The Germans just held an election, and some of us pay attention to such things. It was conventional wisdom just a few months ago that the world economic crisis would lead to the invigoration of the world left. Well, it didn't, quite. Here is a chart of the election results:
The two major parties in Germany are the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), and the Social Democratic Party (SPD). They are rough equivalents of the conservative and labor parties in Britain. The largest party, the CDU, is moderately conservative by European standards, rejecting both socialism and "laissez-faire" economics. Basically it wants to reconcile the welfare state with pro-growth policies, and Chancellor Angela Merkel had pushed for some deregulation and tax cuts. The SPD has been valiantly trying to reconcile Leftist policies and trade union interests with planet Earth realties. The result of that was a split in the Left that cost the SPD a lot of its natural support. It remains the second largest party, but it suffered a crushing defeat in this election.
The Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS) is made up of a gaggle of socialist and communists that defected from the SPD. It increased its vote a bit, but it is of no use to the SPD in forming a coalition as it is not large enough to make a difference and besides, it's socialist. That is a poison the SPD has been trying to purge form its system, only to find out that it doesn't have much of a system left. I almost forgot the Greens. They are opposed to nuclear power and in favor of same sex marriage.
The big winner in the election was the Free Democratic Party (FDP). They are a genuinely conservative party—pro business and free market, and generally libertarian on individual rights.
One big difference between the U.S. system and parliamentary systems is that in the former coalitions are built in advance of elections. If you are a libertarian like Ron Paul, you run as a Republican. If you are a socialist like the late Paul Wellstone, you become a Democrat. In Germany, if you are a communist, you leave the SPD and join the PDS. The parties get seats depending on their proportion of the vote. The government will be formed from a coalition of parties.
Until this election, the German government consisted of a "grand coalition" of the two major parties. That was broad to be sure, but the junior partner, the SPD, severely limited what Chancellor Merkel's CDU could do to reform Germany's economy.
The next government will be black (CDU) and yellow (FDP). The FDP will likely push the government where the SDP pulled it back. We could see real free market reform.
The German election is unambiguous evidence that the European left is moribund. The Greens and the Left (PDS) both increased their vote, but neither has a popular set of policies around which to organize a government. Whether the right can do better remains to be seen. But socialism is an idea with a great future behind it.
ps. The FDP leader is Guido Westerwelle. Guido?