28 / 03 / 2019

What’s left from the European Left?

The left-wing parties in Europe are experiencing internal disputes and seeking new alliances. The shrinking of SYRIZA seems to have created a gap that will not be filled easily.




In an audience full of European social democrats, Alexis Tsipras’ rhetorical question “how did we let neoliberalism become the dominant religion in Europe?” may not sound so strange.

His appeals to the center-left of the Old Continent have begun years ago, since he assumed leadership of SYRIZA, although the efforts are more methodical and aim explicitlt at the full integration of the Left with the Socialists. The March 4th event, which was organized by prominent figures and institutions of the European Socialists and in which he raised the aforementioned question, was the umpteenth time in a few months that the Greek Prime Minister seized the opportunity to address the center-left, demanding the cooperation of the two milieux at a domestic, but also at a European level.

This strategy has since then been formalized: on one hand, with the name “Progressive Alliance”, as the subtitle of SYRIZA’s ballot in the upcoming European elections. On the other hand with the appearance of Alexis Tsipras at the GUE / NGL Congress on March 15th, in which his call for a progressive front was consolidated, with the aim of curbing the far-right “Black International” and promoting a “united, democratic Europe”.

Naturally, the terms of the current approach with the Greek and European Socialists are in sharp contrast with the plan that was publicly formulated in 2014, on the eve of the European elections that would mark his first major victory on the road to becoming prime minister. The rapid rise of SYRIZA then constituted the battering ram of the European Left, to such an extent that it even inspired improvised groups outside the Greek borders, which, successfully sought out seats in the European Parliament. Such was the case with “Another Europe with Tsipras” in Italy. Despite the sporadic allusions to a potential collaboration with the shrinking Socialists, these never were central; the European Left had to follow its own, autonomous course.

Behind the rise of SYRIZA, several other parties were taking positions, such as Podemos in Spain, Sinn Féin in Ireland, Die Linke in Germany, the Portuguese Left, and the left wing of the Socialist Party of France (Parti Socialiste), along with the Left Party of Jean-Luc Mélenchon. This momentum was abruptly halped by SYRIZA’s failure to implement the anti-austerity programme, with which he won the elections.

Beyond the cost of this failure in the electoral percentages of left parties across Europe, there has been even bigger conflict within them, since the question of whether they will continue to engage with SYRIZA after having radically changed its governmental strategy, has become divisive.

So far, Podemos has continued to oscillate towards its future prospects. While in practice they are following the latest GUE-NGL strategy by supporting the Socialist government and Pedro Sanchez, parts of them advocate to leave the group of the Left and converge either with the European Spring of Yanis Varoufakis or with Jean-Luc Mélenchon.

The coalition strategy with the Socialists has also been chosen by the left-wing coalition in Portugal. Die Linke, on the other hand, has acquired a new head in the face of Sahra Wagenknecht, who has often separated her position from the party’s traditional leadership on a number of issues, including the possibility of co-operation with the center-left. As a result, the party of the German Left, in correspondence with Podemos, appears to have been split into three pieces.

In France, Benoit Hamon, the new Socialist leader, tanked in the 2017 elections and turned to Yanis Varoufakis while the other factions of the party are divided between the center-left’s autonomy and convergence with the GUE / NGL. Jean-Luc Melenchon was transformed into Tsipra’s fiercest adversary internationally, with plenty of critical statements. Stating that he does not intend to participate in the same European political group as SYRIZA, he left GUE-NGL and has drawn up a different Eurolist in co-operation with Emmanuel Morel, head of the “Now the Left” movement, that split in October from the Socialist Party. The forefront of their agenda is the defence of Member States’ sovereignty against interventions from European institutions, contrary to both the GUE / NGL and European Spring Agendas, which support different versions of deeper European integration.

Τhe vision of the Socialist, Left and Green co-operation might be promoted by its advocates as a necessary move to curb the far-right, although it is hard to disagree that it is primarily a survival strategy. Socialist rates are steadily declining, while in the vast majority of EU member states, governments are taken over by the center-right, the far-right or their partnerships.

The GUE / NGL, based on SYRIZA’s fragile strategy, is faced with the threat of disruption. The prospect of their cooperation seems to be a one-way street in order to contain the further downsizing of the center-left rates and support the left-wing parties that chose to move to the center.

Both the GUE / NGL’s choice and the alternatives that represent Varoufakis and Melenchon salvages something from the old coherent European left-wing agenda, but they are unable to cope with the underlying problem: that this single agenda has been practically fragmented.

The Socialist and Left Party cooperation, even if it promises a “different Europe”, fails to promise anything more than a safety net of elementary social protection, a mere slowdown of the European crisis. The DiEM25 programme for deepening democracy in the European institutions, on the other hand, is unable to inspire those who are most reluctant towards European integration and are now increasing the Eurosceptic percentages. The Melenchon proposal, which promotes national sovereignty against European mandates might be able to engage with new movements such as the yellow vests, but has so far produced controversial results in defending the rights of refugees and migrants.

Five years after the European elections that marked for the first time the rise of the European far-right and the Left, only the first has managed to find a coherent strategy and role in present-day Europe. The latter, betrayed by its flagship and limited by its mission to restore the unpopular profile of the European leadership and the center-left, is unable to function even as an elementary counterbalance to the emerging socio-political and economic dangers.

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