Fragmented EU leftist forces struggle to find their feet

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Following heavy defeats in the last EU elections, progressive, centre-left forces in Europe have found themselves in an uneasy position.

The push for convergence amongst EU socialists, leftists and greens has not brought the desired results and their deep divisions give little hope for an immediate revival. The reasons range from battles concerning who primarily represents the left, to personal ambitions and the rightist turn by several established socialist parties across Europe.

According to EURACTIV France, leftist France Insoumise MEP Emmanuel Maurel, a former socialist, aims to bring together the greens and socialists. He joins Raphaël Glucksman and the independent Spanish Green Ernest Urtasun, as well as seven other MEPs, to revive the Progressive Caucus project, an informal group of MEPs from the leftist GUE-NGL, the Greens and socialists (S&D).

EURACTIV France reports that the steering committee of the group held a meeting this summer. Although some socialists and far-left EU lawmakers have an appetite, it seems that the greens, who made gains in the last EU elections, feel little concerned, which poses a problem for the development of the movement.

A source from GUE-NGL told EURACTIV.com that no official meeting has taken place yet and that a first informal meeting is due this month in Strasbourg. The same source said only three MEPs of the previous steering committee have been re-elected in this term and therefore newcomers have to be informed about the initiative.

On 8-10 November, the European Forum of Progressive Forces will take place in Brussels, which will test the waters for the future of the project. The same date, the greens will hold their congress and the European Left hold their meeting in December.

In France, for the time being, the greens are happy to walk alone, the socialist party is on a collision course with its left wing, tempted by France Insoumise, which was founded by Jean-Luc Mélenchon. Its right wing is fully absorbed by Macron’s La Republique En Marche.

In the past, Mélenchon has been criticised by EU comrades for pursuing a personal agenda against the overall interests of the left. This has previously prompted Gabriele Zimmer, former president of GUE/NGL, to urge leftist parties across Europe to escape from ‘self-isolation’ and seek majorities.

(EURACTIV.fr/ Sarantis Michalopoulos, EURACTIV.com)

In Madrid, the socialists (PSOE) and leftist Podemos have been struggling to form a coalition government ahead of the 22 September deadline. EURACTIV’s partner EuroEFEreports that the ongoing negotiations have turned out to be a “personal and tricky chess game” between acting PM Pedro Sánchez and Podemos’s leader Pablo Iglesias.

Sánchez has recently offered Podemos a wide “programmatic agreement”, focussing on Iglesias’ objectives to eradicate poverty. But PSOE is well aware of the fact that it can’t simply open the doors of a future cabinet to its “enemy”, allowing them to be a Trojan horse by directly competing for the “real” principles and ideology of the left.

In the event of new elections, Sánchez is not certain to get sufficient support to govern alone, even if new corruption scandals keep hitting the already ailing conservative Partido Popular (PP) party.

On the other hand, Iglesias is also afraid of losing support in the case of new elections. In the last vote, Podemos got 42 seats while PSOE 123 seats, far from a 176 majority.

An increasing number of analysts predict that, at the end of the day, both leaders will take a last-minute step back.

(Fernando Heller /EuroEFE.EURACTIV.es)

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In Germany, thirty years after the fall of the Berlin wall, Die Linke is back to 1990 levels. Analysts suggest that the election campaign was marked by the conflict between far-right AfD and Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU. This drove voters from Die Linke, who actually wanted to vote for the party, to instead cast their vote to the CDU in order to prevent AfD from becoming the strongest force.

However, it still falls short of explaining the deep fall of Die Linke in eastern Germany. In the state elections in Brandenburg and Saxony on 1 September, the left slipped in both states from 19% to less than 11%, the weakest performance in eastern Germany since 1990.

The charismatic former left-wing parliamentary group leader Gregor Gysi commented: “We win together and we lose together, that’s why I don’t want any personal battles […] we must now prepare ourselves for the elections in Thuringia. Only after that can we deal with ourselves again.”

The state of Thuringia, also a former Eastern German state, will hold its next elections on 27 October and it’s going to be a crucial test for Die Linke.

(Claire Stam,EURACTIV.de)

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In Poland, the situation on the left is complex. Currently, the left does not have any representation in the parliament, as they fell short of the threshold in the 2015 elections.

