The strange death of social democratic Europe

Essay commissioned by the Nordic Council for its online roundtable entitled: “Social Democrats: Crisis or rebirth?” in August 2010

Social democracy is not merely going through a rough patch: it has seen a steady decline in support over the last three decades. It is unlikely to see any revival in its fortunes until it rediscovers its foundational principles, and throws off the restrictions to its ‘radical horizon of the imagination’. If it does not, it is not just a tragedy for the parties themselves, but for all of Europe, as dark forces to the right of mainstream conservatism wait in the wings to fill the vacuum its absence creates.

A couple of months ahead of the European elections last June, Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, the Danish president of the Party of European Socialists, was at a debate in the European capital with David Rennie, the then Brussels correspondent for The Economist.

Rasmussen was crowing that the Socialists would romp to victory as Europeans, shocked by the economic crisis and fed up of years of deregulation, privatisation and growing inequality imposed by the centre-right, would return en masse to social democracy. A new era of a ‘Social Europe’ was in the offing, he insisted. Continue reading →