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SPD debacle shows agony of European centre-left

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sozisIt was a black night for Germany’s Social Democrats. Their catastrophic general election score of just 23 percent was by far the worst since the creation of the Federal Republic in 1949. It was more than 11 points worse than their result in 2005, and nearly 6 points worse than their poorest post-war showing in 1953.(Picture shows party activists at SPD headquarters watching first exit polls on television)

Their shattering defeat was the latest in a series of debacles for the European centre-left since the onset of the financial crisis. Just when the social democratic outlook of a strong state to regulate and curb the excesses of the markets and protect workers from the rough edges of capitalism has made a comeback around the developed world, its original proponents are in disarray.

Why? Partly because the centre-left is blamed by its own voters for having embraced deregulation and globalisation without taking care of the losers of such policies. Partly because it lacks charismatic leaders of the calibre of Helmut Schmidt, Francois Mitterrand, Tony Blair or Barack Obama. And partly because new social and economic forces — the services sector and the knowledge economy — and new ideas — ecology and communitarianism — have moved the political goalposts.

France’s Socialist party has been consigned to opposition since 2002 and is deeply divided over personalities, policy and ideology. The British Labour Party, after a record 12 years in power, is deeply unpopular and looks doomed to lose a general election next year. The Italian left has not managed to mount a serious challenge to Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, despite scandals over the billionaire media tycoon’s sex life.

Germans vote for change; will they get it?

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angieGermans have voted for change. A centre-right government with a clear parliamentary majority will replace the ungainly grand coalition of conservatives and Social Democrats that ran Europe’s biggest economy for the last four years.

This should mean an end to ”steady as she goes” lowest common denominator policies, and at least some reform of the country’s tax and welfare system. The liberal Free Democrats, who recorded their best ever result with around 14.7 percent, will try to pull the new government towards tax cuts, health care reform, a reduction in welfare spending and a loosening of job protection in small business.

Schaeffler/Conti feud puts Schroeder back on stage

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schroeder1Gerhard Schroeder is back at centre-stage, seven weeks before Germany’s general election. A corporate feud between industrial holding group Schaeffler and car parts maker Continental AG has given the former chancellor the chance for a comeback as the workers’ champion, although he no longer holds public office.

When Schaeffler, the biggest family-owned industrial company in Germany, bought control of Conti last August, the two sides appointed Schroeder as guarantor of the interests of Continental and its workforce, shareholders and other stakeholders under an investors’ agreement.

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