This year, however, some developments took place. There are now three left-wing parties – Wiosna (Spring), Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) and far-left Razem (Together). For the EU elections, SLD joined forces with the centrist European Coalition and managed to get 5 MEPs elected. Wiosna got 6% (3 MEPs) but the result was widely seen as a failure while Razem performed poorly. Ahead of the October parliamentary elections, the three parties have joined forces and have one joint committee – Lewica (The Left).

In the polls, they perform well, especially given the fact that leftist parties have been almost non-existent for a few years in Polish politics. Most polls suggest that they are close to 15% but whether this coalition can survive beyond the elections remains to be seen. SLD is post-communist and strongly pro-EU “third way” left, while Razem and Wiosna are more progressive and appeal to a more urban and young electorate. In the European Parliament, the MEPs from SLD and Wiosna belong to both the EPP and S&D (Łukasz Gadzała, EURACTIV.pl)

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In the UK, the Labour party, headed by unabashed socialist Jeremy Corbyn have recently been polling lower than expected. Two polls over the weekend saw Corbyn’s Labour party slump to as low as 21%, with the Conservatives riding higher than expected on 35% of the vote.

There are those that will point the finger at Labour’s track record in dealing with accusations of anti-semitism within the party as the reason why the party have struggled in recent polls. The most recent charges at Corbyn in particular were levelled against him over the weekend, as Labour MP John Mann announced he won’t represent the party at the next election, saying that Corbyn has given the “green light” to anti-Jewish racists by failing to deal with accusations made against the party.

“Every time I go into a meeting with a group of Jewish people, I wince when they raise the issue of the Labour party and Corbyn,” he said.

“It is impossible to overstate the anger that I have about that. He has not just hijacked my political party – he has hijacked its soul and its ethics. I will never forgive him for that.

(Samuel Stolton, EURACTIV.com)

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ROME

‘Hope’ for Left. Before the summer, far-right seemed doomed to control Italy for a long while, but Salvini’s attempt to overthrow the ruling coalition with Five Star Movement backfired, giving another shot at redemption to the Italian left, who have been virtually irrelevant.

But the game-changer for Italy’s left could come from the Five Star Movement, which appears to be more left-leaning in the new ruling coalition. The anti-establishment party is now aiming to enhance its presence at the EU level, as reported in The Capitals. According to L’Espresso, Five Star is close to entering Greens’ group in the European Parliament. “We’re open to discuss,” Greens co-president Philippe Lambert told the Italian weekly. (Gerardo Fortuna, EURACTIV.com) (Gerardo Fortuna, EURACTIV.com)

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ATHENS

Speaking at the annual European House Ambrosetti forum in Italy last weekend, leftist former PM Alexis Tsipras said Europe is faced with the dilemma of nationalist policies and the passive acceptance of neoliberal policies. He added that the answer for that is brave, progressive and European solutions.

However, his Syriza party defeat in the last national elections in Greece has had a direct impact on the push for “progressive” answers at the EU level, considering Syriza’s influence in the EU left.

When it comes to the relations with the Pan-Hellenic Socialist Movement (Pasok), they couldn’t be worse. Pasok is the official member of the EU socialist family but Tsipras is always invited as an observer at their meetings. The Pasok-Syriza relations can be compared to Spain’s PSOE and Podemos, as they both aim to occupy the left part of the political spectrum.

But Pasok has been under huge pressure, as an increasing number of its members have moved to either Syriza or conservative New Democracy (EPP). There is also an ongoing battle within Syriza: there is a fraction willing to transform the party into a more centrist progressive force and a minority which wants to stick to strictly leftist lines.

(Sarantis Michalopoulos, EURACTIV.com)

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BRATISLAVA / PRAGUE / BUCHAREST

In Slovakia, various leftist political forces were absorbed by SMER-SD back in 2004, which effectively eliminated any competition on the left side. SMER-SD has been in power since 2006 and was only interrupted for a short period of time by Iveta Radičová’s government (2010-2012).

While social democracy is the official ideology, it is still far from socialism perceived in Western democracies. EURACTIV Slovakia reports that SMER-SD is quite national-conservative, populist party and its representatives do not refrain from frequently flirting with xenophobia, something that has raised eyebrows in the EU socialist family. New parties currently challenging the political dominance of SMER-SD do not define themselves as left or social-democratic, but rather “progressive” or “centrist”.

