Antonio Lettieri – The slow suicide of the European left-wing parties

The crisis of the European left and the emergence of a double right-wing policy.

Antonio Lettieri is Editor of Insight and President of CISS – Center for International Social Studies (Roma). He was National Secretary of CGIL; Member of ILO Governing Body,and Advisor of Labor Minister for European Affairs.(

Cross-posted from Insight

Over the past decade, many eurozone governments have had variable lifespans, but what they have in common is their instability, showing the volatility of the voters, ready to change their choices. Since the changes are the reflection of popular electoral attitude, one can deduce that this is the volatility of an electorate and public opinion ready to take a position and in a short time deny it. But is it really so?

The Italian case stands out in this game of change, but it is not a singular case. In other countries, such as in France, the institutional continuity of Eliseo Palace’s inhabitant could obscure the governmental changes. In effect it is a reaction to the distance between the expectations of voters and the disappointing behavior of governments. In Italy the government of Matteo Renzi lasted almost three years, followed by that of Gentiloni in the same political family for a year and half.

This does not differ much from France which, in the same period, saw the alternation of different governments under the presidency of Francois Hollande.It is evident that the changing of governments belonging to the same political family does not reflect the volatility of the voters, but the content of the policy exercised by the government. In Italy the result was a radical change with the liquidation of the Democratic Party and the advent of a new coalition formed by Five stars and the Lega: a government that overturned the traditional canons of Italian politics.

In France, contemporaneously, the leftist government led by Francois Hollande had suffered the worst defeat of the French left in over a century. With the Socialist Party, heir to a secular tradition, reduced to a splinter, essentially ousted from the political scenario. 

The contrast with the longevity of the center-right governments in the same political phase is sensational. In Spain, the Conservative Party Mariano Rajoy remained at the head of the government for about six years. Even more significant is the German case, where the conservative government of Angela Merkel after sixteen years is still in charge – the longest chancellery together with that of Kohl since the time of German unification under Bismarck.

How can this deeply different political and electoral outcome be explained? Why the leftwing parties have been so clamorously defeated? There is no other explanation than in their policies as it is evident in Italy or France, not to mention Greece that twice chose leftwing parties for the government in the past decade and twice they were defeated leaving the place to rightwing governments. 

The most evident reason is that the center-right parties once in government rightly make a right-wing policy, while the left-wing parties betray – or they are forced by the European authorities, as it was the case in Greece, to betray – popular expectations and the reasons for which they had been voted for.

After being the main players in the construction of the euro zone at the turn of the century, the leftist parties have gradually become the champions of the neoconservative policy imposed by the European Commission. A policy based on a right-wing reformism that has its basis in the primacy of the market, in the reduction of public spending, in the balance of the budget and in the reduction of public debt regardless of the change in the economic framework.

The results of the policies dictated by the European Commission could not have been worse.  And the consequences, as was to be expected, hit governments with actual or alleged leftist vocations with particular severity.

It is not surprising that in Poland and Hungary the far-right governments – the first inspired by Jarosław Kaczyński and  the second directed by Orbán – have adopted policies in contrast with the rules established by the European Commission. The electoral choice, in fact, is the tool offered on a mass level for the change not only of the representatives of government but together with them and ,above all, of the policies.

It’s necessary to recognize the failure of a normal political alternation between traditional parties, that has given rise to the promotion of Draghi’s government based on the agreement of all parties, excluding Fratelli d’Italia” (Brothers of Italy), the rightwing party lead by Giorgia Meloni. An evident failure of a normal democratic regime based on the alternation of parties or party coalitions traditionally distinguished between center-right and center-left.

The prospects for the Draghi government are uncertain. It could last until the election of the President of the Republic – when Draghi himself could compete for Mattarella’s succession. But, while the dates are uncertain, the legacy promises to be disheartening. Or it could last until the term expires in early 2023.

Italy has an economy that in 2023, at best, will remain at least three points below the GDP of 2007 – the beginning of the crisis – and equal to that of the beginning of the century – with the difference related to growing inequality in income distribution which hits the working class hardest.

Spain, like Italy, benefited from the same aid allocation as Brussels  with the Sánchez government deemed reliable. But the unexpected happened with the elections in the Madrid region with the overwhelming victory of the center-right which outlines a national government without an effective majority. In France, next spring’s election result remains uncertain as Marine Le Pen’s right-wing competes in the polls against Macron for the majority of the votes.

We live in a political climate that makes forecasts precarious and generally wrong. But the fact remains that the old left-right alternation is exhausted. The novelty is that the alternative is not between left and right but within the rightwing parties with a different attitude with respect to the policies dictated by the European commission.

The left has long pursued a self-destructive policy. It happened in Great Britain, where the Labour Party devoted itself to liquidating Corbyn’s leadership which had achieved the greatest electoral success of recent decades. And in Germany the Social Democracy, heir of Willy Brandt and Helmut Schmidt, has been reduced to a minor party after the long association with the Merkel government deprived of its specific left position, overtaken by the Greens at the next elections, according to current forecasts.

The close partnership between Germany and France has deep reasons. France is still at the head of a colonial quasi-empire. And most importantly, it is the only European continental country in possession of nuclear weapons. Additionally, it can vary its policy towards Russia and China. Therefore, the solidarity relationship with France is central to the role that Germany has in Europe.

But the fact remains that the Monetary Union has cornered the economies of countries that were in the hands of the left at the beginning of the century. The euro has proven itself in the service of the stronger economy, becoming a supranational version of the old German deutschmark. The Monetary Union has turned out to be an invention that, just like the piece of the great playwright Pirandello, Six Characters in Search of an Author, has put its authors in crisis.

The game is now being played between the right-wing parties. Taking note of this could be the first step to launch a new leftwing policy, aware of the past mistakes. But the future can’t be easily forecasted. In any case the lesson of the past shouldn’t be ignored.

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