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Sahra Wagenknecht could reshape the European Left

Sahra Wagenknecht speaks in Berlin this week. Credit: Getty

April 27, 2024 - 8:00am

Not everything about the European Parliament makes sense, but at least its layout is logical. The Left-wing parties sit on the far-Left of the hemicycle, followed by the social democrats, the greens, the liberals, the centre-right, the national conservatives and finally — on the opposite wing — the populist Right.

So in place of 100-plus parties from 27 nations, there’s the manageability of seven political groups. No wonder the EU incentivises the system with special funding and procedural privileges.

However, it’s now under threat from two quarters. Firstly, there’s the surge in support for the Right — which could upset the balance of power between the political groups. The second threat comes from Germany’s Sahra Wagenknecht — a dissident Leftist who now has her own political party, Bündnis Sahra Wagenknecht (BSW). According to a Europe Elects report by Tobias Gerhart Schminke, a like-minded group at the European level is also a possibility. But what would it stand for?

On economics and international relations, the Wagenknecht formula is pretty much in line with the conventional Left. But on culture war issues, she stands apart — especially on immigration.

Wagenknecht understands that you can have generous welfarism or you can have open borders, but not both. Another thing she gets right is that you can’t challenge the neoliberal order without mobilising the working class — and that won’t happen if the Left prioritises bourgeois liberalism over patriotic solidarity. The big thing she gets wrong, however, is Russia. Vladimir Putin’s expansionist mafia state may be the enemy of Wagenknecht’s enemies, but that doesn’t mean he’s anyone’s friend. Putin must be defeated — or at least contained — and until the Western Left comes up with a better idea for achieving that than Nato, then it should avoid pontificating on foreign policy.

Fortunately for Wagenknecht, she’s not alone in her positions. There are various other Left-leaning but politically incorrect parties across Europe. To form an official group in the European Parliament, they’d collectively require 23 MEPs from seven different countries.

Is that feasible? Schminke thinks so, pointing to potential members such as Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s La France Insoumise and the Slovakian Smer party. The most intriguing suggestion is Italy’s Five Star Movement. Initially, this was a “big-tent” populist party. However, when it lost its Right-wing supporters to Matteo Salvini and then Giorgia Meloni, Five Star repositioned itself on the Left, while maintaining its anti-establishment stance.

How times change. Between 2014 and 2017, Five Star’s main partner in the European Parliament was none other than Nigel Farage (when he was leading Ukip). But ever since that marriage of convenience came to grief, the Italian populists have been politically homeless. A new alliance with Wagenknecht’s party could bring them out of the cold.

For the EU establishment, the threat is that many of the most unclubbable — and, some would say, unpleasant — political parties in Europe could join forces. Such a grouping would upset the traditional Left-to-Right organisation of the parliament, while introducing a wildcard to an institution which is all about careful stitch-ups. Above all, it would present the voting public with a genuinely new — and disruptive — direction in Europe.

Perhaps instead of a hemicycle, the parliament could be arranged in a circle — with the Wagenknecht group sitting between Left and Right, but in opposition to the liberal centre.


Peter Franklin is Associate Editor of UnHerd. He was previously a policy advisor and speechwriter on environmental and social issues.

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Edwin Blake
Edwin Blake
27 days ago

Are you saying that NATO is not at least as expansionist as Russia? Putin may be a mafia boss but where does that put the plutocrats motivating NATO to launder tax money into their pockets while adding Ukrainian farmland to their assets?
With a friend like the US who blows up a gas pipeline vital your economy, one has to wonder how much worse an enemy like Putin would be.

A D Kent
A D Kent
27 days ago
Reply to  Edwin Blake

Absolutely right Edwin. Franklin offers us yet again another assertion of the Domino Theory that simply ignores the fact that NATO has been destructively tipping them the other way for three decades now.

Jo Jo
Jo Jo
26 days ago
Reply to  Edwin Blake

I just upvoted your comment…the number changed from 27 to 1, no idea why…

Edwin Blake
Edwin Blake
25 days ago
Reply to  Jo Jo

Yup, I also saw that now. One could get paranoid. Who owns this rag?
Previously my comments simply disappeared so I suppose this is better ??
I queried this once and then my comment returned but without explanation.

Tyler Durden
Tyler Durden
27 days ago

There was deliberate détente on the part of Schroeder and Merkel towards Russia and the inexpensive gas turned Germany into an economic powerhouse. .
Were the Anglos then jealous and wanted to wreck Europe’s economy entirely?
But more and more of us, Anglo or European, are broadly behind this lady’s attack on neoconservatism and neoliberalism alike.

