José Manuel Barroso, a 53-year-old former Portuguese prime minister, was re-elected president of the European Union Commission last week. The success of this center-right leader was no surprise. An overwhelming majority of the Europeans voted in local, national, and supranational elections during the last few months for candidates sharing a core of classical liberal ideas.
Last year's financial earthquake rocked economies on both sides of the Atlantic. But the response of the electorates was strikingly different. In America, the Republican base was disappointed with the lack of principled conservative leadership on domestic issues. The independents were unimpressed by the Republican alternative to an inexperienced but charismatic senator from the left. Democrats voted in record numbers energized by the eloquence of their leader. As a result, the United States elected a government dedicated to taking us a few steps closer to Plato's Utopia.
At a time when the formerly "laissez-faire" Americans turned to Big Government for help, Europeans made a shocking turn to the right. Sick of political scandals and bureaucratic corruption, tired of high taxes and unemployment, it seems that most citizens of United Europe came to the conclusion during 2009 that they had paid too high a price for the leftist promises of economic safety.
In the most extreme example, the socialist (aka communist) prime minister of Bulgaria introduced a 10 percent flat tax and opened discussions about eliminating the single-payer system of healthcare and the idea of school vouchers. But even that was not enough---the Bulgarian Socialist Party lost the parliamentary elections in the summer by a huge margin to a new right-of-center political formation promising (à la Reagan) more pro-market reforms and lower government spending as a response to the economic crisis.
President Barroso's life journey has taken him from the socialist camp all the way to appreciating the opportunities of free-market capitalism. (Marvin Olasky and I also have walked on that path). Is Barroso's re-appointment as head of the EU's executive government an indication that the Old World has learned a valuable lesson? It could be just a temporary change in sentiment for the European voter but it gives hope that the trend of liberalizing the European economies will continue.