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Socialists and Democrats: a party in decline, favouring a shield against the Far Right while giving little attention to China

Updated: 6 days ago

The 2024 European Parliament (EP) elections are a crucial event that will influence the direction of European policies toward China, but why? While the Parliament, as a co-legislator organ, is primarily responsible for approving and modifying European legislation, it also regulates international agreements. It therefore plays a fundamental role in European integration and EU external relations, including those with China.

In these elections, approximately 350 million voters from 27 Member States have the opportunity to express their voice and collectively choose the 720 Members of the new European Parliament (MEPs), who will later be grouped by political affiliation, not nationality (Liboreiro, 2024). Among the current seven groups in the EP, the second largest parliamentary group, the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D), with 143 seats, has had much to say during the last five years in EU-Beijing relations (García, 2024). Hence, it is primordial to delineate what the future holds for its stance towards China in a post-election scenario.

Although the S&D group has changed names over the years and adopted its current name in 2009, it has a long history in European centre-left politics, starting as a socialist group on June 29, 1953 (BridgeEurope, 2024). This parliamentary group represents the political portfolio of the Party of European Socialists (PES) in the EP, with a commitment to defending social security. This objective is advanced by promoting its political pillars: labour rights, gender equality, social justice, and climate action. All of this is complemented by economic principles centring on the welfare state.

The PES Election Congress that took place last March in Rome proved to be critical for the socialists in the face of the upcoming parliamentary elections - an event in which they adopted their manifesto for these elections and approved Nicolas Schmit, European Commissioner for Employment, as the Socialist candidate in the race for the position of Commission president. However, the opportunity to win this electoral race against Ursula von der Leyen is not very promising (Marques da Silva and Liboreiro, 2024).

In their manifesto, the socialists once again defended a policy of EU integration, a topic that has gained significant importance with the war in Ukraine, and reiterated the importance of the enlargement of the European family as crucial to maintaining peace and security for Europe. Thus, in chapter III of the manifesto, titled 'Solutions For A Fairer World,' the starting negotiations with Ukraine, Moldova, and Bosnia and Herzegovina are mentioned with a welcoming spirit, and the importance of an effective enlargement policy in the Balkans is reiterated. Special mention is made to Turkey, albeit in tones of regret for its stagnation in the integration process (PES Socialists & Democrats, 2024).

The only mention of China can be found in this third chapter, in which the S&D hint at the value given to the Asian giant in the electoral campaign for this party. Under the title ‘Renewed International Cooperation’ to support democratic forces, civil society, and trade unions, the socialists say: ‘We will rebalance our relations with China, promoting our values and protecting our interests, and further cooperating to address pressing global issues’(PES Socialists & Democrats, 2024). This statement does not convey much to European readers of this ‘letter of presentation’. Furthermore, this contrasts with the EPP manifesto, which repeatedly mentions China, perhaps showing that the S&D decided to focus their electoral campaign on different priorities. Firstly, it calls attention to the danger posed to 'the soul of Europe' by the growing right-wing populists and the distancing of its allies from the centre, such as the EPP, which could perceive that a strategic rapprochement to the ECR and ID might be beneficial (Wax, 2024). Secondly, it emphasises the importance of keeping the Green Deal framework alive. Achieving this goal depends on maintaining an ambitious coalition and EU budget. (Griera and Michalopoulos 2024).

The S&D's support to ‘rebalance’ ties with China is nevertheless partly conditional to Beijing adjusting its stance on a number of international relations issues; this group still wants to ‘promote the EU values and protect our interests.’ As proof of this, and to better understand their stance toward China, critical EU-China documents from this five-year mandate, which the S&D has voted in favour of, can be cited; these include the 'Recommendation concerning EU-China relations' (December 2023), 'Recommendation on EU-Taiwan political relations and cooperation' (October 2021), and 'Resolution on a new EU-China strategy' (September 2021) (Chimits and Stec, 2024). Furthermore, on January 17, 2024, the socialists voted almost unanimously to adopt the resolution regarding the ‘Security and defense implications of China's influence on critical infrastructure in the European Union’. This new resolution underscores the internal stance of the S&D group, emphasising the need to 'de-risk' EU-China relations, reducing dependency on critical supply chains, especially in emerging technologies, and supporting the establishment of resilient strategic autonomy (European Parliament. 2024).

Additionally, in 2022, after the annual EU-China Summit, the S&D underscored China's responsibility to cooperate to end the war in Ukraine, highlighting Beijing's failure to condemn Putin's actions (PES Socialists & Democrats, 2022). Furthermore, while this EP group calls for taking advantage of every opportunity to understand better mutual interests with China, they have raised the violation of human rights and exercises of economic coercion, such as the sanctions imposed against Lithuania for its closer ties with Taipei.

Lastly, it is also worth noting that S&D's fierce criticism of the far-right includes significant business partners in Beijing, such as Viktor Orbán, Prime Minister of Hungary. A eurosceptic who, faced with EU budget cuts promoted by parliamentary groups like the S&D's, has strengthened his economic relationship with China, resulting in projects such as the modernisation of the Budapest-Belgrade railway (Sánchez Nicolás, 2024).

All in all, in this 24-page manifesto, China is not addressed beyond the line above, but actions named before it speak louder than their manifesto words. In this case, the supported resolutions, public declarations, and commitment to European-socialist values are more evident indicators of the S&D's stance (Gómez-Hernández, 2024). Nevertheless, it must also be acknowledged that while the rise of the far-right, the situation in Ukraine, and the challenges posed by climate change present significant issues for the current and future state of Europe. The scarce attention given by the S&D to Beijing within their electoral campaign could also be attributed to a desire to maintain a more amicable tone, particularly by the Spanish and German governments, both influential members within the political group and with substantial commercial ties to China (Lau,2024). Proof of this can be found in the recent speeches of the German Chancellor and socialist leader Olaf Scholz; he has been careful not to harm the German automotive industry, which is heavily connected to China (Sánchez Nicolás, 2024). 

Regarding the potential election outcomes, all signs point to the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats will maintain its position as the second-largest force in the parliament, a position it has held since the 1999 elections. However, their numbers might slightly decrease compared to the right-wing groups (Cunningham, 2024). While this would not significantly weaken their influence in the European Parliament, it could pose challenges for projects requiring collaboration among multiple groups, like the Green Deal. As for China, no substantial changes are anticipated in the S&D's approach thus far.

This article does not necessarily reflect the opinions of European Guanxi, its leadership, members, partners, or stakeholders, nor of those of its editors or staff. They have been formulated by the author in their full capacity, and shall not be used for any other purposes other than those they are intended for. European Guanxi assumes no liability or responsibility deriving from the improper use of the contents of this report. Any false facts, errors, and controversial opinions contained in the articles are proper and exclusive of the authors. European Guanxi or its staff and collaborators cannot be held responsible or legally liable for the use of any and all information contained in this document.


Ignacio Barroso, from Spain, graduated from Rey Juan Carlos University with a degree in International Relations. As part of his academic training, he furthered his studies at National Chengchi University and National Cheng Kung, where he gained valuable insights into East-Asian politics and culture. His academic interests centre around the geopolitical and humanitarian field, particularly in East Asia. Moreover, he is actively involved in international forums and projects, such as the Asia Society Korea-Youth and the European Forum Alpbach.

This article was edited by Marina Ferrero and Stefano Bertoli.


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