Get the Party Started – Modernising Progressive Politics

Policy Study



Introduction of the paper

European progressive parties are challenged in two respects. One is the upward challenge of retaining or winning governmental power. Related to this is the challenge of connecting to and maintaining member and electoral support and fostering political participation. The later challenge has become particularly relevant in the wake of the Eurozone and sovereign debt crisis that has pointed to the challenge of established parties to reach out to and connect with citizens that feel neglected by institutionalized parties and experience harsh difficulties to meet their political needs. For progressive parties in particular there is a need to redefine their membership in order to boost electoral and political participation. This paper focuses on identifying mechanisms that carry potentials for enhancing support for progressive parties.

The first section introduces an alternative understanding of welfare support. The section argues that in the last decades targeted policies reduced the support to welfare, but that social-democratic parties can use support to welfare as a way of gaining political support, and as an instrument to pursue solidarity and collective strategies. The crisis is reversing this trend, showing an increasing support to welfare policies, and this is discussed by analyzing the case of the UK where negative attitudes towards benefit claimants have been particularly harsh.

The second section sees the development of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and in particular the development of the internet as a fundamental change to society. For political parties this means that the combined challenge of developing party organisations, communicating policies and reaching new electorates need to be re-thought and reconfigured as the internet is blurring the distinction between party organizations and a loosely organised electorate.

The third section focuses on social movements. It claims that that progressive politics is split into a political branch in which political parties belong and a social left wing characterized by looser forms of organization. In order to stay relevant the paper claims that political parties can pursue two avenues. One is to embrace ‘overboard’ people by relating to their demands, incentives and everyday experiences and to provide ‘specific knowledge’ on how to overcome neoliberalism’s deficits. Another possible way for left wing parties is to rationalize a vision of “new social utopia” that a better future is possible.

The fourth section aims to analyze the reforming organizational processes implemented by the social democratic parties in Europe during the last years to modernize their structures according to the citizens’ demands, in order to reconnect with their traditional voters and to reach new supporters after the impact of the information and communication technologies. 

The final section argues that the decline of party membership is an opportunity to rethink how political parties can organize political participation. The section argues that a pluralistic approach to party supporters involving the creation of several party organizations and different types of party membership, despite the conflict potential and risk of fragmentation of party support, is necessary in order to increase party membership in the future. Think tanks constitute one alternative organization model that can stimulate participation by acting as a critical friend to progressive parties.

Background on the FEPS Young Academics Network

The Young Academics Network (YAN) was established in March 2009 by the Foundation of European Progressive Studies (FEPS) with the support of the Renner Institut to gather progressive PhD candidates and young PhD researchers, who are ready to use their academic experience in a debate about the Next Europe. The founding group was composed of awardees of the “Call for Paper” entitled “Next Europe, Next Left” – whose articles also help initiating the FEPS Scientific Magazine “Queries”. Quickly after, with the help of the FEPS member foundations, the group enlarged – presently incorporating around 30 outstanding and promising young academics.

FEPS YAN meets in the Viennese premises of Renner Institut, which offers great facilities for both reflections on the content and also on the process of building the network as such. Both elements constitute mutually enhancing factors, which due to innovative methods applied make this Network also a very unique project. Additionally, the groups work has been supervised by the Chair of the Next Left Research Programme, Dr. Alfred Gusenbauer – who at multiple occasions joined the sessions of the FEPS YAN, offering his feedback and guidance.

This paper is one of the results of the third cycle of FEPS YAN, (the first one ended with three papers in June 2011, while the second one led to five papers in spring 2013), in which six key themes were identified and were researched by FEPS YAN working groups. These topics encompass:Precarious employment in Europe; “Full employment: A progressive vision for Europe; “Get the party started: Modernizing progressive politics; “The 2014 European elections; “Enhancing EU enlargement” and “Young and easily allured? A comparative analysis on the relationship between populism and youth in Europe. Each of the meetings is an opportunity for the FEPS YAN to discuss the current state of their research, presenting their findings and questions both in the plenary, as also in the respective working groups. The added value of their work is the pan-European, innovative, interdisciplinary character – not to mention, that it is by principle that FEPS wishes to offer a prominent place to this generation of academics, seeing in it a potential to construct alternative that can attract young people to progressivism again. Though the process is very advanced already, the FEPS YAN remains a Network – and hence is ready to welcome new participants.

FEPS YAN plays also an important role within FEPS structure as a whole. The FEPS YAN members are asked to join different events (from large Conferences, such as FEPS “Call to Europe” or “Renaissance for Europe” and PES Convention to smaller High Level Seminars and Focus Group Meetings) and encouraged to provide inputs for publications (i.e. for FEPS Scientific Magazine “Queries”). Enhanced participation of the FEPS YAN Members in the overall FEPS life and increase of its visibility remains one of the strategic goals of the Network for 2014.

For more information please contact the FEPS colleagues in charge of the FEPS YAN’s coordination: Ania Skrzypek, FEPS Senior Research Fellow at, or Judit Tanczos, FEPS Policy Advisor at


Karl Renner Institut
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