European Social Democracy’s Powerless Power

With financial crisis spreading and economic growth slowing, these should be boom times for Europe's social democrats. So why are center-left parties across the Continent faring so poorly?

At first glance, European social democracy appears to be in crisis. Gordon Brown’s slump in the United Kingdom; the brutal shock of Spain’s economic downturn; the difficulties of renewing Socialist leadership in France; the collapse of the center-left coalition in Italy; and severe infighting within Germany’s SPD: all point to social democracy’s seeming inability to seize the opportunity – which the current financial crisis should present – to exert greater influence.

But the simultaneous occurrence and high visibility of these problems is less significant than they appear. Mistakes or clumsiness in governance are not exclusive to the left: Belgium is paralyzed by the threat of break-up, Austria is still looking to cement an unlikely conservative coalition, Poland is struggling to find a steady balance for its numerous reactionary impulses, and the French president is hitting record lows in terms of popularity.

Two factors help to explain current European uncertainties. First, there is the economic and financial crisis that we are only slowly overcoming. Second, there is the way in which the media are covering it. The combination of the two is, I believe, behind the feeling of powerlessness that is now affecting the whole of Europe, and that may appear to characterize social democracy in particular.

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