Angier, T. (2015) “European social democracy is in danger of terminal decline unless it can reengage with its core values“, LSE EUROPP, 30 January.
With the rise of parties on the far-right and radical left of European party systems, social democratic parties now face a challenge to retain their support base in several European countries. Tom Angier writes that the primary problem facing social democrats is that they have shifted their appeal away from their core constituencies and the social organisations that previously entrenched their place in communities, such as unions and cooperatives. He argues that only be reengaging with their traditional priorities can social democrats hope to arrest this decline.
Europe is in trouble. This is evident at the purely political level, where the EU project elicits indifference or hostility from an increasing number of European citizens, and membership of mainstream parties has declined precipitously since 1980. It is evident at the economic level, where wealth is being concentrated in a small number of hands, hands that seem unbound by ties to any particular nation or locale. And it is evident at the level of civil society, where the social fabric is being disfigured by fears of political Islam, fears unallayed by those who reduce them, patronisingly, to a form of mental disorder or ‘phobia’.
In face of these developments, what should be the response of social democrats? Commentators like Timothy Garton-Ash put their hope in a renewed EU-loyalism, telling UK citizens, for instance, that they are far more European than they think. Recourse to European identity and values will supposedly preserve us from widespread political disaffection, radical economic inequality and bitter cultural dissension. But this advice sounds more hollow than ever. Genuine EU-loyalism was never widely or deeply spread, even outside the UK, and worse, in the current climate it smacks of a Merkelite version of Am deutschen Wesen soll die Welt genesen – ‘the German spirit will rescue the world’.
Indeed, EU structures have moved ever closer to the neo-liberal consensus, thereby ensuring both political disaffection and economic inequality, while doing nothing to address incipient cultural conflict. What can the left offer that is not only practicable, but also embodies real hope for the future?
- Immervoll, H., Jenkins, P. S. & Königs, S. (2015) “Are Recipients of Social Assistance ‘Benefit Dependent’? Concepts, Measurement and Results for Selected Countries“, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA), Discussion Paper No. 8786, January 2015.
- Gow, D. (2015) “Tsipras And Syriza’s Win Reboots European Social Democracy“, Social Europe Journal, 26 January.
- World Employment and Social Outlook – Trends 2015 (full report), International Labour Organization, January 2015.