A FEPS delegation travelled to Rome last week to participate in the Election Congress of the Party of European Socialists (PES). The Congress elected Nicolas Schmit as the common candidate, adopted the manifesto ahead of the June EU elections and gathered progressive heads of state and government, European Commissioners, top politicians at EU, national and regional levels, party leaders, activists, and supporters.

During the Congress, FEPS President Maria João Rodrigues took part in the panel ‘Solutions for open and democratic societies’ together with Katarina Barley, PES Executive Vice-President and Vice-President of the European Parliament; Zita Gurmai, PES Women President; Enric López Jurado, YES President; Oliver Röpke, President of the European Economic and Social Committee; and Joanna Scheuring-Wielgus, Deputy Minister of Culture and National Heritage in Poland. You can watch her speech on this link.

FEPS, together with the S&D Group in the European Parliament and the PES Group in the European Committee of the Regions, organised the fringe event Understanding right-wing populism and what to do about it, a successful meeting that gathered a full room and an impressive panel of speakers including Partido Democratico leader Elly Schlein and Nicola Zingaretti, President of DEMO, the foundation of the PD.

‘Understanding right-wing populism and what to do about it’ fringe event and PES Congress Flickr album:


Speakers argued why the rise of the far-right is a real threat to democracy, the welfare state, fundamental human rights and the EU project as a whole, and exchanged views on constructive proposals progressive parties and policies should focus to protect the welfare state and fight against inequalities:

“After the failure of neoliberalism, we are the ones that can do the most revolutionary and progressive thing: protecting the dignity of human beings”, said Nicola Zingaretti.

“Fighting social inequalities is in our DNA. We need to adapt social policies to the ongoing transitions”, added FEPS President Maria Joao Rodrigues.

Professors Daphne Halikiopoulou (University of York) and Tim Vlandas (Oxford University) brought comparative analytical insights into the strategies and voter bases of right-wing populist parties. And thanks to top-level politicians from across the EU, we also analysed the specific situation in different EU countries.

As the S&D Group President Iratxe García warned, the challenge to democracy is not just the far-right, but also the centre-right parties which are allying with them, letting them inside the institutions and normalising their hate speech, making it possible that the the far-right is already present in five EU national governments and hundreds of regional ones.

This is why, in this context, we launched the new policy brief ‘The transformation of the mainstream right in Western Europe: Implications for Social Democracy’, which focuses on the radicalisation of European centre-right parties and the danger of becoming imitators of the populist radical right.

This policy brief, by FEPS, Fondation Jean-Jaurès and the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, is based on an extensive analysis of empirical data and a detailed examination of six country cases: Austria, Germany, France, Poland, Spain and Sweden. A comprehensive policy study on the same topic will be published on 18 April 2024.

As important as understanding the current challenges to democracy and the EU project, it is to work on constructive proposals for a better future, as the ones included in the latest book of the Next Left series ‘Progressive Ambition – how to shape Europe in the next decade’, which was also launched head of the Congress.

With a preface by Andreas Schieder, ‘Progressive Ambition – how to shape Europe in the next decade’, explores over three chapters; how to govern with progressive purpose in turbulent times; how to manage the triple transformation; and examines the implications of tectonic shifts in voter attitudes, including strategies to halt the march of the radical right.

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