Germany’s Social Democrats Need to Pick Side in Culture War

German Social Democratic Party leader Martin Schulz makes a speech in Bavaria, March 1
German Social Democratic Party leader Martin Schulz makes a speech in Bavaria, March 1 (Bayern SPD/Joerg Koch)

Social democrats across Europe are caught in the middle of a culture war: they have middle-class voters, many of them university-educated, whose economic and social views range from liberal to progressive, as well as working-class voters, whose views range from the conservative to the nativist.

Germany’s are trying to bridge this divide, but a report by the Financial Times from the heart of the Ruhr industrial area does not suggest they are succeeding.

Guido Reil, a coalminer from Essen and former town councilor for the Social Democrats who switched to the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany, says his old party has “lost its connection to real people.”

They don’t speak their language. They’re people who have never worked, they’re all careerists and professional politicians.

Blue-collar voters — a shrinking demographic — only make up 17 percent of the Social Democrats’ electorate anymore. Read more

Denmark’s Left Must Find Balance Between Nativists and Progressives

Danish Social Democratic Party leader Mette Frederiksen, June 28, 2016
Danish Social Democratic Party leader Mette Frederiksen, June 28, 2016 (Facebook)

Denmark’s Social Democrats are eying cooperation with the nationalist People’s Party which they have shunned for years.

Under Mette Frederiksen, who took over the party leadership after its 2015 election defeat, the center-left has supported such far-right policies as a ban on prayer rooms in schools and universities.

The two parties, who are both in opposition to a liberal minority government, have also made common cause against raising the pension age.

Frederiksen argues she is defending the Danish welfare state from the challenges of globalization.

Her strategy is not too dissimilar from her Swedish counterpart’s. Stefan Löfven, the ruling Social Democratic Party leader in Stockholm, has taken a hard line on border control, crime and defense in a bid to stem working-class defections to the far right. Read more

Schulz Not the Future of Social Democracy After All

German Social Democratic Party leader Martin Schulz and the French Socialist Party's Benoît Hamon deliver a news conference in Berlin, March 28
German Social Democratic Party leader Martin Schulz and the French Socialist Party’s Benoît Hamon deliver a news conference in Berlin, March 28 (Facebook)

Germany’s Martin Schulz looks less and less like the savior of European social democracy.

His party performed poorly in North Rhine-Westphalia on Sunday, the third state election this year in which the Social Democrats were bested by Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats.

I argued here earlier in the week that North Rhine-Westphalia’s election was a crucial test for Schulz. It is the heartland of German social democracy: the biggest industrial state with four of Germany’s ten largest cities and a long history of trade unionism. The state has been governed by a coalition of Social Democrats and Greens since 2010 under a popular state prime minister, Hannelore Kraft.

If Schulz couldn’t win here, then where can he? Read more

Social Democracy Isn’t Dead, But It Needs to Adapt

Social democratic leaders Robert Fico, Bohuslav Sobotka, Sergei Stanishev, Sigmar Gabriel and Jeremy Corbyn meet in Prague, December 2, 2016
Social democratic leaders Robert Fico, Bohuslav Sobotka, Sergei Stanishev, Sigmar Gabriel and Jeremy Corbyn meet in Prague, December 2, 2016 (PES)

Social democrats might despair after the collapse of the French Socialist Party on Sunday. Their candidate, Benoît Hamon, received only 6.4 percent of the votes, almost an historic low.

Hamon’s defeat comes mere weeks after the Dutch Labor Party sunk to its lowest level of support ever in parliamentary elections.

And it comes weeks before the British Labour Party is expected to suffer yet another defeat under the feckless leadership of Jeremy Corbyn.

There is some good news. Emmanuel Macron, the closest thing to a proper social democrat in France, is on track to win the presidency. Germany’s Social Democrats are riding high in the polls. Italy’s center-left Democrats are in power and will probably remain so after the elections this year.

Look closely and you see it’s not social democracy that is dead but rather a particular form of social democracy. Read more

Sweden’s Social Democrats Take Risk with Hardline Policies

French president François Hollande and Swedish prime minister Stefan Löfven attend a meeting with other European socialist leaders in Brussels, June 28, 2016
French president François Hollande and Swedish prime minister Stefan Löfven attend a meeting with other European socialist leaders in Brussels, June 28, 2016 (PES)

Sweden’s Stefan Löfven is taking the fight to the far right. Politico reports that the prime minister and Social Democratic Party leader is implementing a hard line on border control, crime and defense.

With his tough stance, Löfven hopes to avoid the fate of sister parties elsewhere in Europe who have failed to convince voters that they are still relevant now that the welfare states they helped build are well-established.

Polls show the Swedish left down a few points. The nationalist Sweden Democrats have moved up.

Löfven’s party would still get nearly 30 percent support on its own and 40 percent in combination with its left-wing allies; a far cry from the dismal performance of center-left parties in France, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.

But like social democrats elsewhere, Sweden’s are losing their traditional, working-class supporters to the far right. Read more

Dilemma for Dutch Social Democrats After Historic Defeat

Dutch Labor Party leader Lodewijk Asscher makes a speech in The Hague, October 31, 2016
Dutch Labor Party leader Lodewijk Asscher makes a speech in The Hague, October 31, 2016 (SWZ)

Open Europe’s Vincenzo Scarpetta‏ has called it the PASOK-ization of the Dutch Labor Party. In an historic defeat on Wednesday, the social democrats went down from 25 to 6 percent support, reducing them from the second to the seventh largest party in parliament.

The Greens and far-left Socialists, long Labor’s smaller siblings on the left, did better, winning 9 percent support each.

The result was not unexpected. Labor’s popularity fell when it formed a coalition government with the right in 2012 and never recovered.

The choice it now faces is the same for social democrats elsewhere: either attempt to lure back traditional working-class and migrant voters with an economically more populist program or double down on center-left politics that appeal to the socially progressive middle class. Read more

Renzi Picks Side in Italy’s Blue-Red Culture War

Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi answers a reporter's question in Mexico City, Mexico, April 20, 2016
Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi answers a reporter’s question in Mexico City, Mexico, April 20, 2016 (Palazzo Chigi)

Italy’s Democratic Party leader, Matteo Renzi, launched his candidacy for reelection this week by presenting himself as the alternative to nationalist leaders in his own country as well as America and France.

“Some people wanted a party congress to find an alternative to Renzi-ism. It needs to be done as an alternative to Trumpism, Le Penism and even Grilloism,” the former prime minister said, referring to the new president of the United States, the leader of France’s National Front and the founder of Italy’s anti-establishment Five Star Movement. Read more