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Scrambled Agendas in the Crisis Zone (International New York Times)

MADRID — Last month, Spain’s Socialist Party lost badly in regional elections in Galicia and the Basque country. Hand-wringing among the party faithful soon turned into finger-pointing and squabbles over a possible change ofleadership. But even that papered over the deeper existential problem: What can the Socialists offer as a counterpoint to continued austerity?

This is an increasingly difficult question to answer, and not just in Spain. It has stumped the Socialist Party in Portugal and echoed, though in a different key, in France. Although Socialists won elections there back in May, President François Hollande is facing mounting discontent in part for not following through on his anti-austerity talk on the campaign trail.

The neoliberal tilt of the E.U. agenda is recalibrating how politics plays out across the Continent, shrinking the space in which left-of-center parties can chart an alternative course to austerity to combat worsening joblessness.

The dilemma is especially acute where the economic downturn is steepest, as in Spain. Although the ruling Popular Party is ever more reviled for its unrelenting budget cuts, the Socialists haven’t been able to make gains in its stead.

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