Edwin Blake
Edwin Blake
25 days ago
Reply to  Tyler Durden

I previously upvoted this. But now it sits at zero. However if I try now I get told off for voting twice!
Lovely. I am sure there is some perfectly nefariously simple explanation.

A D Kent
A D Kent
27 days ago

No Mr Franklin, she’s right on Russia too. Although Putin shown no sign of the cognitive and physical decline that afflicts his US counterpart he cannot carry on forever. He will be succeeded and, if the EU and US carry on as they have been doing, whoever follows will almost certainly be more hostile. They might be the types who, unlike Putin, do not make repeated and prolonged attempts at diplomacy before invading (see his many warnings on Ukraine, his not invading in 2014, his letters to NATO & the US in late 2022, his agreements in the Istanbul talks of 2022 for examples).

I wish her the best of luck – I’d almost certainly vote for a party that offered the set of policy alterntives that her’s is developing if one existed here in England.

She’s already lucky to the extent that her country’s electoral system allows this, lucky that she’s not constricted by a party chock-a-block with Establishment neoliberal, centrist, careerist, Atlanticist tosspots with a management of fifth columnists of their ilk the likes of which helped to scupper Jeremy Corbyn (oh if only he was as ruthlessly Stalinist in his actions as the MSM laughably pretended he was…).

Fingers crossed she does better than the, no doubt finger-on-the-scales, polls are showing – but even if she matched them, that would be impressive already.

Michael Cazaly
Michael Cazaly
26 days ago
Reply to  A D Kent

Yes I loved the “Putin must be defeated” nonsense. Quite simply he won’t be. If Russia is starting to lose it will use nuclear weapons; that much has already been effectively said.

And whoever comes after Putin certainly won’t be so patient. The future will be bright…bright as the sun.

And yes she’d get my vote if she was in Britain.

Rob N
Rob N
26 days ago
Reply to  Michael Cazaly

À bigger problem is the more the West attacks Putin like this the more Russia is forced into a Sino-Russian Axis and that really would threaten the West.

Michael Cazaly
Michael Cazaly
26 days ago
Reply to  Rob N

That “alliance” already is dangerous for the West. It was what Kissinger worked hard to prevent…successfully.

Now all thrown away by the clowns currently in charge in the West.

AC Harper
AC Harper
27 days ago

The customary Left/Right labels in politics are rapidly becoming so last-millennium. What does seem spooky is how quickly personalities are ‘fronting’ ‘their’ political parties. It used to be the case that the Leader became associated with the Party, now that is reversed.
Is this a result of lazy journalism or is it a case of political fiefdoms colonising democracy?

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
27 days ago
Reply to  AC Harper

The Reform party being widely understood as a front for Nigel Farage although not technically fronted by him.

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
26 days ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

“Widely understood” by whom ?

Lancashire Lad
Lancashire Lad
26 days ago
Reply to  AC Harper

There may be something in that. In the case of the Labour party, it’d leave it entirely devoid of personality.

Alex Carnegie
Alex Carnegie
26 days ago
Reply to  AC Harper

Maybe it is a side effect of distrust of politicians as a tribe. Only if voters think they know more about the candidate than usual – because they are a “personality” – are they prepared to even consider making an exception and trusting them. A few flaws may even be a positive advantage since they suggest unspun authenticity and therefore possible trustworthiness. In America, those suffering from TDS are clearly bewildered by the support for Trump given his blatant character flaws; I think MAGA support for him is, in anything, enhanced by them. The underlying problem is the extreme distrust provoked by the system and/or Democrat establishment since the 1990s that means that “normal” politicians are assumed to be tools of a malign system unless proven otherwise. Unfair perhaps, helpful to charlatans undoubtedly but ultimately their own fault collectively. US congressmen spend to much time wooing donors and not enough acting for their constituents.

Dick Barrett
Dick Barrett
26 days ago

I would very much like to see this happen. An Irish MEP, Clare Daly, could concievably join such a group if she is re-elected.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
24 days ago

Wagenknecht, whose father is Iranian (though she uses her mother’s German surname, is clearly a danger to the right-wing populist AfD since her best chances of doing well are in eastern Germany where the AfD are strongest and she is essentially competing for the same demographic. As well as her views on gender, immigration and integration, she has also attacked the Gaza-related pro-Palestinian demonstrations in Berlin and elsewhere as “sickening.”