There was a time when the European Parliament’s contingent of socialist were socialists and nothing else. But could that be all set to change?
The main centre-left force in the EU chamber was always called the socialist group and it was only in 2009 that the Party of European Socialists (PES) renamed its parliamentary group as the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (commonly shortened to S&D group).
The story of how and why the socialists made this shift is a renowned one.
They wanted to embrace the Italian Democratic party (PD), at a time when a newborn centre-left party represented the only real barrier to the overwhelming power of Silvio Berlusconi.
Ever since the Italian democrats became the ‘D’ in the S&D, they have always been a crucial component within the group and will remain so in the next legislative term, despite haemorrhaging votes.
So it came as a surprise that Italy’s PD was among the guests of Emmanuel Macron’s Renaissance on Saturday, a rally with the clear intention to build a centrist group of around 100 MEPs.
So what’s really going on? Is there a risk that the next socialist group will lose its ‘D’? And will the Italian Dems flesh out the D of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE)?
First, it is worth recalling that the Italian Democratic Party put the PES logo on its electoral lists, explicitly claiming its membership of the European socialist political party, which has never been in question.
But the same cannot be said for its membership of the parliamentary group. That’s what former minister Carlo Calenda, who is the PD’s leading candidate in the North-East, said.
“If there will be a progressive group from Macron to Tsipras, I’ll be part of it, otherwise I’ll be in the group of the European socialist party,” he said during a TV debate in April.
Furthermore, another PD candidate is actually Macron’s runner in Italy: 38-year-old Caterina Avanza was a close collaborator of the French president and a campaigner for La République En Marche(LREM).
It was also confirmed to EURACTIV that some running Italian democrats are already being contacted by LREM to keep a door open and are being persuaded to join Macron’s group.
Something is moving within the PD and many bridges are being built. That’s probably why the new PD leader Nicola Zingaretti met his LREM counterpart, Stainslas Guerini, in Turin on Sunday.
It sounds like a signal to the candidates of his party: I know you’re in contact with Macron, but I’m in contact with him as well and I’ll find out everything you’re going to do. So, play fair.
A mass shift of Italian democrats outside the socialist group still seems highly unlikely. But one thing is for sure: if S&D ever does lose its ‘D’, it will only be down to the allure of Macron, not the liberals.
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Views are the author’s
[Edited by Sam Morgan and Zoran Radosavljevic]