Similarly in Romania, the ruling socialist party (PSD) has been the “black sheep” of the EU socialist family. A number of scandals involving its lawmakers combined with a conservative populist turn have labelled them as the “Orban of EU socialists”.

The Alliance USR (Barna’s Party) and +Plus (Dacian Ciolos’ party), both pro-EU and strongly critical against the coalition government, are ready to take advantage of the ongoing political turmoil, following the departure of a junior coalition partner.

The two parties enjoy the support of centrist Renew Europe (former ALDE) and they do not wish to enter a government without having a clear parliamentary majority. Should a motion of no confidence pass, the centre-right PNL (EPP) has said it’s ready to govern and it’s likely that PSD won’t make it to the second round of the upcoming presidential elections for the first time in its history.

In Prague, both junior coalition partners Social Democrats (ČSSD) and Communists (KSČM) help the current cabinet stay alive, but at the same time, they lose voters to the senior coalition partner party ANO. ČSSD (former S&D) used to be a major political power but now gets just 6% in the latest polls. KSČM (GUE/NGL) for the first time in post-revolution history fell under the 5% threshold. Nevertheless, close cooperation between the two is unlikely due to historical reasons. (Zuzana Gabrižová, EURACTIV.sk/ Ondřej Plevák, EURACTIV.cz)

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ZAGREB/ LJUBLJANA 

Before the EU elections, Croatia had one centre-left party (SDP-S&D), and one radical left (Human Shield), which aimed to make a faction in the EU parliament with the Italian 5-Star Movement but it elected only one MEP and therefore, any plan fell apart.

The only elected MEP now wants to stay independent as he has said his term, as an MEP, will help me solve some personal financial issues. SDP managed to elect three MEPs plus one following Brexit. SDP does not intend to have any contacts with Human Shield.

In Slovenia, the situation is unique: the radical left Levica party (a member of the European Left) belongs to the opposition but supports the minority coalition government. The Slovenian Social Democrats (SD-S&D), who are a member of the coalition, have no special connection with Left. (Željko Trkanjec, EURACTIV.hr)

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In other news from the capitals…

SOFIA

A dirty campaign against a candidate for mayor causes fury. Media chiefs and journalistic organisations have reacted strongly to publications by the website PIK of naked photos (revenge porn) of the girlfriend of Borislav Ignatov, one of the candidates for mayor of Sofia.

Local elections will be held on 27 October. PIK, a website from the galaxy of media owned by oligarch Delyan Peevski, often slanders public personalities who dare to openly speak against the magnate. Ignatov, a candidate for mayor of the small centre-right party Democratic Bulgaria, called the attack “monstrous” and explained that the photos had been made by a former boyfriend of his partner 10 years ago, which the former lover reportedly used for extortion over these years.

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PRAGUE

Pirates want Czech to join copyright lawsuit. The opposition Pirates have called on the government for Czech to join the Polish lawsuit against the EU Internet Copyright Directive. The Pirates point out that the directive dictates the use of automatic upload filters they say will limit freedom of expression. Poland is concerned about the same issue and filed a lawsuit with the EU Court of Justice. The Czech Republic can join in the lawsuit within six weeks.

(Ondřej Plevák, EURACTIV.cz)

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BELGRADE

Washington will back a Belgrade-Pristina settlement. US Senators Ron Johnson and Chris Murphy in Belgrade said that Washington supported the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue and that it would back a settlement between the two sides. “America is here to be your friend and both nations will be provided great support in reaching an agreement,” Senator Johnson has said. Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić said his country could not recognise Kosovo as an independent state unless a compromising solution was reached. (beta.rs, EURACTIV.rs)

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SARAJEVO

Peaceful Pride Parade. Over 3,000 people gathered in central Sarajevo on Sunday for Bosnia and Herzegovina’s first Gay Pride march, held under the slogan “Come out!”. No incidents were reported. (Read more on EURACTIV’s partner jutarnji.hr)  (Željko Trkanjec, EURACTIV.hr)

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[Edited by Sarantis Michalopoulos and Samuel Stolton]

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