What’s wrong with the left in Europe?

Progressive parties in Europe have been experiencing a decline in recent years, which has opened a path for victory for many Conservative governments across the continent. All of this at a point in time when progressive reforms are a must to solve social, economical and environmental problems. So why are these parties experiencing such a difficult time?

“Divide and you shall rule,” says the Latin motto. This strategy has been used throughout history by many leaders, like Caesar or Napoleon: dividing the enemy in order to win. The conservative forces in Europe have also employed this tactic, which consists on creating disagreements amongst leftist parties in order for them to confront against each other and lose votes. It has proven to be an effective strategy, as it has broken down many possible left governments in Europe. This situation has led to an hegemony of right and centre-right in most of Europe’s powerful countries like Spain, France, the UK, Italy or Germany.

There is one exception, however, and that is Portugal. Here, Prime Minister António Costa (of the Portuguese Socialist Party), is in power thanks to a parliamentary agreement made in 2015 with other left-side parties. The forces that gave their support to Costa were “the Left Bloc” (of Marxist ideology), the Communist Party of Portugal and the Ecologist Party. But how dis this become possible? There are two phenomenons that can explain it. First of all, these progressive parties initiated conversations before the elections took place, so as to build a common front in order to remove the conservative forces from the control of the government. And secondly, they agreed that if a hypothetical Socialist government carried out progressive and socialist politics with the purpose of increasing people’s life conditions or improving LGBT and women’s rights, they would support said party in the Portuguese parliament. It was, therefore, an agreement which became a reality because these political parties put aside their ideological differences and prioritized common objectives and interests.

But why could this not take place in other European countries? One possible reason is that Conservative forces are very dominant in their respective countries, meaning that they can win elections having to worry about the results of the progressive force. An example could be the UK, where the Tories generally have an overwhelming support amongst the traditional and adult society. In addition, the recent economic crisis had a bad effect on leftist parties, who also had to face an identity crisis. The rise of nationalist parties, possible thanks to new European problems like immigration or Islamic terrorism, has also complicated things for progressive forces. Electorally, these two issues have proven awful for the left. The ideological disagreement between socialdemocrats and new anti-capitalist forces is another cause of right forces victory in Europe. This happened in Spain, where the Socialist Party (PSOE) could not reach the power in 2016 because Podemos, the Spanish anti-capitalist party, did not support it. The origins of the disagreement were not only ideological differences but also their political objectives: while PSOE wanted to make moderate social reforms, Podemos had a radical political program. Finally, another European left issue could be the current electoral system, which doesn’t give much opportunity for left parties to obtain more parliamentary representation.

To summarize, some reasons why European left parties don’t govern nowadays could be the lack of common objectives amongst old and new leftist parties; the identity crisis of these forces as a result of the economic recession; the current electoral system, which doesn’t permit progressive alliances; and the conservative character of some countries that assures the right parties continuity. Therefore, if European progressive forces want to reclaim the power they have lost to conservative parties, they must act fast and as a unit, put their differences behind them and focus on joining together to put forward the social, environmental and economical reforms we need.


This article was written by Tomàs Garcia-Espot

Published by

John McAulay

19 year old journalism student from Barcelona.

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