The Crisis of Social Democracy in Europe

The Crisis of Social Democracy in Europe

The Crisis of Social Democracy in Europe

The Crisis of Social Democracy in Europe


Is social democracy in a terminal condition in Europe? Social democracy is in office almost nowhere and appears bereft of ideas in the face of the economic crisis that might have given it a historic opportunity. So is social democracy dead? The contributors to this book take a stand against those who claim that social democracy has reached its end. By arguing that social democracy is not a single set of ideas or practices but a way of reconciling market capitalism with social inclusionand equality, they show that it has actually been remarkably successful during the 20th century. Its key principles are still relevant but must be adapted to new conditions. This book examines the fortunes of social democracy in western and east-central Europe and the policy challenges in economic policy, labour markets, social welfare, public services, European integration and decentralisation.


This book started from a puzzle. Given the failings of neo-liberalism revealed by the economic crisis starting in 2008, why was social democracy not triumphant? After all, its political success over much of the post-war period was bolstered by a particular representation of the inter-war years and a belief that governments had put the old economics behind them, while some social democrats had given early warnings about the follies being committed from the 1990s. Despite the caricature about social democratic governments being free spenders, they have tended in office to be rather fiscally responsible. Nor was there reason to believe that electors had rejected social democratic ideas about public services, although they may in some cases have become less tolerant of welfare dependants.

There is no simple answer to this puzzle but the contributors to this collection agree that social democracy’s problems do not stem from a fundamental flaw in the core idea, nor that social and economic change have rendered it redundant. Social democracy is in good health in some places, while elsewhere it is struggling to find its voice. One problem lies in the realm of ideas, where neo-liberalism has gained the ideological hegemony, to the extent that social democratic parties internalise it and seek to modify it only at the margins. Another is the inability to adapt to a more complex but still socially stratified and unequal society. A third lies in the decline of mass party politics and of the social institutions such as trade unions, which provided the means for social democrats to mobilise.

Our contributors do not present a single vision of social democracy but have been encouraged to interpret it in their own ways. The result is a complex picture, highlighting problems but showing that social democratic thought and practice are by no means dead.

We hesitated over the title of the book, fearing that the word ‘crisis’ was . . .

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