28th Mar 2023


How the centre-right can take on hard-right and win big in 2024

  • Conservatism. But to conserve what exactly? Well, in no specific order: nature, heritage, languages, landscapes, nations, families, the State (Photo: Nick Fewings, Unsplash)
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As the Europe elections of 2024 are already looming, the centre-right must use the opportunity to rethink its model or risk marginalisation. Because its electoral base is steadily crumbling.

Yet, a new block can be formed around a clearer conservative principle, coalescing three like-minded groups currently not talking to each other: Christian-Democratic voters, pro-innovation Greens, and new immigrant communities.

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  • The glory days of the CDU's and European People's Party Angela "Angie" Merkel (Photo: CDU)

The observation is commonplace: a strong populist right carrying a younger electorate is on the rise in Europe, while Christian-Democratic and Conservative parties are in decline. Ageing doesn't correlate with leaning to the old right anymore. Citizens no longer trust ideologies or "Conservative+Liberal+XYZ" catch-all umbrellas. The future lies in a coherent, simple, set of solutions.

So, we propose here a mood: Conservatism. But to conserve what exactly? Well, in no specific order: nature, heritage, languages, landscapes, nations, families, the state.

Policy-wise, on the economic front, that would mean recognising the threat of global warming while prioritising nuclear power, new energy alternatives & climate technologies, raising progressive taxes to pay off our debts while smothering tax-havens, implementing protectionist barriers to curb dishonest trade but facilitating flows & industries within Europe.

This moderate protectionism would also impact diplomacy, by increasing our defence budgets with European-made weapons and by focusing aid, development & partnership budgets on Europe's neighbourhood, not on far away lands.

On social issues: integrating new immigrant families by accepting cultural compromises, while reigning in migration flows and foreign separatist financing, fighting back 'Wokism' in our schools, facilitating homeownership with multi-family building permits.

A new Conservative agenda

Empathic, easier to explain, more appealing to today's voters. But with whom could all that be done?

First: Christian-Democrats, who still account for 15 percent of all voters in the EU (down from 25 percent in the 1980s).

Yet the ageing of this group means that we must look elsewhere for electoral rebirth — and look towards voters sharing a similar worldview, who believe in the necessity of regulations, who know there is more to life than individual glory. Namely: the new populations from Africa and the Middle East settled in Western Europe and increasingly in Eastern Europe (between 10 percent and 20 percent of Europeans in 2050), who are sensitive to traditionalist values but who often vote far-left just because respect is offered there (and subsidies — a fragile carrot).

The second recruit: educated voters worried about sustainability issues, who nowadays vote for the Greens while not being convinced by the self-inflicted poverty proposed there.

Polls show a young European middle class waiting for opportunities driven climate solutions — a concern for natural balance that corresponds to the mentality of the pre-capitalist right.

Strategically, this requires a mental shift on the part of today's centre-right leaders. Seeking out these new (natural) voters means seeking out talent from unfamiliar fields, it means departing from a certain contempt or fear from the old right that prevents such outreach today.

This is what the Obama Foundation and many affiliated associations are doing around the globe — often for the benefit of the left.

Giving confidence to young people from less privileged backgrounds, explaining the codes of power to a new, more representative elite. Politics is also about planting seeds, giving affection over time.

When the former British prime minister Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881) reinvented the aristocratic Tories, ensuring the right's relative dominance for a century in his country, he asked his party for deep painful changes: going from pro-rural protectionism to pro-urban free trade, accepting a wider voting franchise benefiting previously unappreciated working men.

A speech given in 1876 says it all:

"In a progressive country, change is constant; and the great question is not whether you should resist change, which is inevitable, but whether that change should be carried out in deference to the manners, the customs, the laws, and the traditions of a people, or whether it should be carried out in deference to abstract principles, and arbitrary and general doctrines."

Here we are again in 2023.

Abstract doctrines vs one unifying principle. "Centre-right coalitions" have always felt funny anyway. How does "New Conservative Alliance" sound?

Author bio

Michael Benhamou is research associate at the Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies, the think tank of the centre-right European People's Party.


The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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