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The Crisis of Europe's Social Democracy

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At first sight the international economic crisis vindicates the supporters of state interventionism's theory. While Capitalism's values are into doubt, the world is waiting for alternative solutions which could bring the global economic system out of today's difficult situation. The main ideological rival of economic neoliberalism is the Social Democratic thought, especially as it has been expressed by the European political powers of the so-called center-Left. But, a worrying fact is that even these powers of European Social Democracy seem unable to present a credible alternative solution, as long as they themselves face critical issues regarding their own ideological identity.

Indeed, an examination of Social Democratic parties in Europe doesn't create a positive perspective - they have failed to take advantage of Capitalism's ongoing crisis and therefore they haven't rediscovered the old winning ways. Even the traditionally strong Left parties in France, Germany and Italy have lost their way to electoral victory, being in the 'shadow' of the Conservative Right. Will Social Democracy recover from its current 'ideological hibernation'?

In France, the Socialists still try to recover from the 2007 elections' defeat, while they face unprecedent internal conflicts. The formerly powerful French Socialist Party (PS) is in deep crisis regarding its identity as one of the main political representatives of Social Democracy in Europe, wasting the chance to 'pass the buck' of economic recession to Sarkozy's government. While the French President tries to invigorate his profile as a social reformer, the Left opposition seems unable to shape a common antagonistic - and therefore alternative - political line against the Conservatives. The leadership of PS Secretary-General Martine Aubry (daughter of former Premier Jacques Delors) still faces challenge from the party's 'barons'; especially from her major internal opponent Ségolène Royal who never accepted the fact that she was defeated in the internal elections of the 75th Congress. Furthermore, a part of the Left-wing split and founded the 'Party of the Left', which, if it will collaborate with the Trotskyist 'Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire', would blow up the electoral coherence of the Socialist Party.

In neighbouring Germany, the respective 'comrades' of the French PS, the SPD (Social Democratic Party), remain in the shaddow of Chancellor Angela Merkel even if they are taking part in the big governmental coalition. The country faces the deepest economic recession since the end of the Second World War and according to many political analysts, Social Democrats seem to 'pay the piper' for Gerhard Shroeder's chancellery, during which he tried to apply a "reform" of labor market and social welfare legislation. But, these reforms - also known as "agenda 2010" - was in fact representing, more or less, a threat of the existing living standards of millions of Germans. The recent local elections in Essen which showed a rapid decrease of SPD's electoral power, from 36,7% to 23,5%, while the small party of the "Left" gained a significant 5.4%. Therefore, it becomes clear that the upcoming elections for EU Parliament in June are of great importance for SPD, as long as it will consist a good test before the general encounter of September - perhaps a chance for 'revenge' against Christian Democrats?

In Britain, after 12 years of Tony Blair's premiership, the Labour Party under Gordon Brown seems ready to sink. While the unemployment rate is almost as high as it was in the start of 1990s, the British progressive center-Left is, more or less, in the position that the Tories were in 1994. Thus, according to opinion polls the Conservative Party heads the opinion polls with almost 10% difference from their rivals and - like Sarkozy, Merkel and Berlusconi - its very possible that David Cameron's side will dominate in the next parliamentary elections in the United Kingdom. What Gordon Brown needs is a political miracle - or maybe some great gaffes of the Opposition - in order to change things and regain the confidence of the Britons.

If the Labour Party in Britain faces the possibility of an electoral defeat, in Italy, the center-Left is under the 'Berlusconian' shadow, especially after the debacle of 2008 elections. Being for the third time in the premiership, Silvio Berlusconi and his Conservative coalition seem to strengthen their political role, while, at the same time, the Democratic Party under Walter Veltroni tries to recover. The Italian Left, being split into almost four parties, faces issues of ideological identity quite similar to those of their French counterparts. If the Democratic Party (the major party of the center-Left) had formed a coalition with the 'Rainbow' party federation (Communists and Greens), it would have more chances to effectively confront Berlusconi during the last general elections. But that didn't happen and after two years of Romano Prodi's unstable premiership, the Italian center Left is back in the Opposition, trying to form a new, strong and eloquent alternative political proposition.

The major - and most important - conclusion of the above mentioned cases is that European Social Democracy is in the middle of an ideological crisis. 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 creates. A part of the European Social Democracy is trying to reassess its views on state welfare, economy's state protection and progressive politics, but thats not enough. What people need is a credible alternative to the deadlock of economic neo-liberalism and serious proposals which will put the traditional fundamentals of Left (equality, social justice, fair distribution of goods, protection of worker's rights) back to Europe's political agenda. What people expect from Social Democracy is to see a compromise of the so-called 'modernization' with the traditional values that the European Left represents. As soon as it will weather its crisis of political and ideological identity, then Europe's Social Democracy will be ready to offer a real alternative solution to the upcoming cul-de-sac of the actually existing Capitalism. 
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Aris Claras is a writer based in Greece.

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