Europeanization is not what people think it is

My last post was about stopping the Americanization of our politics, but this one is about how those who oppose or support Europeanization are totally misfiring. Both sides are going on the assumption that Europe is considerably more left wing than Canada, when in fact most evidence suggests that is not at all the case. I will assert that the left’s arguments to make Canada more like Europe is misguided, because Europe is not as left wing as the left would have you believe. On the other hand, I think the right would benefit by embracing more European policies rather than shun them. Many of the things the right claims to want are being done in Europe, and since Europe is viewed as fairly progressive as compared to the U.S., this is a golden opportunity for the right to sell many of the policies they have struggled over with the left.

Let me start with an overview of how some of the policies look and function in Europe. Obviously, there is a great deal and a great variation between countries, so this is a very generalized outlook. In terms of election results over the last ten years,; social democratic parties have lost far more elections than they have won, while it is mostly centre-right not centre-left parties in government, now and over the course of the past decade. Yes, one can complicate matters by arguing over how right wing those parties are, but most countries use proportional representation, thus coalition governments are quite common. Most governments in Europe over the past ten years have been comparable to our Blue Liberals/Red Tories in terms of where they sit on the political spectrum. This is not unlike what Patrick Brown in Ontario is proposing as opposed to Wynne or Howarth. Likewise, European governments are typically more centrist than the Harper government but more conservative than the Trudeau government, and similarities can be drawn from the Mulroney, Chretien, and Martin governments. Europeans are probably slightly more conservative than Canadians; the right wing vote rarely falls below 40%, whereas that is generally the ceiling for conservatives here. While a right wing vote over 50% is quite common in Europe, aside from prairies, it is pretty unusual in Canada.

Some examples of Europe leaning more conservatively include
• Higher rates of privatization: . To be fair, many countries nationalized a lot more than Canada post WWII.

•Taxes are generally flatter, as our top marginal rate is higher than most (but not all): On the other hand, tax rates for the middle class are generally lower: while corporate tax rates are slightly higher in Canada: .

•Most European countries have user fees for primary health care and most allow a parallel private system to exist, which our governments try to discourage, if not outright ban.

•On social issues, none have yet legalized marijuana, and while most of Western Europe has legalized same-sex marriage it was Canada who led the way in marriage equality.

Nowadays, we frequently see the left point to Europe, and the Nordic countries in particular, as examples of how well social democracy can work. I would assert that these countries aren’t all that socially democratic to begin with. Their systems may work well, but these nations are only socially democratic in the sense of having a very large welfare state: . On other issues such as increasing like having more progressive taxation, more state ownership, and electing left wing parties more often, that is not the case, which weakens the argument that social democracy is desirable or works well. More importantly, social democratic parties have seen a steady decline in support, while the far left have seen only a slight increase, and those on the right have seen a greater increase, (especially newer right wing as opposed to traditional ones). This would all suggest Europeans are not as gung ho about social democracy as was the case 40 years ago. If those who have experienced socially democratic ideas in the past are turning away from them, that would suggest those policies aren’t as good as they are made out to be. Even on minimum wage, most European countries have wages around the equivalent of $12 to $13/hour, not the $15/hour the left in Canada is advocating for, although with fluctuating exchange rates caution should be exercised here: .

The political right in Canada often describes Europe in very negative terms. Some common examples offered are countries like Greece being “proof” that big government doesn’t work, and the idea that Europe is being “taken over” by Muslims, suggesting multiculturalism and a liberal immigration policy doesn’t work. This mode of thinking is largely untrue. While there have been some terrorist incidents, most Muslims in Europe are honest, law- abiding and hardworking. Canada’s per capita rate of immigration is actually higher than every single European country, including when Harper was Prime Minister, so if high levels of immigration was bad, you would expect Canada to be suffering more. Although their complaints about Europe are off target, I believe the right could use what is happening in Europe to promote their perspectives on many issues, and since Canadians tend to see Europe as more progressive, it might even help them win an election. The creation of parallel private health care systems is one proponent in Europe that has proven helpful for the right in Canada. Back in the ‘90s, it was political suicide to propose such an idea, but the public is much more receptive nowadays because many have pointed out how most European countries with private and public health care systems deliver better results.

There are certainly other areas where the right can use European examples to their advantage. If you want to drop the top marginal rate (provided it is a modest, not a massive drop), you can point to Germany and Norway, whose top marginal rates are below all provinces today, and were close to the average combined provincial and federal rate before Trudeau raised the top rate. On privatization, most European countries have either partially sold their electrical utilities or at least opened them up to competition. Also, corporate tax rates are lower in all Nordic countries and they fund their social programs through a very hight VAT, so raising the GST to cut income and corporate taxes is an option, as most European countries have much higher sales tax than Canada. Regarding social issues, Europe can be looked toward in some cases, although I am personally opposed to f these propositions. All European countries have lower immigration rates than we do, and most place more emphasis on assimilation rather than preserving one’s heritage in the cultural mosaic model Canada has adopted. On abortion, all European countries have either banned or severely restricted late term abortions, whereas Canada has no such law, and I support it staying that way. None have legalized marijuana, although in the Netherlands it is tolerated. As for safe injection sites, half don’t have any, while in the countries they exist in, there is typically one to three sites in places with high levels of addiction, not one in every city.

Yes, Europe is more left wing in some regards, and claims of “Europeanization” are not as black and white as many think. Overall levels of taxation relative to GDP are generally higher, even if top and corporate rates are lower: . As for infrastructure, most of Europe has high speed rail, which we lack in Canada. On tuition fees, many have abolished them and where they exist, they are usually much lower than in Canada. Likewise, on health care: they may allow a parallel private system, but in exchange their plans tend to be much more comprehensive than ours and usually cover things like prescription drugs and in some cases dental care. Europe’s health care is generally more publicly funded than Canada’s due to being more comprehensive, in spite of having a parallel private system.

In closing, the left’s argument that Europe is proof of the success of social democracy is only partially true, as no European country (including the Nordic ones) is socialistic across the board. As for the right, I think modelling some of the conservative policies that have worked well in Europe could be done more t and would be more effective than looking to the United States’ policies. There is little appetite in Canada to go as far right as the U.S., whereas adopting some of Europe’s conservative policies would have a greater potential for success.

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