February 12, 2014

The Parties of the European Left: An Analysis in View of the European Elections

Thilo Janssen

In June 2012, it seemed that Alexis Tsipras and his leftist party SYRIZA might be able to win the parliamentary elections in Greece, and challenge the EU’s austerity policies with an alternative reform programme. Although the results ultimately did not bring about a change of government, they also showed that a left party could become a serious electoral alternative to the social democrats. Tsipras became the international media face of the parliamentary side of leftist resistance to neoliberalism in Europe.

Overall, however, the left parties in the EU are not exactly operating from a position of strength. Since the European elections of 2009, the left group in the European Parliament, the Unified European Left/Nordic Green Left (GUE/NGL), has represented approx. 4.5% of the electorate in the EU.

Where does the family of left parties stand as Europe prepares for its parliamentary election of 2014? This is the question to be examined in the present study. In the following pages, the positioning of the left parties on European policy is to be examined on the basis of sixteen case studies. The vast majority of the parties belong to the GUE/NGL; many belong to the European Left (EL).

Chapter 1 describes the situation in the EU as of the spring of 2013, with respect to the upcoming European electoral campaign. In Chapter 2, the theoretical positioning of left parties with regard to European policy is placed in perspective. Chapter 3 provides an overview of the European structures in which left parties are active, with detailed examinations of the two most important ones, the European Political Party EL and the European Parliamentary Political Group GUE/ NGL. Chapter 4 addresses the national parties individually with regard to their key statements on EU integration, programmatic content with respect to the EU level, their alliance strategies, and the priority which they accord to EU policy. Finally, in Chapter 5, we provide an assessment with respect to the common European electoral campaign of the left parties in 2014.

Thilo Janssen is a political scientist specializing in European studies and Eastern Europe. Since 2008, he has been on the staff of German Left Party MEP Gabriele Zimmer, with the responsibility for the areas employment and social affairs in the EU, Eastern European affairs, and right-wing parties at the European level. He is the author of the study Was macht die politische Rechte im Europäischen Parlament? [What is the right wing doing in the European Parliament?], published in 2012 by the Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung.