What to do about Europe? This question has haunted the Left in the Old Continent for decades, and yet the only people who have truly answered it are those who have given up on any emancipatory project. For social-liberal and democratic currents and a major part of Europe’s Green organizations, the European question has become an essential component of their political identity. This has led these forces to embrace, in the same enthusiastic move, the deepening of European integration, austerity, and neoliberal reforms. In this sense, Emmanuel Macron’s victory in the presidential election was the French counterpart to the grand coalitions in Germany and the centrist governments in Italy. Building on the achievements of European integration and the political practices at work within the EU institutions, an extreme center that claims to be “of both right and left” now projects its bid for hegemony on the national stage as well.
We get a rather different picture when we look at the forces that fight for social transformation, among whose ranks the European question gives rise to considerable strategic disarray. From the far left to social-democratic Keynesians, passing via the Communist Parties and their heirs, the positions on Europe vary — between those who see no salvation outside of a European social and democratic awakening, even while rejecting austerity and liberalization policies, and those for whom it is impossible to advance a politics of social justice without a partial or total withdrawal from the European institutions. This divide within the various political currents plays out in a different way in each country, often reflecting a deeper sociological cleavage which — especially in France — divides the traditional left-wing electorate between the highly skilled urban and public-sector professionals who favor further integration, and blue- and white-collar workers who above all see this as a threat to their hard-won social rights. 1