That social democrat/Christian democrat ‘settlement’ in Europe. An interesting assertion… August 24, 2012Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, European Politics, Irish Politics, The Left.
One aspect of a Pat Leahy article from a couple of Sunday’s back in the SBP is worth noting. He wrote:
At the MacGill summer school in Donegal recently Labour grandee Brendan Halligan warned that the real challenge to the post-war European social democrat/ Christian democrat settlement would come if the current set of governments in Europe failed to solved the economic crisis.
It’s a fascinating proposition, isn’t it? And yet from my perspective as a sympathetic enough observer of social democracy (at least in respect of most of its traditional aims) I would have thought a more persuasive argument would be that the economic crisis has seen off that settlement and not to the advantage of social democracy. That a social democracy already hollowed out in large part by an emphasis on engagement with capital rather than the reform of and eventual replacement of capital has led to a situation where the right has largely won. Certainly the terrain has shifted to one where economic orthodoxy, for which read right orthodoxy, has become largely – albeit not entirely – unquestioned and unquestionable.
Indeed the response to the crisis at European level, and apologies in advance if this appears to be yet another single transferable post on the topic, has largely shown up the emptiness of such talk. Rather than the institutional elements of the EU taking primary position in this it has been the inter-governmental elements that have achieved primacy, and in particular those wedded to the orthodox right. Moreover the lack of full overlap of the EU with the Eurozone has exacerbated this tendency.
Or to put it another way, when faced with a genuine crisis the institutional aspects of the EU – Commission, Parliament, etcetera, have proven themselves entirely unfit for purpose and where is the surprise? Financial integration was well ahead of political integration, albeit the latter has had a serious and arguably increasing deficit in terms of democratic participation and legitimation.
But Halligan’s line seems to me to be of a piece with a lot of social democratic thinking about the EU, mistaking the fact that it exists and has propounded a certain rhetoric for it being something that it patently is not. It is not that I take the line that the EU is the font of all evil. Anything but, even in its current diminished state it is enormously useful in certain areas. But to see it as an engine of social democratic transformation is to fundamentally misunderstand its purpose and nature. And never has this been more apparent than in the past five years.
Leahy notes that so far where electorates ‘have thrown out incumbents [they’ve] vote in traditional alternatives… but what happens if and when the alternatives fail?’.
That is a most interesting question. Arguably although there’s been no clear cut shift to the left future challenges are likely to come from left of social democracy but right of . This doesn’t mark the inevitable end of social democracy. But it might see a long process whereby either those parties push social democratic parties to more radical positions or they – in a few instances – supplant them entirely.