Social Democracy in the 21st Century

ISBN: 978-1-83909-953-3, eISBN: 978-1-83909-952-6

ISSN: 0195-6310

Publication date: 29 January 2021


(2021), "Prelims", Brandal, N., Bratberg, Ø. and Thorsen, D.E. (Ed.) Social Democracy in the 21st Century (Comparative Social Research, Vol. 35), Emerald Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. i-xxi.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2021 Emerald Publishing Limited

Half Title Page

Social Democracy in the 21st Century

Series Title Page

Comparative Social Research

Series Editor: Fredrik Engelstad

Recent Volumes:

Volume 18: Family Change: Practices, Policies, and Values, 1999
Volume 19: Comparative Perspectives on Universities, 2000
Volume 20: The Comparative Study of Conscription in the Armed Forces, 2002
Volume 21: Comparative Studies of Culture and Power, 2003
Volume 22: The Multicultural Challenge, 2003
Volume 23: Comparative Studies of Social and Political Elites, 2007
Volume 24: Capitalisms Compared, 2007
Volume 25: Childhood: Changing Contexts, 2008
Volume 26: Civil Society in Comparative Perspective, 2009
Volume 27: Troubled Regions and Failing States: The Clustering and Contagion of Armed Conflicts, 2010
Volume 28: The Nordic Varieties of Capitalism, 2011
Volume 29: Firms, Boards and Gender Quotas: Comparative Perspectives, 2012
Volume 30: Class and Stratification Analysis, 2013
Volume 31: Gender Segregation in Vocational Education, 2015
Volume 32: Labour Mobility in the Enlarged Single European Market, 2018
Volume 33: Bureaucracy and Society in Transition: Comparative Perspectives, 2018
Volume 34: Elites and People: Challenges to Democracy, 2019

Title Page

Comparative Social Research Volume 35

Social Democracy in the 21st Century

Edited by

Nik. Brandal

Bjørknes University College, Norway

Øivind Bratberg

University of Oslo, Norway

Dag Einar Thorsen

University of South-Eastern Norway, Norway

United Kingdom – North America – Japan India – Malaysia – China

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Emerald Publishing Limited

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First edition 2021

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ISBN: 978-1-83909-953-3 (Print)

ISBN: 978-1-83909-952-6 (Online)

ISBN: 978-1-83909-954-0 (Epub)

ISSN: 0195-6310

List of Tables and Figures

Table 1. Skills Demanded in the Future
Table 2. Three Pathways for Social Democratic Unions
Table 1. Attitudes to Basic Income
Table 1. Organisational Criteria and Analytical Conclusions
Table 1. Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands Status in Different Legislative Periods from 2000 to 2020
Table 2. Partido Socialista Obrero Español Status in Different Legislative Periods from 2000–2020
Table 3. Variations of the European Social Model
Table 1. Results from Linear Regression Model Predicting Decentralisation Position
Table 2. Effect of Incumbency on Decentralisation
Table 3. Conditions Producing Decentralist Reforms
Table 4. Conditions Producing Resistance to Change
Table 1. Immigration Perceived as a Threat to National Culture. Party Voters (2001–2015). Percentage Difference Index: Strongly Agree/Agree – Disagree/Strongly Disagree)
Table 2. Party Voters' Attitudes 2019. Percentage Difference Index: Strongly Agree/Agree – Strongly Disagree/Disagree
Table 1. Two Trajectories for Renewing the Left in Post-austerity Europe
Figure 1. Election results (%)
Figure 2. (a) Poland, (b) Hungary, (c) Slovakia, (d) Czech Republic
Figure 3. Share of workers among MPs (%)
Figure 4. MPs with higher education (%)
Figure 5. Manual Workers* in % of Workforce
Figure 6. Employment by Sector – Industry (%)
Figure 7. GDP Growth, Annual Change (%)
Figure 8. Unemployment Rate (%)
Figure 9. Industrial Output, Change on Previous year (%)
Figure 10. Inflation (%)
Figure 11. Gini Coefficients, Disposable Household Incomes
Figure 12. Opinion Polls in Slovakia 1992–1994 (%)
Figure 13. Trust in National Government (%)
Figure 1. Trade Union Density (1994–2018)
Figure 2. Collective Bargaining Coverage (2016)
Figure 3. Population With Tertiary Education 25–34 Year-olds and probably 55–64 Year-olds. Denmark, Germany, Sweden, the United States and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development Average (2018)
Figure 4. Employer Association Density – Denmark and Sweden: 1995/1997–2015
Figure 1. Election Results and Trend Line of Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands and the Partido Socialista Obrero Español in General Parliamentary Elections (First Chamber)
Figure 1. Variety of Positions among Party Families
Figure 2. Distribution of Positions among Social Democratic Parties
Figure 3. Effect of Mainstream Competition on Decentralisation
Figure 4. Effect of Proximity of Regionalist Party on Economic Dimension
Figure 1. Vote Share for the Liberal Party and the Social Democrats, 1990–2019. V: The Liberal Party; SD: Social Democrats
Figure 2. Dansk Folkeparti Electoral Results (1997–2019)
Figure 3. Foreign Nationals and Their Descendants in Denmark: Share of the Total Population (1980–2016)

