Germany’s Social Democrats Should Have Picked Side

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)

Germany’s Social Democrats are going the way of the Dutch Labor Party.

Both parties tried to appeal to their working- and middle-class constituents in elections this year and both lost precisely because of this indecision.

Campaigning on liberal immigration laws, social justice and international engagement alienates blue-collar voters.

Campaigning on border controls and deemphasizing identity politics turns away college graduates.

Do both at the same time and you end up with with no supporters at all. Read more

Social Democrats in Germany Make Same Mistake as Dutch

German Social Democratic Party leader Martin Schulz makes a speech in Munich, September 14
German Social Democratic Party leader Martin Schulz makes a speech in Munich, September 14 (Bayern SPD)

Germany’s Social Democrats are making the same mistake as the Dutch Labor Party, I argue in the Netherlands’ NRC newspaper this week.

Like Labor, which went down from 25 to 6 percent support in the most recent election, the Social Democrats are trying to appeal to both working- and middle-class supporters. It is that indecision that is turning both groups away from them.

College-educated voters in the city see the benefits of open borders in Europe and free trade with the rest of the world. Low-skilled workers and small towns feel the downsides. Progressives obsess about gay rights and gender issues that animate few blue-collar voters. Read more

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