Soul-searching social democrats issue a mea culpa and mull rebirth

The launch of the EuropeTogether campaign in the European Parliament. Brussels, 19 October. [The Progressives]

In a move to reinvent themselves, social democrats vowed on Wednesday (19 October) to set in motion a reform that would make space for young people to take centre stage.

“The party is over,” said Jan Zielonka, professor of European politics at Oxford. Slamming those who practised capitalism with the poor and socialism with the rich, while treating citizens like consumers, he noted one should not be surprised that Europeans are turning against socialists and parliamentary democracy.

Today, only 28% of Europeans trust parliaments, which means that democracy needs other pillars: participation, contestation and not just dysfunctional representation, added Zielonka.

As Europe searches for answers on how to deal with rising inequality, a refugee crisis which they see as destroying their welfare model, raging populism, and last but not least, Brexit, social democrats issued a mea culpa, acknowledging that they have ‘gone to bed with the enemy,’  and need to reverse the course of history.

At a launch event in Brussels organised by the S&D group in the European Parliament, centre-left activists and politicians from across Europe gathered to spell the end of rubbing elbows with neoliberals and promised to lead a more progressive, just and fair Europe.

From north to south, Europe’s centre-left is losing voters. In Poland, it secured 8% of the votes at the last election. In France,  François Hollande’s popularity fell below 15%, according to polling by TNS Sofres.

In Austria, former Social Democrat Party 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.

Europe's socialists in disarray, Germany tries to plot course away from trouble

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 haemorraging support to the extreme parties of both the left and right. EURACTIV Germany reports.

“We will not reverse history by small incremental changes,” Zielonka said, adding that progressive activists need to offer a bold vision in tune with traditional egalitarian value.

Europe desperately needs to be reformed with new ideas and the progressive forces have the duty to take the lead in this battle for change. Politicians agree that this requires fresh insight and political creativity as “they cannot come up with answers of the past while Europe is changing”.

Jarosław Kaczynski and Marine Le Pen are no superheroes, Zielonka continued, saying social democrats have failed to offer a real alternative to neoliberal policies.

Gianni Pittella insisted on the need to let young people lead the change and depart from a dangerous bipolarism: on one hand, those who want to destroy Europe, and on the other, those who want to preserve the status quo.

“We have to revolutionize this paradigm,” said Pittella.

“We progressives are the only (ones) who can change the current European institutional stalemate, the austerity dogma and the widespread injustice. This is and will be our mission: change this European Union to save Europe,” reads a declaration.

“It’s great that young socialists are invited to conventions, but will they be given access to policy-making?” asked Zielonka, hinting at the the lack of change in party structures.

The flagship, dubbed Together, is more than a political promise, they say. Over the next 18 months, social democrats vow to hold events across the EU encouraging citizens to contribute to this new direction for Europe. Especially young people, they insist.

Earlier this week, European socialists launched a strategy in which they called social democrats across Europe to set up a new agenda based on transformative progressive politics.

At the core of the dilemma for Europe, there is a lack of confidence, said EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini . “If we want to save Europe, we need to see our own potential.”

Quoting former Italian president Giorgio Napolitano, she said that the EU was perfectly okay. The problem is that the EU is having a nervous breakdown from and has to get over it.


Measure co-financed by the European Union

The content of this page and articles represents the views of the author only and is his/her sole responsibility. The European Parliament does not accept any responsibility for use that may be made of the information it contains.

Subscribe to our newsletters