The Return of European Social Democracy

Olaf Scholz
German Social Democratic Party leader Olaf Scholz attends a conference in Berlin, June 25 (PES)

Olaf Scholz has given German social democracy a new lease on life. For the first time in sixteen years, his Social Democratic Party (SPD) — Germany’s oldest — has defeated the center-right Union of Christian Democrats. Support for the SPD went up from 20.5 to 26 percent in the election on Sunday. Still below its pre-reunification heights, when it would routinely win up to 40 percent, but enough to make Scholz the most likely next chancellor.

His counterparts in Portugal and Spain have been equally successful. António Costa was reelected with 36 percent support in 2019. Pedro Sánchez won two elections that year. Both govern with the support of the far left. Four of the five Nordic countries are led by social democrats. The fifth, Norway, soon will be, after Labor won the election two weeks ago.

It wasn’t so long ago that commentators ruminated on the “death of European social democracy,” myself included. Now it’s back in swing in the north, south and center. What changed? Read more “The Return of European Social Democracy”

Labour’s Problems Go Deeper Than Starmer

Keir Starmer
British Labour Party leader Keir Starmer campaigns with Tracy Brabin, mayoral candidate for West Yorkshire, in Pontefract, England, May 5 (Labour)

Former Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters are out in force arguing his successor, Keir Starmer, must surely resign after losing the Hartlepool constituency, a Labour bulwark since 1974, to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservatives.

Corbyn lost all seven elections (local, national and European) during his five-year leadership and still his supporters refused to accept he might be damaging the party, but Starmer loses one seat and it’s all the proof they need to conclude that he can’t defeat the Conservatives?

Big if true. Read more “Labour’s Problems Go Deeper Than Starmer”

Why the Left Hasn’t Been More Successful

Frans Timmermans Nicola Zingaretti Pedro Sánchez
Dutch, Italian and Spanish socialist party leaders Frans Timmermans, Nicola Zingaretti and Pedro Sánchez meet in Brussels, March 21, 2019 (PES)

The 2008-09 financial crisis. Climate change. The coronavirus pandemic. Rising inequality in the United States. Stagnant middle wages.

It shouldn’t be difficult for left-wing parties to make the case for bigger government, and yet they are out of power in most Western countries.

Ruy Teixeira, who argued in 2002 that demographic changes would give Democrats in the United States an “emerging majority”, and who later criticized those same Democrats for forgetting about working-class white voters, believes there are five reasons the left has been unable to build durable mass support.

His perspective is American, but the European left has committed some of the same what he calls five “deadly sins”. Read more “Why the Left Hasn’t Been More Successful”

Lurching to the Left Is Risky for Germany’s SPD. So Is the Alternative

Olaf Scholz
German finance minister Olaf Scholz attends a debate in parliament in Berlin, July 8, 2018 (Bundestag/Inga Kjer)

Germany’s Social Democrats (SPD) are increasingly forced into coalitions with the far left. Such pacts haven’t hurt their counterparts in Portugal and Spain, but Germany is a more conservative country with a politics of consensus and arguably less need for redistributive policies.

The risk is that a left-wing strategy will alienate centrist voters. But the alternative — continuing to rule in grand coalitions with the right — is wearying leftists. Read more “Lurching to the Left Is Risky for Germany’s SPD. So Is the Alternative”

What Can Danes Teach Europe’s Social Democrats?

Mette Frederiksen
Danish Social Democratic Party leader Mette Frederiksen gives a speech in Allinge-Sandvig on the island of Bornholm, June 16, 2017 (News Øresund/Sofie Paisley)

The victory of Denmark’s Social Democrats in the election on Wednesday would some seem to vindicate leader Mette Frederiksen’s lurch to the right. She hardened her party’s policy on immigration and supported such far-right proposals as a ban on prayer rooms in schools and universities.

A closer look at the campaign she ran, as well as the election result, reveals a more nuanced picture. Read more “What Can Danes Teach Europe’s Social Democrats?”

Spain’s Social Democrats Buck European Trend

António Costa Pedro Sánchez
Prime Minister António Costa of Portugal greets his Spanish counterpart, Pedro Sánchez, in Lisbon, July 2, 2018 (Governo da República Portuguesa/Clara Azevedo)

Spain’s are among few social democrats in Europe who have figured out how to thrive in a new political reality.

Although the 30 percent support Pedro Sánchez is projected to win Sunday night is a far cry from the 48 percent support the Socialists won at the peak of their popularity in the 1980s, it is a significant improvement on the last two election results (22 percent in both 2015 and 2016) and almost double what the conservative People’s Party, for decades the dominant party on the right, has managed. Read more “Spain’s Social Democrats Buck European Trend”

Cracks in California’s Progressive Model

San Francisco California
Homes in San Francisco, California, April 5, 2010 (Jerome Vial)

California may be the future of the Democratic Party, but the left doesn’t have everything figured out in the Golden State.

Michael Greenberg reports for The New York Review of Books that California likes to think of itself as a liberal bastion against the far-right policies of Donald Trump.

It is refusing to cooperate with the president’s anti-immigrant policies. It has enacted its own environmental and net-neutrality laws which, given the size and influence of California’s economy, could have a nationwide effect.

But California also has the highest poverty rate in America and a quarter of its homeless. Read more “Cracks in California’s Progressive Model”

Democrats’ Dilemma Is Familiar to Europe’s Center-Left

Pedro Sánchez Christian Kern António Costa
Spanish, Austrian and Portuguese social democratic party leaders Pedro Sánchez, Christian Kern and António Costa attend a meeting in Lisbon, December 2, 2017 (PES)

Democrats in the United States have the same dilemma as social democrats in Europe: should they deemphasize progressive social policies in order to win back working-class voters or side with the socially progressive middle class?

The parable isn’t perfect. The big cultural issue in Europe is immigration. In the United States, it’s race relations more broadly and changing social norms.

But that makes a strategy of accommodation with blue-collar voters who switched from Barack Obama to Donald Trump in 2016 even less attractive to the American left. It would mean repudiating causes like Black Lives Matter and transgender rights because they offend Trump voters’ desire for social order. Read more “Democrats’ Dilemma Is Familiar to Europe’s Center-Left”

Social Democrats in Iberia and Scandinavia Try Opposite Strategies

António Costa Pedro Sánchez
Prime Minister António Costa of Portugal greets his Spanish counterpart, Pedro Sánchez, in Lisbon, July 2 (Governo da República Portuguesa/Clara Azevedo)

What is the future of European social democracy? Your answer may depend on where you live.

If you’re in the Mediterranean, it’s cooperation with the far left. Social democrats in Portugal and Spain have come to power under deals with far-left parties. In both cases, unwieldy coalitions were greeted with skepticism, but now Prime Ministers António Costa and Pedro Sánchez are riding high in the polls.

In Greece, Alexis Tsipras’ Syriza party has even supplanted the center-left altogether.

In Scandinavia, by contrast, social democrats are trying to win back working-class voters by taking a harder line on borders, crime and defense.

Both strategies appear to be working. Read more “Social Democrats in Iberia and Scandinavia Try Opposite Strategies”