As usual Ireland’s presidential election was a fractious affair, which demonstrates just how worked up and vitriolic people can become in relation to an issue that is of trivial significance at best. The only memorable part of the election and its aftermath was initially the somewhat unorthodox interventions of Peter Casey, which clearly struck a chord with rural dwellers in particular who are fed up of feeling under threat in their homes and in their economic lives, and then the reaction of all the closed-minded liberals in the aftermath of the election result. Less attention has focused on the anti-democratic behaviour of the two largest parties in our system who were afraid to put their own candidate forward and expected their supporters to vote for an individual that many of their voters were deeply uncomfortable with. Strange behaviour, but I guess it just reflects how totally irrelevant the role of President is in the Irish political system.
It remains to be seen how politically enduring Peter Casey will prove to be or indeed if there is any legacy from his spectacular electoral performance, at least viewed in the context of where the opinion polls had placed him prior to the election. The somewhat anti-establishment views of Casey resonated with many people and possibly is just another small indication of some very interesting trends in global politics.
Whatever the significance of Casey’s performance, it is clear that there are strange political stirrings all over the world that could have deep implications for the rest of our lives. The election of Donald Trump and the Brexit vote in the UK are examples, but the list is growing. Austria, Poland, Hungary and Italy now have strong ring-wing governments and are starting to push policy agendas that very definitely do not fit into the rule book of the European Union.
The ongoing spat between the Italian Government and the European Commission over Italian budgetary policy, which has seen the Commission reject Italy’s budget for 2019, is very significant as it poses an existential challenge to the power of the all-powerful and unelected European Commission. It is possible that the Italian government will back down and revise its budget plans, which is what normally happens in such situations, but if it refuses to do so, it could be the portent of much more challenging times ahead for the whole EU project.
Earlier this week one of the most enduring political forces in post-war Europe, Angela Merkel, stated that she is standing down as leader of Germany’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) after 18 years and will leave political life in 2021. Merkel has undoubtedly been the sane and sensible leader of the free world in recent years (not a lot of competition) and was a beacon of light in the face of the disruptive politics and behaviour of Donald Trump. The steady and mostly sensible approach that she adopted in the face of the EU economic and financial crisis was undoubtedly key to the survival of the Euro Zone. While here in this country we may not have liked or agreed with her approach to the banking crisis in particular, she did what she believed necessary to ensure the survival of the whole EU project.
Her open attitude to immigration was effectively her undoing and set her up as a viable target for the right wing AfD party. This effectively destroyed her real power base and heralded the end of her incredible reign. Her successor will have big shoes to fill, but more importantly, the EU will miss her steadying influence.
Meanwhile in troubled Brazil, far-right politician Jair Bolsonaro won the presidential election and has promised sweeping economic reforms in an economy that is struggling badly at the moment. In his first interview he has proposed to set targets for Brazil’s exchange rates, which will not go down well with markets who had expected a much more liberal approach to economic policy. Brazil was constantly heralded in recent years as a big emerging market story, but its economy is now a total shambles, and hence the rise of a much more radical political force.
Global politics is delivering some strange things at the moment and it only looks set to get much more extreme.