Permacrisis (Buzzwords of European Affairs 2/8)

With elections for the European Parliament on our doorstep, we think now is the right time to highlight the unique power of the European project as well as some of the burning matters it needs to tackle if it wants to keep on delivering its promise of peace and prosperity. With our small project ”Buzzwords in European Affairs” we would like to bring you closer topics which are currently making the rounds in Europe. What are the actual meanings of these often dropped terms? What are the issues behind, and why are they so important for Europe? And what are social democratic actors in Europe saying about them?


Permacrisis  describes a state of constant political uncertainty due to simultaneous challenges like inflation, energy crises, the Ukraine war, climate catastrophe and the effects of prior crises starting with the Euro crisis, migration, Brexit and the pandemic afflicting the EU. The term Permacrisis was declared Collins Dictionary’s word of the year for 2022. In European affairs, the word stands for a state in which the Union and its Member States are lurching from crisis to crisis. Volatility, uncertainty and a prolonged sense of emergency have become the new normal, in which the EU as a whole and its Member States individually have to take swift decisions, often ill-prepared and only on partial evidence.  

Social Democrats are in the best position to cope with the multiple crisis situation and the high level of frustration within the population.  What is needed is broad action in different areas of politics and ideas to be brought forward on the European level.  

One positive example could be seen in the response of the Austrian Social Democratic Party (SPÖ) demanding broad action against rising inflation starting October 2021. Energy costs and therefore costs for other goods and services had already started to rise at that time. Tenants in rented property and people with lower income noticed it first. The SPÖ argued that market-oriented solutions are not what people need in this situation. Instead, there is increasing demand for an active state. The best example of a failing market is the liberalized energy market and its merit order system, in which the electricity production with the highest marginal costs sets the market price for electricity.  All other energy sources, like renewables with marginal costs close to zero, become just as expensive for the consumer as the electricity produced from gas, which has the highest marginal costs. The higher prices, paid by consumers, become profits for the energy suppliers. Therefore, the SPÖ has suggested an immediate direct market intervention at EU level not just for a common procurement of gas, which was partly realized in 2022 on European level, but also the establishment of a system in which the gas should then be given to gas power plants for a reduced price. This would have meant a break to the merit order system and high profits on the costs of consumers.  

Besides the necessity to bring forward a social democratic economic policy on European levels, social democrats have to consider that the recent developments have undermined people's previous perception of security. If the Left wants to win back votes, it needs to present proposals that are aimed at restoring security. Much attention in the upcoming European elections will therefore need to be devoted to defense policies. However, it is equally important to continue the political fight for the ecological transformation, secure jobs, a secure guarantee of education, and a safe and affordable home for everyone.

You should read:  

Bart Vanhercke, Sebastiano Sabato and Slavina Spasova, Policymaking in a state of permacrisis: can the EU uphold its social ambitions? ETUI and OSE 2022.  

Fabian Zuleeg, Janis A. Emmanouilidis and Ricardo Borges de Castro, The age of permacrisis. Euractiv, 13/04/2021.  

Lars Klingbeil, Social Democratic European Policy for a Secure Europe. Keynote by Lars Klingbeil at the Tiergarten Conference of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, 10.10.2023. 


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