European Social Democrats are showing signs of life, but France is blocking the road

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PARIS – For the venerable French Socialist Party, which is languishing at 4% support ahead of next year’s presidential elections, news of a surprise victory last Sunday by its center-left counterpart in Germany offered a glimmer of light. hope.

The slim victory of Olaf Scholz and the German Social Democratic Party, as well as the expected return to power of the Norwegian Labor Party after a recent victory, underscored the recent success of the struggling European Social Democrats. If Mr Scholz succeeds in forming a government, the Social Democrats in Europe’s most powerful nation will join the center-left governments in Spain, Portugal and the Nordic countries of Sweden, Denmark and Finland, as well. than in Norway.

Attention will then turn to France, where presidential elections are scheduled for next April. But in France, experts say, the hopes of the Social Democrats for a continent-wide renewal risk fading.

Socialist Party officials were quick to take the German results, however, as a sign that the political tides of Europe may be turning.

“Never assume that the battle is already lost,” Socialist leader Olivier Faure said in a statement. Twitter message. The party’s presidential candidate, Anne Hidalgo, noted that Mr. Scholz “had broken all records” thanks to a policy common to the two social democratic parties.

But it will take more to turn the tide of a party which, not so long ago, completely dominated French politics.

After months of hinting that she would run for president, Ms. Hidalgo, 62, second-term mayor of Paris, finally announced her candidacy in mid-September. But instead of getting an expected rebound in the polls, his approval ratings have come down.

His poll is now well below not only the two favorites to face in a standoff – President Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen, of the far-right National Rally – but also well below the center-right candidates and Eric Zemmour, writer and television star known for his far-right views, who is not yet an official candidate.

On the other side of the political spectrum, she follows the far left Jean-Luc Mélenchon and is neck and neck with the new presidential candidate of the Greens, Yannick Jadot, according to the polls.

The collapse of the Socialists is all the more striking since less than a decade ago under Socialist President François Hollande, the party controlled the Elysee Palace, the two chambers of Parliament, a majority of large cities and almost all regions.

“Nine years ago, this party had all the cards in hand,” said Pascal Delwit, political scientist specializing in social democracy at the Free University of Brussels. “Nine years later, he doesn’t have any.

In what has become a symbol of its downfall, the Socialist Party has had to give up its long-standing seat, in one of Paris’ most vibrant neighborhoods, for cheaper real estate in a suburb, or suburb, than many members never bothered to visit.

Alain Bergounioux, historian specializing in the Socialist Party, said that beyond collapsing at the ballot box, the socialists seem to have lost the ability to advance their ideas and themes in a rapidly changing political landscape.

“They don’t really influence the national debate anymore, because public opinion has shifted to the right,” Bergounioux said.

He added: “If it was premature to say that Social Democracy was dead, it would be an exaggeration to say that there is a renaissance.

Seven months before the presidential elections, issues dear to the right – such as immigration, crime and national identity – dominate political discourse. As Mr Macron ran as a centrist in 2017, he veered off in an offer for the larger slice of the electorate.

The attention paid to these topics has only increased in recent weeks, with the intense attention of the news media on a possible candidacy of Mr. Zemmour. Posing as a populist Trump alien, he visited different regions on a book tour that doubled as a campaign. A poll released this week showed her support among potential voters in the first round of elections continued to climb, to 13%, just three percentage points below Ms Le Pen.

France is an extreme, albeit revealing, example of the problems plaguing social democratic parties across Europe, experts say.

While the social democratic parties have lost support almost everywhere amid political fragmentation on the continent, the French Socialist Party has also been decimated by the successful creation by Mr. Macron of his centrist La République en Marche party. Some socialist leaders have abandoned their old party to join Mr. Macron, who had been Mr. Hollande’s economy minister. In forming his government, Mr. Macron also poached from the center-right, which was less weakened than the center-left and remains a force in French politics.

For decades, social democratic parties have appealed to a core of unionized, industrial and urban workers with a vision of social justice and a fair economy.

But many longtime French supporters felt betrayed by Mr. Hollande’s pro-business policies, as French socialists, like their counterparts elsewhere, were unable to protect their traditional base from globalization.

While French socialists are reviving their traditional values ​​and are now emphasizing their commitment to the environment, their vision of society lacks a “solid backbone,” said Bergounioux. In France, as elsewhere, constituencies supporting social democratic parties tend to be made up of “aging and loyal voters who have voted for them their entire lives,” Delwit said.

In Germany and elsewhere in Europe, the recent success of social democratic parties rested on successful maneuvers – not the allure of a new social democratic vision, experts said.

Ernst Stetter, member of the Social Democratic Party in Germany and former secretary general of the Foundation for European Progress Studies, a coordinating group of social democratic think tanks across the continent, said the party’s victory on Sunday the latter was “above all a strategic victory. By M. Scholz.

As vice-chancellor and finance minister in the government of Chancellor Angela Merkel, Mr. Scholz proposed “a change in continuity by offering a little more social programs, a little more on the environment and the continuity in the European and international affairs, “said Stetter, who is also an analyst at the Jean-Jaurès Foundation research institute in Paris.

Narrow as it was, Mr Scholz’s victory represented “the center of the Social Democratic Party, not the left,” said Daniel Cohn-Bendit, a Franco-German politician and former Green member of the European Parliament.

Socialists in Spain, Portugal and the Nordic countries also owe their success to responding to local needs, not to a common vision of social democracy, Cohn-Bendit said.

“On immigration policy, the Social Democrats in Denmark are to the right of many centrist parties,” Cohn-Bendit said, referring to a series of tough immigration measures adopted by the Danish Social Democrats .

After years of rising right-wing parties, the Social Democrats now lead governments in Sweden, Finland and Denmark, and are set to do so in Norway. But their hold on power is much more tenuous than in the past.

In Norway, the Labor Party, led by Jonas Gahr Stoere, won last month’s parliamentary elections but won just over a quarter of the total seats, one of the highest scores bottom never recorded by the party. After talks to form a broad center-left coalition have failed in recent days, Stoere is now expected to become prime minister of a minority government.

“There is not yet a new definition of what social democracy could be in today’s world,” Cohn-Bendit said.

Mr Stetter said he too was skeptical about a broad revival of Social Democracy. Over the past decade, the Social Democrats have worked unsuccessfully for a renewal under the banner of the “next left,” he said.

Still, Mr Stetter said he hoped last Sunday’s election results in Germany could portend positive developments for Social Democrats in Europe.

“If Scholz succeeds in forming a government as Social Democratic Chancellor, there would be a dynamic force at the heart of Europe, and this could energize the French Socialist Party in the campaign period before the presidential elections April, “said Mr. Stetter. “We must remain optimistic.



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