About the Contributors

Elisabeth Bakke is Associate Professor at the Department of Political Science and International Relations, Bjørknes University College, Norway. Her research interests include democratisation and democratic backsliding, nationalism, European politics, Czech and Slovak politics, parties and parliamentary elites. She has written several articles with Nick Sitter, among these: ‘Why Do Parties Fail? Cleavages, Government Fatigue and Electoral Failure in the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary 1992–2012’ and ‘Where do parties go when they die? The fate of failed parties in the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary 1992–2013’, both in East European Politics.

Nik. Brandal is Associate Professor in International Studies at Bjørknes University College, Oslo, Norway. Brandal has authored and edited books and articles on a wide range of topics, with a special focus on the Nordic Model, the First World War and Political Extremism. He is the co-author (with Bratberg and Thorsen) of The Nordic Model of Social Democracy (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013).

Øivind Bratberg is Senior Lecturer at the Department of Political Science, University of Oslo, Norway. He completed his PhD in 2011 on the topic of devolution and party organisation in Scotland and Wales. Bratberg's research interests range from social democratic ideology to British politics and qualitative textual analysis.

Grete Brochmann is Professor of Sociology at the University of Oslo, Norway. Her research focuses on international migration, EU policies, welfare state dilemmas as well as historical studies. She has served as a visiting scholar in Brussels, Berkeley and Boston, and has held the Willy Brandt visiting professorship in Malmo, Sweden. She has been the head of two national commissions on immigration and the sustainability of the Norwegian welfare model. Brochmann has held various positions in the Norwegian Research Council, and she is member of The Norwegian Academy of Science.

Björn Hacker is Professor of European Economic Policy at University of Applied Sciences HTW Berlin, Germany. His research focus is on social integration processes in the European Union, macroeconomics of monetary integration and comparative welfare state policies. Recently, he has worked on political discourses on Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) reform and the policy coordination potential of the European Pillar of Social Rights.

Cathrine Holst is Professor at the Department of Sociology and Human Geography, University of Oslo, Norway. She has published extensively in the fields of political theory, public policy and social epistemology, and has directed several research projects on the role of experts in policy advice and policy-making. In 2020/21, she will be co-leader of a research group at the Centre for Advanced Studies (CAS) in Oslo, Norway with the project What is a good policy? Political morality, feasibility and democracy (GOODPOL).

Christian Lyhne Ibsen is Associate Professor at the School of Human Resources and Labor Relations at Michigan State University and Associate Professor at FAOS at the University of Copenhagen, where he also earned his PhD in Sociology. His research focuses on collective bargaining, trade unions and employer associations and the future of work and employment relations. His work has been published in journals such as World Politics, Socio-Economic Review, British Journal of Industrial Relations, Cambridge Journal of Economics and European Sociological Review.

Nanna Kildal is affiliated Research Professor, NORCE (Norwegian Research Centre), Department of Social Science, Bergen, Norway. Her main research interest is the normative dimensions of welfare policies, the principle of reciprocity, the contractualisation of social rights, relations between rights and duties, income and work. International organisations, welfare discourses and national welfare policies are also central thematic areas. She was the editor of the Norwegian Journal of Welfare Research from 2004 to 2016.

