No matter where you look in Europe, socialists are in a tight spot. In the south, their voters are jumping ship to the left, and in the north they are haemorrhaging support to the extreme parties of both the left and right. EURACTIV Germany reports.
It doesn’t look good for Europe’s socialist electorate: Social Democracy of Poland only secured 8% of the vote at the last election. In June, French President François Hollande’s popularity fell below 15%, according to polling by TNS Sofres.
In Austria, its former Social Democrat leader, Werner Faymann, was forced to resign. In Spain, the PSOE recorded its worst result since 1977 at the December election and just one year out from a major general election, Germany’s socialists are struggling as well.
No wonder then, that Europe’s socialists are engaging in a controversial debate about where to go from here. Across the continent, there have been calls for “profile raising”: but what does that actually mean? Moving further towards the left, occupying the centre ground more or increased delineation of European politics?
At a conference held in Berlin by the left-leaning fraction of Germany’s SPD party, European Parliament President Martin Schulz demanded a clear commitment to Europe. “The Bundestag election (Germany’s federal election) will be an election on Europe,” insisted Schulz. The challenges ahead cannot be faced alone by national initiatives.
Udo Bullmann, chairman of the SPD’s MEP group, and Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, Denmark’s former prime minister, share this view. They urged Europe to chart a course out of its current malaise through a “revival of equity, solidarity, and peace”.
Yesterday (18 October), they released a joint strategy paper entitled The Social Democracy to Come, in which they call on social democrats across Europe to set up a new political paradigm, based on “transformative progressive politics”.
Moreover, globalisation should “no longer be the playground of multinational companies”, but should be regained by politicians and citizens. Social democracy would be well-placed to regain its support through this process.
The paper also promoted the establishment of global financial registers that would combat tax evasion, as well as a reconnect between the financial sector to the real economy and the enforcement of international working standards.
In Germany, such a paradigm shift could look completely different. The SPD has already started to align itself with Die Linke (the Left party) and the Greens and has started a discussion forum with the aim of exploring the feasibility of such a coalition. According to SPD politician Axel Schäfer, “the time is right for new perspectives”.
About 100 officials and politicians from the three parties, according to Schäfer, have set the common goal of “creating a majority away from the Union (CDU/CSU)” and installing a social democratic chancellor after the election in autumn 2017. Back in November 2013, the SPD’s Leipzig branch decided that cooperation with the left at a federal level would be possible in 2017.
But not all socialists are going to be happy about a shift to the left and some current opinion polls show that such a coalition wouldn’t provide a majority anyway. Die Linke’s treasurer, Thomas Nord, would not be drawn on what the conditions for an alliance with the SPD would be. Rather, it is more pressing to decide whether a viable alternative to the current coalition of the CDU, CSU and SPD is actually out there
The Greens’ Frithjof Schmidt welcomed talk of political rapprochement. However, he told Der Rheinische Post that his party is still on an “independent course”. An alliance with the Union has still not been ruled out from their point of view.
At least in Germany, the social democrats have a number of options to choose from.