Franz Müntefering’s resignation as chairman of Germany’s Social Democrats in the face of a challenge from his party’s leftwing has, like the divisive French referendum on the European Constitution this past May, exposed deep ideological cleavages – divisions not only about Europe, but about the very foundations of society and the economy. Behind the critiques directed at the EU and national governments as “not being social enough,” lurks an image of the Union as a trap that is forcing its members to bend to the fateful disciplines of the market, thus depriving national leaders of their ability to realize important social goals. This cleavage now seems set to shape not only Germany’s future coalition government, but the future of politics across Europe.
In France, this division is evident not only on the extremes of right and left, and in traditionally nationalist Gaullist circles, but also among most socialist voters, who decided to spurn the party leadership’s pro-European stance.
This fundamental debate is not about to abate. On the contrary, as the German election shows and with a presidential election looming in France, the debate has intensified.
In France, this intensity is particularly visible within Socialist ranks. With preparations for the party’s November congress in full swing, a conflict that goes back to the party’s founding is reappearing. On one side is a social-democratic vision, which basically favors the market economy but seeks to alleviateits harsher effects; on the other side stands a radical vision that extols a revolutionary “break with capitalism.”