From a strong position in Europe at the end of the 1990s, social democracy has had a rough two decades. Established center-left parties across Europe have lost ground, a development that has not only benefited the right, but also strengthened alternatives on the broader left, from radicals like U.K. Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn to centrists like French President Emmanuel Macron and experimenters like Italy’s Five Star Movement and Spain’s Podemos.
This paper examines how the challenges of globalization, identity, democracy, and the governance of the European Union have weakened social democratic political parties over the past 20 years. It then classifies the political mutations of the European left based on radical versus mainstream ideology and experimental versus traditional methods, thereby creating four categories: the Established Left, the Radical Left, the Experimental Left, and the Extreme Center. Lastly, it considers the implications of a European left in flux for trans-Atlantic relations and recommends greater engagement with the European left by both the U.S. government and the American left.