Eva Krick is Postdoctoral Researcher at the ARENA Centre for European Studies, University of Oslo, Norway. Her research focuses on the relationship of democracy and expertise. She has published in the fields of democratic theory, public policy, comparative political science and institutional analysis and has worked on collective decision-making, interest groups, public participation, policy advice and environmental and climate policy. Currently, she studies the involvement of citizens into knowledge production.

Susi Meret is Associate Professor at the Department of Politics and Society at the University of Aalborg, Denmark. Her main research interest is with populist radical right-wing parties in Europe, populism, political extremisms and civil society reactions hereto. She has conducted studies on right-wing populism in Denmark (and beyond), also considering the mainstream parties' counter-strategies, the role of Islam and more broadly the civil society responses to growing anti-immigration and populist ethno-nationalism.

Nick Sitter is Professor of Political Economy at the BI Norwegian Business School and Professor of Public Policy at the Central European University. His research interests include political parties, party systems, populism and democratic backsliding (as well as energy policy and terrorism). He has written several articles with Elisabeth Bakke, including ‘The EU's Enfants Terribles: Democratic backsliding in Central Europe since 2010’ in Perspectives on Politics and ‘Democratic Backsliding in the European Union’ in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics.

Olle Törnquist is Professor of Politics and Development, University of Oslo, Norway. He has written widely on radical politics, Social Democracy and democratisation, primarily in Indonesia, India and the Philippines – often in cooperation with scholarly local activists. His most recent books are Reinventing Social Democratic Development: Insights from Indian and Scandinavian Comparisons (with John Harriss et al.) and In Search of New Social Democracy: Insights from the South – Implications in the North (forthcoming).

Dag Einar Thorsen is Associate Professor of Political Science at the School of Business, University of South-Eastern Norway. Thorsen has authored and edited books and articles on a wide variety of topics in political science, from normative political theory and the philosophy of social science, to contemporary history and international political economics.

Simon Toubeau is Assistant Professor in the School of Politics and International Relations, where he conducts research and teaching in comparative politics, specialising in the field of territorial politics and federalism. He holds a PhD in Political and Social Sciences from the European University Institute (EUI) and an M.Phil in European Politics and Society from the University of Oxford.

Fredrik Vad Nielsen is the leader of Danmarks Socialdemokratiske Ungdom, the autonomous youth section of the party Socialdemokratiet.

Editorial Board

Fredrik Engelstad
University of Oslo, Norway/Institute for Social Research, Norway
Kristian Berg Harpviken
Peace Research Institute Oslo, Norway
Marte Mangset
Oslo Metropolitan University, Norway
Lars Mjøset
University og Oslo, Norway
Axel West Pedersen
Oslo Metropolitan University, Norway
Liza Reisel
Institute for Social Research, Norway
Mari Teigen
Institute for Social Research, Norway

List of Reviewers

David S. Bell University of Leeds
Andreas Bieler University of Nottingham
João Carvalho University Institute of Lisbon
Peter Munk Christiansen Aarhus University
Carl Dahlström University of Gothenburg
Kevin Deegan-Krause Wayne State University, Michigan
Dionyssis Dimitrakopoulos Birkbeck, University of London
Elodie Fabre Queen's University Belfast
Eunice Goes Richmond University, London
Christoffer Green-Pedersen Aarhus University
Jonathan Hopkin London School of Economics and Political Science
Thomas Hylland Eriksen University of Oslo
Isabelle Hertner King's College London
Louise Haagh University of York
Jonas Hinnfors University of Gothenburg
Anders Kjellberg Lund University
Thomas Lancaster Emory College of Arts and Science, Georgia (US)
Didier Ruedin University of Neuchâtel & Witwatersrand
Richard Sandbrook University of Toronto
Jeremy Seekings University of Cape Town
Carly Schall Indiana University
Malcolm Torry London School of Economics and Political Science
Milada Vachudova University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Fabio Wolkenstein Aarhus University


The present volume offers a multifaceted analysis of social democracy in our time, with Europe as its core. Across eleven distinct contributions, the net is cast far and wide. Yet, they all seek to take stock of social democracy today – as a movement and a set of ideas. The ambition has been to cover not only what can be learnt from the decades passed but also what the near future may hold for the centre-left.

