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What the heck is going wrong with The European Left?

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Something goes wrong with Europe's Socialist and Progressive political powers. Their recent defeat in a European-wide election, along with the worrying rise of the Conservative and Right Wing parties and alliances, create a foreboding perspective for EU's Center Left.

The recent European Parliament elections that took place in the 27 members of the Union produced three major political assumptions. The first has to do with the absence of a 'European agenda' in the pre-election period (which was mainly dominated by national-local issues of interest) and the second is related with Right-wing parties' numerical rise. But there is also a third assumptio - the downfall of the, once dominant, Europe's Center Left.

In the 2004 elections, the Party of European Socialists (PES) had elected 203 representatives, while this year lost 20 seats, electing 183 MEP. Furthermore, most of the European Center Left parties were defeated by their Conservative opponents, proving that the so-called Social Democracy in the continent is passing through a major crisis.

In France, despite increasing public anger for some of president Sarkozy's policies, the once powerful 'Parti Socialiste' failed to aggregate more than 17% of the votes. Similarly, in Germany the Christian Democrats of Chancellor Merkel demolished the opposing Social Democrats (SPD) with a difference of almost 23%. A really 'dissapointing' result for the SPD, according to the words of Frank-Walter Steinmeier who will contest the Chancellery on behalf of Social Democrats in September's federal elections. But, it isn't only France and Germany.

The examples of Britain, Spain and Italy are truly characteristic, showing the failure of Europe's Center Left to profit from the ongoing, capitalist-oriented, financial crisis. Gordon Brown is fighting for his political life, with the European elections to have been proved a real disaster for the Labour Party (which suffered the worst post-war election result). In the Iberian peninsula, Prime Minister Zapatero of Spain faced his first ever election defeat in a nationwide poll from the Conservatives, paying dearly for the country's rising unemployment.

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But, while Zapatero was paying for the recession of Spanish economy, in Italy the Right alliance of Premier Silvio Berlusconi was gaining around 35% of the votes, beating the Centre-Left Democratic Party (PD). A result which shows that Italian voters, even if they do not applaud Berlusconi's policy, haven't been convinced by their country's Social Democratic and Socialist parties. On the contrary, they appear to feel more comfortable with a hardcore conservative Prime Minister - who has been hit by weird personal scandals - rather than with the Center Left Democrats. That should create concern to the leadership of Europe's Socialists.

Two exceptions in the Euro-defeat of Socialist parties were Portugal and Greece. In the second, the opposition PASOK captured 36.7% of the votes (4,4% more than the governing New Democracy) gaining a victory, which however cannot in any case be regarded an electoral triumph. Taking into account the political corruption of the conservative Greek government during the last couple of years, the opposition of George Papandreou's PASOK could sweep the board in recent European Parliament elections. But that did not happen.

It seems that Europe's Center Left still lacks of credible answers on people's questions regarding various issues including the recent economic crisis, social welfare or illegal immigration. That makes the majority of voters suspicious about Left's potential to give solutions and therefore it turns them to conservative choices. Earlier this year, on February, I was writing that the "European Social Democracy is in the middle of an ideological crisis", pointing out that "so far, the center-Left parties of Europe lack a credible narrative of how governments and societies must respond to the disorder that the international economic recession create" - the results of the recent Europarliament elections was some kind of confirmation.

Something goes wrong with Europe's Socialist and Progressive political powers. And their recent defeat in a European-wide election, along with the worrying rise of the Conservative and Right Wing parties and alliances, create a foreboding perspective for EU's Center Left. What they have to do is to respond more effectively to people's urge for solutions, to create a more competitive, truly Progressive political agenda as a counterbalance to conservative policies - and they have to do it as soon as possible.

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Aris Claras is a writer based in Greece.


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