Monday, February 25, 2013

The politics of austerity in Europe

Paul Krugman in Austerity, Italian Style New York Times 02/24/2013 warns about the possible political repercussions of European austerity policies:

Outside observers are terrified about Italy’s election, and rightly so: even if the nightmare of a Berlusconi return to power fails to materialize, a strong showing by Mr. Berlusconi, Mr. Grillo, or both would destabilize not just Italy but Europe as a whole. But remember, Italy isn't unique: disreputable politicians are on the rise all across Southern Europe. And the reason this is happening is that respectable Europeans won't admit that the policies they have imposed on debtors are a disastrous failure. If that doesn't change, the Italian election will be just a foretaste of the dangerous radicalization to come. [my emphasis]
He doesn't specify which parties he's talking about. But he surely has in mind some of the far-right parties described by Mohammed Haddad and Ben Piven in The rise of Europe's far-right voices Aljazeera English 02/24/2013. Though not all the parties described are in southern Europe.

The article has an animated display that summarizes the unifying themes of these parties as "Anti-immigration, Euroscepticism, nationalism." Given the destructive nature of the austerity policies imposed by the EU under German Chancellor Angela "Frau Fritz" Merkel in the countries most damaged by it so far - Greece, Ireland, Italy, Portugal and Spain, with small Cyprus now joining that grim club - the rightwing's anti-Europe (i.e., anti-EU) position has the potential to boost their voting percentage's. We are seeing some of that in the Italian election just held.

This news report by John Psaropoulos describes some of the current consequences of Frau Fritz' austerity policies in Greece, Thousands rally against austerity in Greece Aljazeera English 02/20/2013:

Both the left and centrist parties, for the most part, have committed to the "European project" over decades. They have seen it as a guarantee of peace and democracy and prosperity, which is how it has functioned for most of its history. But the prosperity and democracy aspects of it have been serious casualties of the economic crisis that began in 2007. As Krugman explains of the outgoing Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti:

Mr. Monti was, in effect, the proconsul installed by Germany to enforce fiscal austerity on an already ailing economy; willingness to pursue austerity without limit is what defines respectability in European policy circles. This would be fine if austerity policies actually worked — but they don’t. And far from seeming either mature or realistic, the advocates of austerity are sounding increasingly petulant and delusional. [my emphasis]
That brand of "respectability" has also heavily infected the center-left parties, as the sad case of Socialist Party leader François Hollande in France has shown dramatically since he took office as President in 2012.

But while the constituencies of the center-right parties are happy with an ideology that values austerity economics to impose sacrifice - which they presumably expect to be mainly on the part of others as American Republicans do - the base voters of the left-center parties are the ones who incur the worst costs of Frau Fritz' austerity policies. So when left parties get elected and implement austerity policies, it tends to be far most discrediting for them than it does of the right-center parties. At some point, voters look for other alternatives.

If the left parties, center or otherwise, want to head off the growth of far-right parties and to prevent their countries from being further damaged by austerity economics, they have to start not only talking about but seriously fighting for growth policies directly aimed at using the democratic government to create jobs and defend the interests of ordinary workers against the One Percent and their austerity policies.

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