After German Elections, the End of an Era for the European Left

The left has already splintered or self-destructed in Italy and France. This weekend it was Germany's turn. The election that awarded German chancellor Angela Merkel a second term Sunday night saw a huge shift of power away from the country's Social Democrats, continuing the steady dissolution of the European Left--those great labor and social democratic parties that dominated European politics for so many decades. The SPD hemorrhaged one third of its voters from the last election in 2005, dropping from 34 percent then to 23 percent now, by far the worst result for the party in post-war history, and the biggest plunge for any party in a national election. Many of the SPD's voters deserted it for the more radical Left Party, which polled 12 percent with a campaign slogan of wealth for everybody.

For the last four years, German chancellor Angela Merkel has been shackled by an unwieldy power-sharing agreement between her Christian Democrats and the rival SPD. The SPD's implosion allows Merkel to form a new coalition, ruling instead with her preferred allies, the pro-business Free Democrats, who together received enough votes to form a majority. Both parties have promised tax cuts and business-friendly reforms. But they face a huge pile up of urgent problems, including a banking system that has more toxic debt per capita than the U.S., the deepest collapse in German GDP since the Second World War, and a spiral of government debt.

That leaves only two left-of-center parties hanging onto power in major European countries, for now. Britain's Labour government under Gordon Brown may soon follow the SPD into opposition. That would leave Spain's Socialist Prime Minister, Jose Luis Zapatero, as the last great leftist standing.