STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - The crushing defeat of Sweden’s long-dominant Social Democratic party in Sunday’s general election was the latest in a string of setbacks for European mainstream center-left parties.
Here is breakdown of the main parties and their problems.
GERMANY - Germany’s Social Democratic Party (SPD) suffered its heaviest general election defeat since World War Two last year, winning just 23.0 percent of the vote. Voters defected in equal numbers to the ecologist Greens and the ex-communist Left party. Despite the unpopularity of conservative Chancellor Angela Merkel’s center-right government, the SPD remains weak at around 25 percent while the Greens have surged to 21 percent in latest opinion polls.
FRANCE - The French Socialist Party (PS) has been out of power since 2002, when its candidate, Lionel Jospin, was beaten into third place in the presidential election by extreme-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen. The Socialists, who introduced a 35-hour work week and earlier retirement, retain a strong power base in local and regional councils but they have been dogged by factional fights and personal rivalries at national level. An ecologist list almost overtook the PS in last year’s European Parliament elections. The PS also faces a challenge on the far left from communists and Trotskyists. Latest polls show the two top Socialist contenders ahead of conservative incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy in the run-up to the 2012 presidential election, but the party faces a potentially divisive primary ballot first.
BRITAIN - The Labour Party, which lost power after 13 years in May, chooses a new leader this week. Frontrunner David Miliband, a former foreign secretary, represents the pro-market centrist legacy of former prime minister Tony Blair. Miliband’s brother Ed, former schools secretary Ed Balls and leftist Diane Abbott all stand for different degrees of shift to the left as the party debates how to respond to the ruling center-right coalition’s plans to slash public spending and shrink the state.
ITALY - The Italian left has failed to find a convincing response to Silvio Berlusconi’s center-right government despite a string of scandals surrounding the billionaire prime minister. Beset by infighting and weak leadership, the main center-left Democratic Party is credited with just 27 percent in the latest poll, well below the 33 percent it won in 2008 elections. It has lost some ground to the anti-immigrant populist Northern League as well as to environmentalists and hardline ex-communists.
SPAIN - The Socialist Party (PSOE) of Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero runs a minority government but trails the center-right opposition Popular Party in polls ahead of a 2012 general election, and seems set to lose control of the key region of Catalonia in November. Zapatero has angered core voters and trade unions with EU-mandated austerity measures including public pay cuts, pension reform and laws that make it easier to hire and fire.
NORDIC COUNTRIES - The social democrats, traditionally dominant in Nordic states, are out of office in Sweden, Denmark and Finland. Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg’s Labour-led coalition retained power in a general election last year as Norway’s country’s oil and gas wealth cushioned a generous welfare state against global economic downturn.
PORTUGAL - Socialist Prime Minister Jose Socrates heads a minority government that is unpopular after implementing austerity measures and remains under strong bond market and EU pressure to make deeper spending cuts and structural reforms that would hurt his public sector and trade union supporters.
GREECE - Socialist Prime Minister George Papandreou inherited a massive concealed public deficit crisis when he won election last October, forcing him to reverse spending pledges and enforce eye-watering cuts in public sector pay, benefits and pensions, later retirement, tax increases and labor market reforms in exchange for an IMF-EU rescue. However, his PASOK party remains ahead in opinion polls.
Reporting by Paul Taylor; Editing by Kevin Liffey