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Black clouds about European social democracy

In the year 2000, ten of the then 15 members of the European Union were governed by socialist and social democratic parties . In 2018, this figure has been halved – Portugal, Sweden, Malta, Romania and Slovakia, the latter embarked on an anti-immigration agenda more typical of the extreme right – in an EU that has 28 members. Faced with this setback, the future presents more black clouds. The European elections of 2019 threaten to beat the center-left.

In the European Parliament , the center-right parties ( PPE ) have remained ahead of the social democratic group ( S & D ) over the past two decades. This trend continued in 2014 , when the EPP won 221 seats compared to 191 for S & D and 67 for Liberals ( ALDE ). Nonetheless, the alliance between these three groups – with the popular ones acceding to the presidency of the Commission, while the Social Democrats obtain that of the Parliament – has been essential to form legislative majorities. The social democratic contribution served to shore up values ​​and institutions associated with the European project, such as the welfare state.

With the financial crisis of 2008, the center-left seemed positioned to impose itself on a right that clung to financial deregulation and austerity policies. But it has not been that way. The Socialists have been pulverized in countries like Greece and France, where they scratch 6% of the vote. In the first, the pasokización aupó to Syriza , which from the left tried unsuccessfully to reverse European austerity policies. In France, the coup has come from the right. With a pseudo-rupturist discourse, which opposes progressives and conservatives instead of the left versus the right, Emmanuel Macron reduced the socialists to a marginal position. The French president now applies a more liberal and austere versionof your agenda. Looking to 2019, Macron seeks to form a group of its own in Brussels, weakening the SD and possibly phagocystizing the liberals.

In the rest of the Union the center-left survives, but goes through low hours. The German Social Democrats, tied to Angela Merkel in their third grand coalition, could be overtaken by the far right. Matteo Renzi hoped to support Macron’s initiative, but has suffered a resounding defeat in the Italian elections. In Spain, Pedro Sánchez is still absent: the novelties for 2019 are the rise of Ciudadanos, which also seeks a convergence with Macron, as well as the decision of Podemos to present a candidacy together with the Portuguese Block of Esquerda and France Insumisa de Jean -Luc Mélenchon. In Hungary and Poland, the Social Democrats have been marginalized and blurred; in the Czech Republic and Austria, they have just been evicted from the government. Only the British Labor Party , led by Jeremy Corbyn, have managed to overcome positions in recent years. But the Brexit has left out the game the 73 seats of the United Kingdom, that will be distributed between other countries and pan-European lists.


socialdemocrats europe

Source: Social Europe


What crisis of European social democracy?

That the European social democracy is going through a crisis is not a novelty, although its probable aggravation in 2019 is. What threatens to turn the center-left into a residual force? At this point the explanations diverge, but they also provide complementary data.

A first interpretation indicates that the center-left has little to contribute, either because its ideas-force have become part of European common sense (few openly question the welfare state), or because the evolution of society and the labor market -the first fragmented around more lines than the class ones, the second eroding the power of the big unions- have rolled out their traditional bases of support. For better or for worse, we would find ourselves facing a natural decline.

Actually, we are not faced with a pre-established script. If the construction of the welfare state was the main achievement of many social democratic parties, its defense, at a time when the austerity policies threaten it, should have served to renew its electoral pull. On the other hand, the socio-economic transformations that have weakened the center-left have often come hand in hand with their governments. As Cornel Banshows , the PSOE was the main architect of the current Spanish economy structure, dependent on the tertiary sector and with a high structural unemployment. To the SPD, for its part, the social cuts of the Harz IV plan , approved by the Social Democrat Gerhard Schröder, they cost him an immense disaffection among his base.

The underlying problem is that the center-left is in a structurally weak position within the EU itself. It has played an essential role in its construction, but it has ended up in a monetary union that forces its members to adopt austerity policies in response to any economic sway. By not wanting to renounce a passive Europeanism, his agenda is often reduced, as Mark Blyth points out , to managing austerity more amicably than his rivals. A few parameters in which the right will always know how to move with greater ease.

The most plausible explanation of this decline, therefore, would have to do with the sliding of the socialist parties towards the so-called third way . A drift of the post-war social democracy towards a liberalism with progressive varnish. The socialists are like this in no man’s land, but competing against all: emerging centrists who continue to present them as outdated leftists, a reinforced left that reproaches them for their turn, and even far-right parties that compete among working voters with a speech able to mobilize his frustration. It is precisely in Portugal, where the Socialists have opted for a coalition government with political forces on their left, where they have managed to maintain as a progressive reference.


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