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Editors: Michael Holmes and Knut Roder

The financial crisis that erupted on both sides of the Atlantic in 2007–8 initially seemed to offer new political and economic opportunities to the left. As financial institutions collapsed, traditional left-wing issues were apparently back on the agenda. There was the prospect of a return to a more regulated economy, there was widespread state intervention to try to salvage failing banks, and it led to increased scrutiny of the wages and bonuses at the upper end of the scale. However, instead of being a trigger for a resurgence of the left, and despite a surge of support for new parties like SYRIZA and Podemos, in many European countries left-wing parties have suffered electoral defeat. At the same time, the crisis has led to austerity programmes being implemented across Europe, causing further erosion of the welfare state and pushing many into poverty. This timely book examines this crucial period for the left in Europe from a number of perspectives and addresses key questions including: How did political parties from the left respond to the crisis both programmatically and politically? What does the crisis mean for the relationship between the left and European integration? What does the crisis mean for socialism as an economic, political and social project? This collection focuses on a comparison between ten EU member states, and considers a range of different party families of the left, from social democracy through green left to radical left.

This chapter provides a short explanation of the fall of the Latvian left from historical prominence to modern infamy, followed by an analysis of the surprising lack of resurrection of the left in spite of harsh austerity measures imposed in the Latvia, and the impact of the Latvian cross-ideological consensus on the future of the EU. As a result, three central arguments are presented in the context of the financial crisis and the left. First, Latvian politics saw a self-induced relabelling of some parties from ethnic issues to social democratic ones. Second, some social democratic politicians and their policies were incorporated into government. Third, economic social democracy becoming a part of catch-all programmes of Latvian political parties.

in The European left and the financial crisis
The Irish left and the crisis

The Republic of Ireland was one of the countries worst hit by the global financial crisis and the ensuing Eurozone crisis. It was the first EU country to go into recession and the first to require a bailout, it was effectively under the control of the troika and endured austerity measures for several years. Even though the country officially emerged from bailout conditions at the end of 2013, and recorded the highest rate of growth among EU member states in subsequent years, the social costs still weigh heavily on the population and have created a greatly changed political context.

This chapter argues that the left has expanded significantly, but has done so in a fragmented way that will be difficult to sustain. And Europe has become an important line of division between the centre left and the radical left. The chapter begins with an overview of the crisis in Ireland. The focus is then on the programmatic and political responses of the Irish left. The crisis created an opportunity for the left, but there was no consistent left-wing response, and one of the major sources of disagreement among left parties is European integration. Finally, the chapter evaluates the Irish left in terms of votes, office and policies.

in The European left and the financial crisis
Abstract only
The Portuguese left approach to the crisis

Portugal was seriously affected by the financial, economic and sovereign debt crisis. The crisis pushed the debate on European integration, notably on the European Monetary Union, into the public space. The bailout of the Portuguese state by the European institutions and the IMF in 2011 made austerity measures unavoidable and showed the other face of European integration – keywords in the public discourse switched from ‘modernisation’ and ‘funding’ to ‘austerity’ and ‘poverty’. Political impacts were twofold. Initially the left of centre Socialist Party (PS), which was in government at the time, was blamed for the crisis and lost public support, in favour of a centre right pro-austerity coalition. Yet, four years later, discontent had grown and the electoral results in October 2015 enabled a convergence between centre left and radical left parties for the first time in the recent history of Portuguese democracy.

in The European left and the financial crisis
The demise of PASOK and the rise of SYRIZA

This chapter examines the Greek left through the deep financial crisis from 2008. The crisis in Greece was one of the deepest in the EU and led to arguably the strongest political earthquake in Greek history. The outcome of this political, economic and social crisis brought a radical left party, SYRIZA, from the margins of the political system to government, while consigning the social democrats of PASOK to a catastrophic defeat. The chapter begins with a brief historical overview of the Greek left, before focusing on the eventful period of 2009–2015, during which the Greek political system underwent a series of radical transformations. The historical overview is followed by an analysis of SYRIZA’s responses to the crisis, both from a programmatic and electoral point of view, as well as its stance towards European integration. Finally, the chapter discusses the relationship between the parties of the left in the Greek political system.