Academic work on social democratic politics easily turns towards an idealised version of the past and a dystopic view of the here and now. From this perspective, social democracy enjoyed its heyday in the post-war decades and is something of a sunset ideology today. We have encouraged the contributors to steer clear of the ‘doom and gloom’ narrative in favour of open-mindedness in relation to our topic. Questions to pursue have included where and in what sense Social Democrats have succeeded or failed, and what ideas and dilemmas that accompany social democracy today.

Socialdemokratiet, the social democratic party of Denmark, has been both acclaimed and subject to criticism in recent years, as a profound (and at times painful) policy review has been followed by a return to government. The renewal was characterised by a distinct emphasis on working people, alongside a tight immigration policy and a strong commitment to countering climate change. We are grateful to Frederik Vad Nielsen, the current leader of Danmarks Socialdemokratiske Ungdom, the autonomous youth section of Socialdemokratiet, who has contributed his own political perspective on priorities for twenty-first century social democracy.

During our work with this volume, we would have confounded in our efforts, if it were not for the research assistant Torbjørn Svanevik. He has made a decisive contribution to this volume, especially when it comes to everything usually unseen in a finished book of this kind. We are also in a debt of gratitude to the editorial board of Comparative Social Research, series editor Fredrik Engelstad especially, for giving us answers to all our questions and heeding to our cries for help whenever we needed moral support and solutions to practical challenges.

The contributors to this volume, and the reviewers of each contribution, have of course also been very helpful throughout the process, and we owe them all our heartfelt appreciations. They have given us much to think about, and we hope that this volume will become an inspiration for them to continue their work in various fields of social and political science. The editors have undoubtedly been given much to think about, by everyone we have worked with on this volume, which we also aim to revisit in future projects of our own.

During our work on this volume, we have benefited from the working environment and financial support provided to us by our main employers at Bjørknes University College, the University of Oslo and the School of Business at the University of South-Eastern Norway. We have also indirectly been advanced in our efforts by the donations from the Leif Höegh Foundation, who have contributed to a different project directed by one of the editors to this volume, and thereby given us some much-needed financial flexibility. We owe them all our gratitude.

Oslo, June 2020

Nik. Brandal, Øivind Bratberg and Dag Einar Thorsen


Frederik Vad Nielsen

Social Democracy Must Rediscover Its Social Compass

Social democratic thought has contributed to creating some of the best societies in the world, notably in Scandinavia. Countries in this region benefit from a high level of education. An extensive welfare state ensures security for all; the labour market is civilised, and most women and men are in employment.

All these elements are grounded in politics guided by social democracy, with one keyword above all: balance – that is a balance between a competitive market economy and public interest, a balance between personal liberties and state intervention, a balance between economic freedom and equality and so on. Balance has been the mantra of Social Democrats in Denmark and helped our movement evolve from being an international class-based party at the beginning of the 1900s to being a national people's party half a century later. The key realisation in the course of this journey was that social harmony and order were preconditions if we wanted to unite the population as a whole behind the goal of social justice for the working class. A balance was required in all tactical and strategic choices we made. As a result, we succeeded – in Denmark as in Norway and Sweden – in creating what counts among the most open, free, equal and community-spirited societies of the world.

The Balanced Welfare Society Is Evaporating

In recent years, it has been evident that this hard-fought balance threatens to evaporate. Part of the reason is that Social Democrats have turned away from the original rationale for pursuing it: the ability for people in the working class to govern their own lives.

In Denmark, skilled and unskilled workers constitute half of all people in employment. Blacksmiths, technicians, service workers, haircutters, electricians, butchers and metal engineers struggle day in and day out for the community but to little gain. At the same time, thousands of people fall by the wayside in what ought to be a productive welfare society.

Social Democrats are in danger of forgetting these people. Instead, they have tacitly accepted that financial, educational and cultural elites are granted more and more privileges.

Taxes are reduced for the highest wages and the most expensive properties. Students in higher education reap the benefits of a publicly funded educational system. The labour market for the lower-salaried jobs grows ever more insecure as a consequence of ‘social dumping’. Even in a small country such as Denmark, the gulf widens between the city and the countryside in services offered by the state, public investment and political attention. Overall, we are losing balance.

