hen the far left Syriza party won in Greece earlier this year, many predicted a political earthquake shattering the political stability of Europe. Economic austerity and high unemployment suggested anti-establishment politicians might be about to smash the political systems of key European countries. However, in France, the far-right National Front (FN), led by Marine Le Pen, did less well than expected in departmental elections. Polls had predicted 30% of the vote for the FN, up from 25% in last year’s European elections. Instead, Ms. Le Pen came second to the center-right UMP, led by former President Nicolas Sarkozy. In Spain, the anti-austerity party Podemos failed to shine in regional elections in Andalucia. The Socialists won by a wide margin, while Podemos secured just 15% of the vote. With Andalucia’s unemployment rate the highest in Spain -and the regional Socialists entangled in allegations over misuse of public funds- Podemos ought to have done better. However, the populist wave has not been halted.
In France, Ms. Le Pen is building a powerful electoral base for her bid in the 2017 presidential election. And Podemos knows that Andalucia is not its natural terrain (too rural and traditional). Political lessons from the ballots: 1) Mainstream parties can still fend off extremist movements seeking to outflank them. 2) They perform better when they settle internal differences. In France, Mr. Sarkozy had ensured the country’s three center-right parties joined forces. 3) Despite predictions about the demise of two-party politics in Europe, a majority of citizens voted for mainstream political forces. But if center-left and center-right leaders are to consolidate their position, they must expose the incoherent economic arguments of parties like the FN and Podemos. And they should show humility over their past failures to reduce the public’s anger at establishment politics.