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Europe’s declining socialists focus on beating Macron

  • Published at 08:52 pm December 27th, 2018
Sergei Stanishev
President of Party of European Socialist Sergei Stanishev holds a bouquet of flowers after his re-election was announced at the XI Party of European Socialists Congress University Institute of Lisbon on December 7 AFP

The party is on track to win only 142 seats out of 705 in the next European parliament, on the back of just 20% of the EU-wide vote

Europe's socialists want to be the largest pro-EU and progressive force in the European Parliament — just don't expect them to include Emmanuel Macron, Politico reported.

At their annual congress ahead of the May 2019 European parliament election, Europe's socialist leaders are firing up the party faithful and honing their pitch to the continent's voters. But with socialist parties suffering electoral set-backs across Europe, and the French president looking to create his own power base in the Strasbourg parliament in part by peeling away some of their number, they are facing an uphill struggle.

The modest gathering in a Lisbon university is a far cry from the late 1990s when socialists were the largest political party in the European parliament and led governments in Berlin, London and Rome.

Today, the only EU country with an outright socialist government is Malta, in addition to minority, coalition or caretaker governments in Spain, Romania, Portugal and Sweden.

The party is on track to win only 142 seats out of 705 in the next European parliament, on the back of just 20% of the EU-wide vote.

"Social-democracy is going through difficult times,” said Paul Magnette, the former minister-president of the Belgian region of Wallonia who famously held-up the EU-Canada free trade deal in 2016, and will top his party's list in Belgium in the 2019 EU election.

The Lisbon congress kicked off late and with little fanfare, in a minor building of a university outside the city centre. Udo Bullmann, leader of the socialist group in the European Parliament, felt compelled to defend the venue from the conference stage as "more dynamic" than a five-star hotel or conference center.

 “I’m the only lobbyist here,” complained one German flak, outside the congress auditorium.

This weekend, delegates will formally endorse Frans Timmermans — currently first vice-president of the Commission — as their candidate to replace Jean-Claude Juncker as European Commission president.

Timmermans' cautious and moderate approach to his work in Brussels — which has included efforts to uphold rule of law in EU countries and cutting a migration deal with Turkey — sat at odds with fiery rhetoric from the conference stage Friday.

Speaker after speaker called for a radical shift in government and EU policies across Europe.

Former Danish prime minister Poul Nyrup Rasmussen said a 1% tax on the turnover of "digital giants" is a socialist priority. “I feel the same wind of change as before the Berlin Wall fell. Capitalism is sick. It does not work," Rasmussen said.