Who killed European social democracy?


On Sunday, Italy’s Democratic Party is likely to perform poorly in the national election, finishing behind former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s right-wing coalition and the anti-establishment 5Star Movement. Among the EU28, that would leave only Malta, Romania, Portugal, Slovakia and Sweden under social democratic leadership.

Meanwhile, the membership of Germany’s once-dominant Social Democratic Party, still reeling from their humiliating collapse in September’s election, is voting on another grand coalition with Angela Merkel’s conservatives.

It’s a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” decision. Opponents fear the move will only accelerate the party’s decline. Supporters make a similarly dire forecast: A “No” vote would likely trigger a new election and an even more disastrous result.

In some countries, including Germany, social democracy’s demise could lead to de facto one-party rule.

Since World War II, social democracy has stood, along with the center right, as one of the twin pillars of European democracy. Its decline, accompanied by the sharp rise of populists on both the right and left, will likely leave the Continent’s politics neither stable nor predictable.

The center left may survive in some form, but it will likely be shadow of itself. France’s Socialist Party, which won just 6.4 percent in the parliamentary election last year, and Greece’s Pasok, which last polled at just over 6 percent, offer hints of what may lie in store.

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