educated and informed populace in a well functioning democratic system, more often than not a nation's leaders will do that, but what if they don't? What if they are driven by other priorities?
All politicians are driven for power - that is human nature - and that is why you have checks and balances in place. It is what they want the power for that is the problem.
Do they want power to promote individual liberty? To promote their favorite religious or secular -ism? To do good? Or, for the worst reason, just for power?
What if they don't make decisions for power directly, but are instead using the levers of power for other, petty, almost psychological reasons?
It is the later that seems to make the most sense to me in understanding the decisions we see coming from seats of power in Europe, and in some ways in the USA as well.
I am not the first person to think that many policies are pursued simply so one person in a ruling elite can say and do the right things so another group or cabal in that same self-selecting social circle will say nice things, write fawning articles about how kind and great they are, and more importantly - will invite them and their friends to all the right parties. One must not let a tux collect dust, dontchaknow.
A North American has to be careful in looking at European politics, as our definition of "left" and "right" don't translate very well. Europe has had a century and a half going battle with itself with -isms of their own creation, and as such, the prism they see the political world through is much different than ours.
There is one thing that is common with almost all democratic systems. Democratic systems rely on those within a half a standard deviation from the political center to work roughly in line with the will of the mass of the people.
People can be patient in normal times waiting for the mainstream politicians to address their concerns. When one side of that average figures out where the people have their concerns and adjusts their platform to make that concern theirs - then in a center-right, center-left world - one side of the other wins the next elections. Everyone re-adjusts to the new environment and gets ready for the next cycle.
What happens when for reasons best known to the elite in the center, they refuse to address the concerns of the people? The people will move out from the center to the extremes. If a nation is lucky, one party will make a big adjustment in time to capture those people and pull them back to the center in time. The political critical mass of that nation adjusts a bit, but still remains in line with a democratic norm. When someone from the center does not, a power outside the center who does grows as more an more of the ill-served populace moves there as they feel that they have nowhere else to go to have their concerns addressed.
Such as it was, such as it is, such as it will be.
When you have such circumstances happen and it goes to extremes, it isn't pretty. There are worse and slightly less worse options. 1930s Spain and 1970s Chile picked the correct worse direction and as such, once things normalized, they returned to the democratic fold and are highly functioning nations.
Russia a century ago and Cuba of the late 50s went a different direction, and the results speak for themselves.
It does not have to go to extremes, if you are lucky and you catch it in time. That is where we are in Europe - and all the signs are there of a people on the edge of something.
Via the Express' Nick Gutteridge, let's take a quick review of the goings on in the Continent;
In France Marine Le Pen's controversial Front National came within a whisker of winning control over swathes of the country, whilst the traditionally liberal societies of Scandinavia turned their backs on moderates amid unprecedented migratory pressure.Of course, this all can be traced back to the failure to stop the uncontrolled invasion of hundreds of thousands of unaccompanied, unemployable military aged Muslim men seeking handouts and, for a not insignificant number - rape and terroristic violence.
AUSTRIA: ... extremist politicians have benefited from a surge in support largely due to the ongoing migrant crisis. ,,, In late September the party stormed to success in local elections, doubling its share of the vote to more than 30% and securing 18 seats in Upper Austria, second only to the ruling regional conservatives.
DENMARK: The far-right Danish People's Party (DF) has been so successful in recent elections that it now has the balance of power and could topple the Danish coalition government. The party finished second in June's general election after securing 21% of the vote and 37 seats in the country's 179-seat parliament.
Leader Kristian Thulesen Dahl eventually opted to form a ruling coalition with the conservatives, but has recently threatened to "topple" the government by pulling out if there is any attempt to soften its stance on immigration.
FINLAND: ... The nationalists became Finland's second largest political party when they won 17.7% of the votes in April's general election and entered into a pact with the ruling Conservatives.
Like the DP, the eurosceptic party espouses essentially left-wing economic policies but allied to a hardline stance on immigration.
GERMANY: ... the right-wing Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) party making huge gains off the bank of anti asylum-seeker statements. ... Elsewhere the openly far-right group Pegida held one of its biggest ever rallies in Dresden in October, with 20,000 people taking to the streets to protest against immigration.
GREECE: ... Despite electing a radical socialist government Greeks have also voted in their droves for the openly fascist Golden Dawn party this year. The violent group was one of the biggest winners in the country's September general election, called by president Alexis Tsipras so that voters could have their say on a controversial EU bailout package.
Instead the election served to underline the growing popularity of neo-fascists Golden Dawn, who polled third overall with more than 7% of the vote. After the result was announced its spokesman Ilias Kasidiaris, who sports a Swastika tattoo, triumphantly declared: ³Golden Dawn is a movement of power, it is not a protest movement any more."
Ordinary Greeks have been left feeling betrayed by other European countries over a series of suffocating bailout packages, which have stopped the country's stricken economy from imploding but have also completely stifled any recovery. The country is also on the frontline of the current refugee crisis, with 7,000 migrants arriving on its shores every day.
HUNGARY: ... one in five Hungarians turned to an ultra far-right party in last year's election. The central European state, which is governed by populist right-wing president Viktor Orban, has built a huge 110 mile long fence along its border with Serbia in a desperate bid to keep hundreds of thousands of German-bound migrants out.
