I was quite surprised to see this weekend the “En Marche movement” of French President Emmanuel Macron is launching its European extension with activities in some of the member states, mainly in the Benelux Countries with a lighthouse event in Brussels in front of the European Parliament.
Is this a mind-blowing challenge for the Social Democrats ahead of the European Elections in May 2019? The answer is slightly yes but mainly not.
Yes, in some of the member states, particularly in France and in the Benelux countries this could have a real impact on the votes and the Macron movement will probably try to take large numbers of votes from the Socialists and Social Democrats. Macron has proven this already in France with regards to the Socialist party in the last presidential elections in 2017.
No, because undoubtedly a big number of votes for Macron in the last presidential elections were votes against the right wing populist candidate Marine LePen. Secondly Macron already outspokenly stated that he would not ally with the already existing political groups in the European Parliament such as the Liberals (ALDE). Most definitely he will not look for an alliance with the right conservative group ECR, or the centre-right EPP. For the Social democrats (S&D), after what happened in France is not even worth questioning.
Moreover it is not certain if the Macron movement can have the same strategy as in France in the other bigger member-states like Germany with 90 members to elect, Italy , 73 members to elect, Spain , 54 members to elect, or in Poland with 51 members to elect. This is also to be seen with regards to the different political landscapes in these countries and of course essentially with regards to the special situation in France in the presidential election campaign last year.
Germany now has a stable government between CDU/CSU and the SPD. The centre parties are still the main political and accepted force and even the Liberals and the Greens are seen as centre parties with a quite stable electorate between 8% and 12%. The political challenge in Germany is the right-wing Populist Party AfD and not the center.
Italy just had parliamentary elections and it is not clear who will form a government. The “little flirt” of former PD chairman Matteo Renzi with Emmanuel Macron has not paid off and it is not evident that PD will look for an alliance with the French President in the European elections 2019.
Spain’s political landscape is now definitely more fragmented than in 2014 and the two movements Ciudadanos and Podemos are part of the political scenery. It is difficult to imagine that a new movement in the centre could emerge.
Poland could be a possible “battle field” for Macron as the centre left is very divided and fragmented that a new force could easily emerge as a vibrant opposition to the current right wing illiberal government.
The imminent challenge for progressives is the changing nature of European societies. We are in a perceived crisis of sovereignty where the definition of a liberal, open and socially equal society based on fundamental European values is being threatened.
Moreover new scientific advances, rapid technological leaps, penetrating digitalisation in our daily lives combined with major demographic changes and intensifying globalisation are having huge impacts. All this, without even talking about climate change, migration and further urbanisation.
Social democracy has to redress its narrative and not only to renew itself with clearer alternative proposals towards citizens in which way their competencies are enhanced to cope with these economic, social and cultural changes.
The challenges of the Social democrats for the 2019 elections are not first and foremost the Macron movement but the capability to propose a forward-looking European vision that attracts those citizens who share progressive European values.
The challenges lie in the capacity to gain strength by mobilising political energy in line with a progressive European agenda in times when reactionary forces are playing with ultranationalism, isolationism, racism and authoritarianism. This is in a total opposition to progressive European values and ideals of equality and solidarity.