Europe's centre-left parties poll below 20% for the first time ahead of EU elections

Centre of European politics hollowed out with heavy losses for centre-right too

Jon Stone
Tuesday 30 October 2018 10:48 GMT
The SPD has struggled in recent years
The SPD has struggled in recent years (AFP)

The centre-left parties of EU countries are on course to win less than 20 per cent of the vote in the upcoming European Parliament elections, a record low for the EU’s social democrats.

A study conducted by Italy’s Cattaneo business school found that the parties of both of the centre-left and centre-right could cede so many seats in May that they would lose their combined majority in the EU legislature.

It is the once dominant socialist group in Brussels, however, that is set to suffer the most humiliating losses – from which far-right and nationalist groups are set to benefit.

The pounding is expected to be particularly hard because the the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats will have lost one of Europe’s highest polling centre-left parties – the British Labour Party – because of Brexit.

The Istituto Cattaneo study gathers data from polling across the continent and finds that the socialists will likely win 19.7 per cent, down from 24.9 per cent in the last elections in 2014.

The centre-right European People’s Party group is on course for 25.1 per cent, down from 32 per cent – an even steeper fall, but from a higher base. Liberals, Greens, and leftists are all shown slightly down or static, while nationalists, eurosceptics and the far-right groups are in line for gains.

The report on the hollowing-out of Europe’s political centre follows German Chancellor Angela Merkel announcement that she will retire from politics by 2021.

The study’s authors say the elections are likely to result in “a substantial reduction in the seats of the European People’s Party and the socialists” as well as “a strengthening of the Eurogroups in which the so-called ‘sovereigntist’ and ‘populist’ forces are present”.

This would mean “the consequent impossibility of reaching the parliamentary majority with the sum of centre-right and centre-left and the need to find a ‘third leg’ in the support of the liberal group (Alde) or in a radical restructuring of groups”, they argue.

The institute however warns that the numbers may change before the elections as the campaign has not yet begun, and most of the polls used are based on voting intentions for national general elections – which could differ from the final EP vote.

Centrists in the European Parliament face major losses (Getty)
Centrists in the European Parliament face major losses (Getty) (AFP/Getty)

While it is notoriously difficult to poll European Parliament elections because of the cacophony of different national electoral races, results tend to square well with those of national elections in intervening periods.

Most main centre-left social democratic parties have been hollowed out from their formerly dominant positions: Germany’s SPD is polling around 14 per cent, the Netherlands’ Labour Party around 11 per cent, and France’s Parti Socialiste around 6 per cent, while in Greece Pasok has been forced to fold into a wider electoral alliance polling about 7 per cent.

The socialist group, officially known as the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in Europe, was the largest group in the European Parliament in all elections until 1999, when it was eclipsed by the centre-right.

Speaking in The Netherlands in July, Jeremy Corbyn told a congress of Labour’s sister parties that they risked looking like another part of the establishment by “supporting a failed economic system rigged for the wealthy”.

He warned that “fake populists and migrant-baiters of the far-right” would benefit from the demise of the centre-left, which had in the past “delivered enormous advances for working people” but was now losing ground.

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