Beyond Austerity

Europe’s Left Shows Signs Of Life

A crisis of capitalism is supposed to create an opening for the political left. But in Europe, the place where the concept of left and right was born, political conservatives have won the bulk of the elections held since economic catastrophe struck in 2008. Is that about to change?

The conservative victory most noted in the United States was the rise to power of David Cameron, the British prime minister feted at the White House last month. The Conservatives won only a plurality of the parliamentary seats against the Labour Party in the 2010 elections. But they drove Labour to its worst showing since 1983 and were able to put together a coalition government with the center-left Liberal Democrats. Cameron has gotten good press in the United States, even from liberals who wish the American right would follow Cameron’s moderate and modernizing ways.

Cameron’s was not a singular victory. German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats were reelected in 2009, and the center-right also prevailed in recent voting in Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands—and also Sweden, the very heartland of social democracy. The question is whether 2012 will mark a comeback by a left invigorated by a growing unhappiness with rising economic inequalities and a backlash against austerity policies aimed at saving Europe’s common currency.

The biggest test will come...

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About the Author

E. J. Dionne Jr. is a syndicated columnist, professor of government at Georgetown University, and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. His most recent book is Our Divided Political Heart: The Battle for the American Idea in an Age of Discontent (Bloomsbury Press).