Europe needs mass movements that threaten its ruling elite, not technocratic fixes and a PR makeover.
Within twenty-four hours of the Brexit vote, Sigmar Gabriel — Social Democratic Party (SPD) chairman, German vice chancellor, and minister of economic affairs — and EU Parliament President Martin Schulz published a strategy paper aimed at dealing with the legitimacy crisis of the European Union and the rise of the far right.
Brexit prompted new hopes and fears that the European Union’s market-liberal forces are weakening and forced many EU leaders and mainstream media figures alike to call for renewal. In this context, Gabriel and Schulz have adopted — some might say stolen — the left-wing demand for a “re-foundation of Europe” that “belongs to its citizens.”
Is this a “passive revolution”? Are Gabriel and Schulz trying to absorb left-wing opposition into the status quo in hopes of stabilizing a shaky power bloc? Or is this the clarion call for the SPD to return to its roots and revitalize? Are they following the path cleared by the class-conflict-oriented, anti–Third Way social democrats like Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders?
SPD’s return to social democracy would signify a remarkable political shift. After all, in October 2015, Gabriel himself initiated the founding of the notorious “Gang of Five” — French prime minister Manuel Valls, Austrian chancellor Werner Faymann (who resigned in May), Swedish prime minister Stefan Löfven, and Gabriel and Schulz themselves — whose sole purpose has been to curtail the influence of Corbynism and dampen sympathies for other left-wing forces such as Podemos within continental European social democracy.
But this was before the SPD’s devastating electoral defeats — and the internal opposition they produced — in this March’s elections in Baden-Württemberg, Rhineland-Palatinate, and Saxony-Anhalt. During the party’s “Value Conference: Justice,” held May 9, Gabriel gave a fairly left-wing speech, supposedly signaling a new orientations going into the fall 2017 general elections.
For one, the social democrats will probably move the issue of poverty pensions — which will affect almost half of the population by 2030 — into the center of their campaign. This would mean rolling back some of the pension system’s disastrous partial privatization which his party legislated with the Greens in the early 2000s.