Europa & die Welt Debattenbeitrag

EU Elections: A Wake-Up Call for a Progressive Alternative to Mainstream Politics?



Never waste a crisis – but progressive forces failed to develop an agenda and a vision despite the highly popular support for alternative solutions of the financial crisis in Europe. This paralysis facilitates the rise of extremist parties.


The results of the European elections have been put through a lot of scrutiny by now. What they mean, who scored better, what prospects they bear for the European future. The good message is that the far right has not scored significantly better than usual – apart for the exceptional results in France and in Great Britain (if we are to consider UKIP under the label ‘far right’). In other countries they have gained rather average support, and in some countries they are not worth mentioning, especially in relation to the whole population. On the other hand, the social democrats have slightly lost, and the radical left has slighlty improved, which makes an equal total.

Even though it can be perceived as a success that the majority of the Europeans voted ‘mainstream’ and did not shift too significantly to non-establishment parties, there is nothing to cheer for progessive forces. It is surprising that progressive parties are unable to generate significant numbers at this time. One could say that the crisis was a gift to leftists: what else could have undermined the hegemony of neoliberal capitalism better? It was a decisive moment for any radical action. Almost none of it happened, and parties across the spectrum seem to agree on the core economical actions. Austerity and related policies are indeed perceived as a ‘must’ by almost every established politician.

This is a great pity. There were few other eras when people would be more supportive of leftist ideas. What is the main motto of Indignados, of trade unionists, striking workers and demonstrating civil society across EU countries for the past 5 years? To put it very simply: Less austerity, more investment. Less oligarchy, more democracy. Less corruption, more public spending. Less tax evasions, higher median salaries. Higher corporate taxes, lower income taxes; less flat taxes, more progessive taxation. Less fight for competitive advantage amongst states, more converging salaries, converging social and tax systems and higher minimum wages, to name just a few. Millions of people took to the streets of European cities, standing up for very much the same: better public services, higher (or at least equal) standards of life for all.

Social democrats and leftists are trapped in a situation where they have to self-censor themselves for the sake of corporate sponsors and stick to the other (neoliberal) establishment parties so that they can keep power against so-called non-establishment parties. This is the surest way to slowly be forgotten: Their electorate is either getting de-mobilized and apatic, or more radical then the social democrats themselves.

Today, the progressive forces, parties and thinkers seem to be afraid to articulate any true vision for Europe. What we hear in the public discourse is far from the radical claims of the past, although the world has never been (lineary) richer and more developed. In the past, radicals called for abolition of capitalism, for smashing patriarchy and all forms of domination structures. Today it seems too radical to tame financial markets and increase minimum wages. Combined with an ever-present apologetic addendum (‘It is not politically possible under current circumstances’), this makes the left hardly appealing to anyone.

Nonetheless, I am confident that there is still enough positive deviation. That there are still enough of those who do not satisfy themselves with only a little. But if we do not articulate a progressive vision based on democratic principles, human rights, more economic equality and solidarity, somebody else will propagate alternative visions. And even though their visions are against the democractic basic principles most Europeans came to believe in, in the absence of any alternative, they do and will appeal to people.


This article was first published on European Circle.