in The European left and the financial crisis
The German left and the crisis

This chapter evaluates the responses of Germany’s parties on the left to the crisis, something which has so far been largely ignored as analyses have tended to focus almost entirely on the policy choices taken by Angela Merkel’s centre right Christian Democratic Party. The chapter looks at three phases and analyses the left’s role towards the crisis through the CDU/CSU-SPD (2005–2009); CDU/CSU-FDP (2009–2013), and CDU/CSU-SPD (2013–2017) coalition government periods. The 2013 election is particularly significant, and this chapter focuses on it. The result in 2013 made a left coalition possible, but instead, the SPD chose to go into a grand coalition with the right. The chapter concludes by evaluating the prospects for the left, particularly in relation to their cooperation and to challenging the dominance of the CDU/CSU.

in The European left and the financial crisis
The case of Matteo Renzi’s Partito Democratico

In Italy, just like in the majority of southern European countries, the economic crisis that got underway in 2008 soon translated into a serious political, social and institutional crisis whose consequences led to major changes in the party system. Without a doubt, the most important change came in the 2013 elections with the breakthrough of a new political party that managed to capitalise on the protest vote against the system: the MoVimento Cinque Stelle (M5S, Five Star Movement), founded by the comedian Beppe Grillo. M5S then entered government after the 2018 general election. The consolidation of the M5S as a governing alternative has had at least two major consequences for Italy’s political system. In terms of elections, the emergence of the M5S has led to the end of a kind of bipolarism based on competition between left and right coalitions that has defined the Second Republic in Italy. Ideologically, the discourse of the M5S has largely shaped the political agenda of the leading parties in Italy on both ends of the political spectrum.

in The European left and the financial crisis
The left and the euro crisis in Finland

During the campaign for the 2015 Eduskunta elections, the centre right parties, the main employers’ organisation, the Confederation of Finnish Industries (EK), economists, and even the overall public mood seemed to favour cuts to public spending that would make the Finnish economy more competitive. Since the onset of the financial crisis Finland had experienced almost constant economic decline, with worsening public debt amid job market uncertainty. This chapter first argues that the response of the Finnish left to the euro and financial crisis must be understood in light of these domestic developments, with the positions of SDP, VAS and the Greens clearly influenced by the changing tides of party politics, the shape of the national economy, and the domestic politicisation of Europe. The next section examines the decline of the left and the politicisation of European integration through the euro crisis, with the third section in turn exploring the ideological response of the left to the crisis. The concluding discussion looks ahead, arguing that the severe challenges facing the left and the unions are far from over.

in The European left and the financial crisis
The impact of austerity politics in France

Austerity policies were adopted in France in response to the European financial crisis, but inevitably redefined the domestic policy agenda with quite remarkable consequences on electoral behaviour and citizens’ satisfaction with politics, as well as on governments’ strategies in building political support. This chapter first analyses the challenges and changes facing the French left. It then introduces the major left-wing political families in France, and offers a brief account of their political dynamics. The third section focuses on the electoral performance of the French left during the crisis period, using an analysis based on economic voting theory. The fourth section investigates developments on the ideological right–left scale and on EU issues, working with data from the Manifesto project and analysing the manifestos from the 2017 elections.

in The European left and the financial crisis

There is a growing interest as well as urgency to understand diversity, cultural differences and transformation on the island of Ireland. With the UK’s Brexit decision in summer 2016 the notion of the border, border crossing and what European Union membership entails for different groups in society have become even more opaque. This chapter examines the everyday life experiences of asylum seekers and refugees in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Their experiences are differently fashioned through two distinct immigration systems, as well as two distinct national, historical and socio-economic contexts. This chapter considers how asylum seekers’ and refugees’ experiences of integration are shaped by issues such as racism and sectarianism in Northern Ireland and in the Republic of Ireland. It explores how local environments, spatial segregation and being a black immigrant in a largely white society condition feelings of belonging as well as future aspirations. The authors draw particular attention to the complex intersections of poor asylum processes, racism and exclusion.

in Immigrants as outsiders in the two Irelands