Monday, 21 November 2011

Europe's left has vanished from the map

It's a process that's been long in the making, but this weekend's election in Spain seemed to be the final nail in the coffin for European Democratic Socialism - at least for the moment. With the fall of the Socialist government of Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero in Spain, following on the heels of the fall of Socialist prime minister George Papandreou in Greece two weeks ago, the EU is now left with only two centre-left governments - Denmark and Austria.

The already dwindling left was already not in a good position, with just five centre-left governments out of the 27 EU states at the beginning of the year. Four of those governments have since fallen, including the collapse of the Slovenian government in September (new elections, which the Left is certain to lose, will be held next month). Only the Austrian government has survived, and they were joined by the Danish social democrats who won a trend-defying election in September. Cyprus, which has a communist (but in truth more nationalist) government, does not sit with the centre-right grouping in Europe.

At the same time, five governments now have provisional or technocratic governments - effectively under the control of the markets and the dominant centre-right governments of Europe. The presidencies of the three institutions of EU governance - the commission, the parliament and the council - are all held by the centre-right. The situation is unprecedented. The irony is, at this time of crisis when Europe seems to be tearing itself apart, the governments of Europe have never been so ideologically united - at least in terms of the left-right divide.

The one country that has bucked the rightward trend, Denmark, will take over the rotating EU ministerial presidency at the end of the year. There will be many on the left who will be looking to Denmark's new prime minister, Helle Thorning-Schmidt (pictured left), to represent their interests as the only voice of the Left at EU level during the presidency term in the first half of 2012. It's much like the way the Left was looking to Zapatero when Spain held the rotating presidency in 2009.

But Zapatero never sought out a leadership role at European level, and so far Thorning-Schmidt also seems hesitant to take up the mantle. Even if Denmark holds the presidency, it would be hard for them to forcefully put forward the positions of the European left when that only represents the governments of two small countries.

But that could all change depending on the results of the French election in May of next year. Sarkozy's poll numbers are plunging lower  by the day, and his loss of the French senate to the left in September seemed a harbinger of things to come. If Socialist candidate Francois Hollande wins in May it would fundamentally change the European political landscape and could reverse the left's decline. With the support of the government of the EU's second largest country, Denmark may feel more confident in promoting a Leftist solution to the European crisis.

But if Hollande loses and Sarkozy is elected for a second term, it is hard to see the European left regaining relevance again any time soon.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Not sure how relevant this article is right now, but I stumbled across it and found it an interesting read. That's all I wanted to say.