Europe’s centre-left risks irrelevance if it can’t respond to the populist challenge

Europe’s centre-left risks irrelevance if it can’t respond to the populist challenge

By Sheri Berman

• Several of Europe’s centre-left parties have suffered disappointing election results since the financial crisis, but is this slide in support permanent or can they arrest their decline? Sheri Berman writes that with the rise of new parties on the populist right, the centre-left risks sliding into irrelevance unless it can respond with viable and attractive solutions to contemporary problems.

Europe today is in crisis. Economically, much of the continent suffers from low growth, high unemployment and rising inequality, while politically, disillusionment with the European community as well as domestic institutions and elites is widespread. Partially as a result, right-wing populism is growing, increasing political instability and uncertainty even further. Although many have noted a correlation between the rise of populism and the decline of the social democratic or centre-left, the causal relationship between them has not been sufficiently stressed. Indeed, to a large degree the failures of the latter explain the surprising popularity of the former.

Although the decline of social democracy and the rise of populism have become particularly noticeable since the financial crisis that began in 2008, the roots of both lie much earlier, in the 1970s. During this decade economic and social/cultural changes began unsettling long-standing voting and political patterns. Economically, the postwar order was running out of steam, and a noxious mix of unemployment and inflation hit Europe. However, social democrats lacked well thought out plans for getting economies moving again or for using the democratic state to protect citizens from the changes brought by ever-evolving capitalism.

 

 

From LSE EUROPP

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