But despite Mr Orban's hardline stance against immigration, 20.7% of Hungarians voted for anti-semitic Jobbik in last April's general election.
Jobbik has consistently gained on Mr Orban's Fidesz party in the polls this year, and has scored as highly as 17% before dropping back to 15% in September. But the party has had a serious effect on the country's politics - it was Jobbik which suggested constructing the razor wire fence later championed by Mr Orban, and he also followed their calls to deploy the army to the border to deter migrants.
ITALY: As in Greece, Italian voters are faced with economic hardship and a place on the Mediterranean frontline of the migrant crisis. Despite being ruled by the socialist government of Matteo Renzi, it is the far-right Northern League party which has made real strides in recent elections.
The nationalist party, whose candidates have made xenophobic comments towards Roma gypsies and immigrants, secured its best ever results in this summer's regional elections. Standing on an anti-immigrant platform, the Northern League won the regions of Veneto - with a landslide 50% of the vote - and neighbouring Lombardy.
It also struck a humiliating blow against the ruling socialists by wooing 20% of the electorate in Tuscany, the left-wing heartland of Mr Renzi's Democratic Party.
The Netherlands: the country's main far-right party, Party for Freedom (PVV) could be on track to storm to victory at the next general election. Support for the anti-immigration party has risen to record highs this year, with it opening up a cavernous 18 point lead on all its rivals.
The PVV is run by controversial politician Geert Wilders, who has previously said that Europe should close its borders to Muslims and described the refugee crisis as an "Islamic invasion". More recently he has supported Donald Trump over his similar proposed policy for the United States, saying he hopes he becomes the country's next president.
SWEDEN: ... Sparsely populated Sweden, home to just 9.5 million people, will take in a record 190,000 refugees from the Middle East this year alone.
Fears over how the predominantly Muslim migrants will integrate into society has seen traditionally liberal Swedes turn their backs on socialist politicians and instead embrace the anti-immigrant Swedish Democrats (SD).
The SD - which wants to close Sweden's borders to immigrants and has neo-Nazi ties - has seen a surge in support with eight separate opinion polls this year placing it as the largest party in the country. Seven of those have put its support at over 25% - comfortably ahead of the ruling Social Democratic Party.
The mainstream center-left and center-right politicians need to change faster than they are if they want to stem the rise of the nationalists. If they don't, the problem will get horribly worse until the nationalists gain power and then they will fix the problem ... and the mainstream won't like the way they do it.
Some are coming around - grudgingly. As reported by Andrew Higgins at NYT;
Like most members of Hungary’s liberal intellectual elite, George Konrad, a distinguished novelist, loathes his country’s stridently illiberal prime minister, Viktor Orban.2016 will be an interesting year on the Continent.
“He is not a good democrat and I don’t believe he is a good person,” said Mr. Konrad, a veteran of communist-era struggles against dictatorship.
All the same, he thinks Mr. Orban, the self-declared scourge of mainstream elites across Europe, was right and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany was wrong about how to respond to the chaotic flood of migrants seeking refuge from war and poverty — perhaps Europe’s most serious crisis since World War II.
“It hurts to admit it, but on this point Orban was right,” Mr. Konrad, 82, said, lamenting that in the absence of a joint European effort to control the flow, Hungary was wise to seal its borders and sound the alarm over the perils of allowing hundreds of thousands of migrants, mostly Muslims, to enter Europe willy-nilly.
In fact, Mr. Orban’s prescriptions — notably the need to secure Greece’s porous coastline and seal Europe’s outer borders — have slowly been embraced by other European Union leaders, who vowed on Thursday, at their final summit meeting of 2015, to “regain control” of the Continent’s frontiers.
In a recent interview with European newspapers, Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, the body that presides over European Union summit meetings, described Ms. Merkel’s welcoming approach to migrants as “dangerous” and endorsed the view long promoted by Mr. Orban — that most of the asylum seekers entering Europe were not Syrians fleeing war but economic migrants seeking jobs..
“It is more and more obvious that what we kept on saying for the last six months turned out to be right,” Mr. Szijjarto said in an interview. “This is acknowledged more and more: Some say it openly, some say it behind closed doors and some don’t say it but act accordingly.”
The most that mainstream politicians will say is that “Orban wasn’t completely wrong,” as Reinhold Mitterlehner, Austria’s Conservative vice chancellor, remarked recently.
At a congress over the weekend of the governing Fidesz party, Laszlo Kover, an Orban loyalist and the speaker of the Hungarian Parliament, thundered against multiculturalism as “some kind of experiment” to turn Europe into a “territory for rootless barbarian hordes.”
Tamas Lanczi, the director of the Center for Political Analysis at Szazadveg, a Budapest research group tied to Hungary’s governing party, said: “The European elite is very angry with Orban because he spoiled their game. He called out the name of the emperor who is naked.”
Mr. Orban, he added, has been demonized “as the Devil himself,” but his views are “now becoming the mainstream” because he “refuses to walk down the one-way street of political correctness.”
For a nice, broad overview of Europe's discontent from a slightly different angle, I highly recommend Jim Yardley's bit from mid-Month also at NYT.