As the European Union is navigating through the troubled waters of the financial crisis, with the Greek ship on the brink of sinking, and many other countries at risk of following the same fate, new political currents are emerging—calling for a more gradualist response to the economic storm. Their success sheds light on how people across Europe (the European society, one would be tempted to say, if only there was such thing…) are increasingly dissatisfied with politicians who are solely concerned with the arid diktats of global economics, financial markets and banks, whilst losing touch with the needs of their electorates.
In a recent article published on the Observer, Peter Beaumont reflects on the rise of European anti-austerity parties and movements. Throughout Europe, and especially in the countries that are struggling the most in the context of the financial crisis such as Greece and Italy, the tension between citizens and the political class is mounting, and the austerity measures endorsed by their governments do nothing but boosting dissatisfaction, fears and uncertainty about the future amongst the population. As a response, citizens are not only protesting and taking to the streets, but also more and more overtly turning their backs on the established system and the austerity politics this promotes. In this sense, their votes and protests represent a public outcry over a political class which has over-promised and under-delivered for way too long—and is now being kindly shown the door.
This attitude is epitomised by the election of Francois Hollande at the Elysium, but also the success of Hannelore Kraft in Germany, the ascent of leftwing coalition party Syriza led by Alexis Tsipras in Greece, and the substantial gains of the Five Star Movement in the recent local election round as well as the increasing prominence of the Italy of Values anti-corruption mayor of Palermo Leoluca Orlando in Italy. The common denominator of these movements is that they represent a clear break with the establishment—epitomised by their sober, ordinary leaders (hence the epithet ‘Generation Normal’), who dare to speak the unspeakable, opposing those austerity measures that have been long portrayed as the one and only lifeline for the Eurozone. In essence, their success lies in their ability to remind the electorate of a ‘different way of doing politics’, by overtly criticising and distancing themselves from the dominating European political culture perceived as elitist, technocratic and, crucially, too distant from the concerns of the ordinary citizens.
The emergence of ‘Generation Normal’ signals therefore a growing desire across Europe for a more competent, down-to-earth, attentive political class—led by politicians who may be less glamorous in their appearance and lifestyle, but are more concerned with effective means to alleviate the day to day struggle of their people. The gradualist strategies they propose as an alternative to the harsh austerity measures so far endorsed by the EU countries certainly resonate with the electorate, and seem to give voice to their hope for a better future—in the short, rather than in the long term. This is an interesting phenomenon because it could pave the way for a new era of European politics. What remains to be seen, though, is whether this new generation of politicians will manage to flourish and, crucially, to save the Eurozone from its fate.
Arianna Giovannini is a PhD researcher at the School of Cultural Studies, Leeds Metropolitan University. She holds a degree in Sociology with a specialisation in Politics, and a Masters in Territorial and Urban Politics, both from the University of Urbino, Italy. She also teaches Social Science, Political Theory and Research Methods at the University of Sheffield International College.