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The Conversion of Social Democracy in Europe

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Social Democracy is an ideology that continued for years with differences in particular countries of the world. Right after the Second World War, this ideology was shaped by the social democrat parties in Western Europe by refusing the “Stalinist” political and economic model of the Soviet Union, and devoting themselves to a reconciliation between capitalism or socialism, or an alternative road to socialism. Later, in the Cold War year, political parties in Europe adopted more “leftist” ideologies. As a matter of fact, until the 1990s, Europe studied Social Democracy. Especially, British Labour Party and the German Social Democrat Party were strong parties of social democratic ideology in those years.

When the Cold War ended at the end of the 21st century, this situation started to change. Indeed, this new century has brought new Dynamics and new geopolitical conditions. In addition, a change in Europe has started in terms of ideology and political parties. Therefore, it is observed that social democracy did not have the same power. In the changing conjuncture, the reshaping of the notion of the proletariat, modes of production, and economic conditions caused this power to decrease.

Considering the near future, it is seen that Europe faces different crises. These crises affect both politics and society, and economics. For instance, the 2015 migration crisis caused the voting percentage of the political parties, including the ideological basis. The increase in the number of migrants trying to find asylum in Europe from the Middle East and Central Asia due to war, economic crisis, internal conflicts, and terror, caused the societal structure of the European countries slowly, and that was reflected in the politics as well.

With the effects of the migrant crisis and the support of the societies to the discourse of the conservative rightist parties, the change has become more obvious. For instance, analyzing Hungary is it known that the Budapest administration is applying harsh policies and discourse toward migrants and asylum seekers since the migrant crisis.[1] The leading party continues that kind of discourse.[2] In that context, in Hungary, it is observed that social democratic or socialist parties were replaced by conservative center-right parties, and those parties secured their positions. While the Hungarian Socialist Party established a coalition with the Alliance of Free Democrats from 2002 to 2010, in 2010, under the leadership of Prime Minister of Hungary Victor Orban, the conservative Fidesz Party managed to stay in power with the coalition of Hungarian Democratic Forum over four elections.[3]

In addition to the political effects, the economic problems triggered by the migrant crisis caused the leftist parties in power in many countries of Europe to struggle. Because the policies of these parties worsened the presentation relations between the society and the administrators. The solution suggestions of those administrations were bailout programs, mass privatization of public enterprises and services, pension cuts, austerity through rebates, and increases in the legal minimum wage and taxes. However, social democracy in Europe could not be an alternative to austerity and authoritarianism, since the European Union (EU) accepted the neoliberal doctrine.[4]

In that period, the Coalition of the Radical Left–Progressive Alliance (SYRIZA) in Greece can be a good example of the social democratic parties losing power due to an economic crisis. Since the 2010s, the escalating economic crisis in Greece led to the recession in the country, and that caused foreign indebtment to increase. And the leftist economic policies of SYRIZA under the leadership of Alexis Tsipras caused a change in government in the 2019 elections. Conservative New Democracy Party increased the number of seats in the parliament from 75 to 158, and got %39,8 of the votes, and became the leading party.[5]

In addition to the migrant issue and the economic crises, in recent years, in the countries such as France, Germany, and the United Kingdom, it is observed that social democratic parties that were popular, started to lose power. The main reason for the change in those countries was for those parties to get votes from the middle class, not from the proletariat.[6] The decrease of syndication in the proletariat caused the decrease in the votes of the social democrat parties. Even, it is seen that the proletariat tends to support far-right parties.[7] As a matter of fact, in the UK, the Conservative Party has been the leading party since 2010 uninterruptedly, while in France, the votes of the Socialist Party were decreasing continuously.

Another crisis that caused the sharpening of ideological evolution was the Russian-Ukrainian War, which started in February 2022. Since the EU countries applied sanctions on Russia, the emergence of an economic crisis and energy crisis caused an increase in inflation in the world. In that period, especially the insecurity of the Central and Eastern European countries in terms of national security escalated the ideological conversion in Europe. That’s why, in Sweden, where leftist parties were quite popular, a coalition has been established including the rightist parties. In addition to Sweden, the discourse has changed in Southern European countries such as Italy and Spain for different reasons, and the support for social democratic parties has decreased. Italy is having the most rightist government since Benito Mussolini.

In addition, social democracy, which underlined its ideological basis after the Second World War in Europe, was an ideological symbol, but with the new dynamics of the 21st century, it has started to lose power. Global developments affecting domestic and foreign affairs and the economy have brought social change.

In addition to external phenomena such as the refugee issue and the economic crisis, class changes have also caused social democratic parties to lose votes in some countries. In addition, events such as the Russia-Ukraine War, which had a first-order impact on Europe, also affected the internal dynamics of these countries.


[1] Matthew Weaver-Haroon Siddique, “Refugee Crisis: Hungary Rejects All Asylum Requests Made at Border-As It Happened”, The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/world/live/2015/sep/15/refugee-crisis-hungary-launches-border-crackdown-live-updates, (Date of Accession: 21.10.2022).

[2] Rick Noack, “Hungary’s Viktor Orban Faces Outrage After Saying Europeans Shouldn’t Become ‘Mixed Race’”, The Washington Post, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2022/07/27/viktor-orban-mixed-race-cpac/, (Date of Accession: 21.10.2022).

[3] “Hungary”, ElectionGuide, https://www.electionguide.org/countries/id/99/, (Date of Accession: 21.10.2022).

[4] “Analysing European Social Democracy: The Stance of the Left”, Transform! Europe, https://www.transform-network.net/calendar/event/analysing-european-social-democracy-the-stance-of-the-left/, (Date of Accession: 21.10.2022).

[5] “Hellenic Republic”, ElectionGuide, https://www.electionguide.org/elections/id/3158/, (Date of Accession: 21.10.2022).

[6] Tarik Abou-Chadi, “Past the Point of No Return? The Future of Social Democracy in Europe”, Green European Journal, https://www.greeneuropeanjournal.eu/past-the-point-of-no-return-the-future-of-social-democracy-in-europe/, (Date of Accession: 21.10.2022).

[7] Ibid.

Sevinç İrem BALCI
Sevinç İrem BALCI
Sevinç İrem Balcı, Orta Doğu Teknik Üniversitesi Uluslararası İlişkiler bölümü mezunudur. İyi derecede İngilizce bilen Balcı, aynı zamanda Rusça ve Yunanca öğrenmektedir. Başlıca çalışma alanları Balkanlar ve Avrupa'dır.