That balance must be regained! To that purpose, Social Democrats must develop policies to improve conditions for the common man and woman. If so, we should lead by the following imperatives.

First, the struggle over education is also a class struggle. Massive investment must be directed towards primary education. Over the last few decades, an increasing share of state funding for education has been directed to upper secondary education and colleges. We must be adamant that investment in early schooling is the quintessential educational policy for Social Democrats. All pupils who are dyslexic or cannot comprehend arithmetic must be screened early on, and two teachers should be the norm in every class in primary schools.

At the same time, the early years of schooling should be made less academic. Today, girls benefit much more from primary school than boys who are less honed to academic work. The gap is increasing between grades obtained by girls and boys. That gap must be eliminated. We want more practical skills integrated into schools, internships in secondary school and, generally, much more diverse offerings at school. This way, we can ensure that children and young adults learn about different spheres of life and succeed in not only reading, writing and math but also beyond.

In Denmark, the proportion of young people pursuing a vocational education has fallen from 30 percent in 2006 to less than 20 percent in recent years. We will lack tens of thousands of labourers within the next decade or so. It is to little avail that Social Democrats are afraid of making enemies among the creative class and young academics. The message from Social Democrats ought to be clear: we cannot push all our young people onto university education. The belief that globalisation eliminates the need for manual labour should be thrown on the garbage heap. We are in need of hands in care, construction work, industry, service and trade here and now and will be in the decades ahead. From this lesson proceeds a strategy for massive investment in vocational education and limits to admission into academia. It might seem odd that Social Democrats should be the ones to set a limit for people being enrolled in higher education; for such a long time, we were first in line in the campaign for the opposite. But, we inhabit a world that requires more young people who have learnt a trade. We need to adapt our educational system accordingly.

Moreover, educational policy should not seek to gain first and foremost those who pursue the lengthiest degrees and gain the highest salaries thereafter. Social democracy should take a stand and correct what has been misguided in our policies.

Second, climate change and automatisation must be tackled in a way that is socially just. My generation will be faced with two all-encompassing challenges for many years to come: climate change and a wave of automatisation in the labour market. Both challenges entail great opportunities but, evidently, enormous downsides as well, and they will need to be addressed through policies agreed upon and delivered in the next decade. Social Democrats have neither presented the solutions needed to provide for a green transition that is socially just nor prepared the coming generations for a labour market that will change fundamentally.

Tackling climate change requires a break from the neoliberal economic policy that governments, including social democratic ones, have been guided by over the last 30 years. If we are to succeed with a green transformation without crashing the working class, we will have to borrow to invest. To acquire that, we must eliminate our aversion to state debt. Funds should be directed towards the purchase of arable land, the electrification of transport, temporary tax relief for more effective heating in the housing sector, reduced taxes for energy from wind and waves and for green development aid to the poorest countries in the world.

A policy that is green and sustainable cannot be forged on the back of welfare cuts or tax increases for ordinary working people. Public investment is the only way forward, and it is one that Social Democrats must take.

An increase in public borrowing should not only be spent on policies countering climate change. In the course of the next decade, we must enable the greatest upskilling of our workers in recent history if we are to prepare for the automatisation of our labour market. As machines, robots and artificial intelligence take on ever new tasks, the workforce must gain new skills to adapt. This requires that we elevate the unskilled to skilled and make sure that a fast track to further education is provided for workers with lower wages and fewer years at school. Together, we will kick-start the greatest programme in generations for investment in skills.

Social Democracy Must Rediscover Its Social Compass

Social democracy must prepare the working class for the future. It is time we take their interests as a point of departure in our quest to regain a better social balance. For too long, we have let the elite from the financial, cultural and educational domains define our political priorities. Our belief that globalisation will extinguish the need for manual labour, sending everyone to well-paid jobs in the creative sector, must be dropped once and for all. Only thus can we ensure that support is sustained for the social harmony, safety net and support for liberal democracy in which our country takes such pride. We have demonstrated through our history how social balance is created by standing by all those who contribute to the collective wealth of society. That formula must remain ours. That way, social democracy can rediscover its social compass!