Europe Lagging in Political Opportunity?

Lagging in one respect, but in another perhaps not so much.

Earlier this week the New York Times ran a piece highlighting skepticism about whether a black or other racial minority politician could replicate Barack Obama’s feat in the not-too-distant future in France or Germany or the U.K. There’s a good bit of truth in this.

But then in today’s NYT I notice photos of Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel and France’s finance minister Christine Lagarde, and this reminds me that the U.K. elected a female prime minister nearly thirty years ago.

4 thoughts on “Europe Lagging in Political Opportunity?

  1. I think what this tells us is that “tolerance” is not the product of tolerance movements, but of shifting coalitions against another group.

    In Europe women were elevated earlier, and had less to gain from associating with immigrant or racial causes.

  2. well, I think comparing blacks to immigrant groups in Europe is problematic – there are very few larger groups of immigrants that have lived in Europe for 150+ years (and can look back at a comparable struggle that has, among other things, created important political networks for blacks in the US). If you look at political representation compared to shares of total population, African American men actually don’t do so badly in the US (e.g. they are _over_represented in the House if measured by their share of total population). But Hispanics do, women do, and for women of color it looks very, very bleak.

    And the idea that something like that couldn’t happen in Europe – I’m just not so sure about.
    Merkel is not just a woman, but once divorced and without children. Her predecessor Schroeder was not just divorced several times but also openly atheist (and that never came up as an issue in any campaign). The designated leader of the (quite powerful) German green party is a 2nd generation Turkish immigrant.
    Sarkozy is a Jewish son of immigrants from Greece and Hungary (in the US, his victory would definitely have been framed in racial terms, but given France’s peculiar history of dealing with race it has never come up). And I’m sure I could find more with a bit of digging. I’m all for celebrating Obama’s victory, but I find it quite repulsive to turn it into a reason for US triumphalism. Political opportunities in the US are extremely constrained. For any European observer the degree of dynasty families is mindblowing. Religion is still a serious issue. Gender is very constraining. All other ethnic minorities are very poorly represented. There are very, very few prominent openly gay politicians and I cannot think of a single lesbian anywhere. So – no, I think there is absolutely no reason for this odd feeling of superiority.

    Where the US does pretty well – and better than large chunks of Europe – are opportunities in the economy. There are more women (and I imagine but don’t know more racial/ethnic minorities) in high level management positions, which has a lot to do with pretty effective anti-discrimination regulation that especially countries South of Denmark are doing a very poor job with.

  3. It’s also interesting to note that the four countries with the largest Muslim populations (Indonesia, Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh) have all had women as heads of government. And Indira Gandhi was prime minister of India over 40 years ago, while Benazir Bhutto was prime minister of Pakistan 20 years ago. (Dynastic factors are important here, of course, as they are in the United States.)

  4. Pingback: Leading the Way in Political Opportunity? « Consider the Evidence

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