Whither European Social Democracy?

Socialdemocracyhomepage Robert Taylor in Dissent:

The broader political picture in Europe does not suggest that social democracy has rediscovered its former winning ways. In Italy the left suffered a humiliating defeat in the April general election, with the dramatic return to power in Rome of that disreputable right-wing demagogue Silvio Berlusconi. The ruling British Labour Party under Gordon Brown has some of the worst public opinion ratings since the days more than a quarter of a century ago when it was led by the left-winger Michael Foot.

The Danish Social Democrats lost heavily in their country’s general election last year and polled little more than one in five of the votes cast. Across much of central and eastern Europe—with the exception of Hungary—the outlook is not much better. In some of those countries the parties of social democracy are neither in government nor, in some cases, such as in Poland, do they even constitute the main parliamentary opposition. The two most powerful political leaders in Europe are both firmly on the democratic right—Chancellor Angela Merkel in Germany and the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy. Only Norway, in the Nordic region once dominated by social democrats, has a Labor government. Social democrats may be members of coalitions in Germany, Belgium, Holland, Bulgaria and Lithuania but they are not the dominant partners in those arrangements.

The demise of European social democracy has come suddenly and perhaps unexpectedly. As Roger Liddle from Policy Network, the New Labour think tank that organized the Hertfordshire conference, has pointed out, as recently as 2000 no fewer than eleven out of the then fifteen European Union member states had social democratic or center-left prime ministers. Today there are only four.