Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Merkel's wreckage

EU economic news looks more and more like a collection of the political, economic and human wreckage being left in the wake of German Chancellor Angela "Frau Fritz" Merkel's austerity policies.

French President François Hollande was elected by a majority a year ago on an anti-austerity policy. Then he promptly embraced Frau Fritz and her austerity policies. Now the French economy is doing poorly and his popularity is sinking at a rate that should put him within a margin of error to zero by the end of this year. Hollande is attempting to stop the slide, as Mark John and Ingrid Melander report in France's Hollande urges euro zone government Reuters 05/16/2013. Presumably he was looking for dramatic headlines like that. How much his talk now actually means is doubtful:

At a 150-minute news conference marking his first year in office, a day after economic data showed France had slipped into recession, the Socialist leader defended his record on economic reform and budget discipline and told the French people they would have to work "a bit longer" for a full pension in future.

Rebutting criticism that France has lost its leadership role in Europe because of its dwindling economic competitiveness, Hollande said he wanted to create a fully-fledged political European Union within two years.

"It is my responsibility as the leader of a founder member of the European Union... to pull Europe out of this torpor that has gripped it, and to reduce people's disenchantment with it," Hollande said.

"If Europe stays in the state it is now, it could be the end of the project [i.e., the EU]."

He acknowledged he could face resistance from Germany, Europe's dominant power, which opposes mutualising debt among member states. Berlin is also reluctant to give the euro zone its own secretariat for fear of deepening division in the EU, between the 17 members of the single currency and the 10 others. [my emphasis]
His statement that he remains committed to raising the retirement age is a signal that he's still on board with the neoliberal program of deregulation, weakening of unions, lowering of workers' wages and retirement income, and cutting back public services. As Reuters summariyes, he also called for "an economic government for the euro zone with its own budget, the right to borrow, a harmonized tax system and a full-time president." By the "right to borrow," he means eurobonds. That's a good idea, but Frau Fritz his opposed to it and is trying to keep the banking union, agreed upon in principle, to a bare minimum.

Germany is "Europe's dominant power." And under Frau Fritz, it's pursuing an aggressively nationalistic policy using the EU very effectively as a club to bash its fellow European partners. With confronting that and effectively countering it, Hollande's proposals are little more than hot air and transient talking points. If he were going to confront Frau Fritz that way, the time to do it was a year ago when he had a fresh mandate to do so and his popularity at home was high. But he capitulated completely, and Frau Fritz now has his number.

And sure enough, Angie says, "Nein!" (Luke Baker, Brussels, Berlin lukewarm on Hollande's euro zone vision Reuters 05/17/2013). In diplomacy-speak, of course, "no" typically is expressed with something like, "sure, we'll think about it, until Hell freezes over or so." Baker:

... it does not appear that Hollande has much backing from Berlin for his vision, which includes the ambition of forging a full "political union" within two years.

Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman told a news conference that Hollande's proposal was "interesting and worth considering" but was essentially something the chancellor had been discussing with Sarkozy since 2011.

"It has been part of German thinking for a while anyway, and we have been working closely with France on it," Steffen Seibert told reporters.

On the specific idea of creating a separate budget for the euro zone, the German economy ministry urged caution, pointing out that it could limit the rights of the German parliament, something guaranteed to make it unacceptable to Berlin.

"I think we should exercise caution on this," said a spokesman.

Officials in Brussels, speaking on condition of anonymity because they did not want to be seen to be meddling in Franco-German relations, said they had no indications Merkel was suddenly more open to France's ideas than before.
The new Prime Minister of Italy, Enrico Letta, whose government is likely to be short-lived in any case, is taking a similar position of superficially complaining about the extremes of austerity but essentially knuckling under to Frau Fritz' Diktat. (Ulrike Sauer, Regierungskoalition: Wie zwei Erzfeinde Italien retten wollen Süddeutsche Zeitung 18.05.2013) He was selected Prime Minister after difficult negotiations following this year's election. The leading vote-getting party was the social-democratic PD (Democratic Party) and it agreed with Silvio Berlusconi's rightwing party to form the government. The PD is basically all-in with the Merkel austericide program, Berlusconi and his party were more critical. But without a government composed of parties not only critical of austerity but willing to oppose it up to and included bailing out of the euro, they won't be able to do much about it.

A big part of the problem with Frau Fritz is the willing collapse of the SPD as any kind of opposition to the neoliberal austerity policies, a criticism that applies to the Greens, as well. They're on board with the basic lines of Frau Fritz' brutal eurozone economic policies. One might think the Left Party would be making maximum use of the chance to position itself as potentially a much larger party. And they have been critical of austerity policies, including some of the Agenda 2010 policies introduced by the red-green government under Gerhard Schröder and Joschka Fischer that resulted in lower wages and less job stability. But even the Left Party hasn't pressed any more fundamental criticisms of the current EU structure and it dangers for Germany, even though those dangers aren't so obvious to many German voters at the moment.

The SPD even tolerates a not-insignificant amount of anti-immigrant demagoguery. Thilo Sarrazin, a one-time big wheel in the SPD, drew criticism a few years ago when he published a book echoing the stock superficial culture-war style criticisms of non-white and southern European immigrants that are common as dirt on the far right. The SPD did distance themselves from him. But just today, the Oberösstereicische Nachrichten published and interview with the anti-immigrant SPD mayor of the Berlin district of Neukölln, Heinz Buschkowsky, „Political correctness ist ein Alibi für das Nichtstun“ 22.05.2013. (Berlin has Bezirksbürgermeisters {District Mayors} for various districts and an Oberbürgermeister {High Mayor} for the entire city.)

His district has a large percentage of migrants and children of migrants. But Buschkowsky isn't exactly a tribune for their interests. In a crack that would sound routine at a Tea Party or NRA event, though with "white" instead of "German" in the American context, he says, "Einen deutschen Vater, der nicht will, dass seine Tochter einen türkischstämmigen Mann heiratet, beschimpft man als Rassisten. Bei einem türkischen Vater, der nicht will, dass seine Tochter einen deutschen Mann heiratet, heißt es, das sei Teil seiner Religiosität." ("A German father who doesn't want his daughter to marry a man of Turkish dissent, people call him racist. With a Turkish father who doesn't want his daughter to marry a German man, they say it's part of his religiosity.") A painfully obvious version of "Would you want your daughter to marry one?" And the "they" who say these things of which Buschkowsky disapproves are the advocates of "political correctness," a phrase he uses in the same sense Rush Limbaugh does to refer in a negative to those who dispprove of racism and xenophobia.

Why rightwingers love these double-reverse phrases is still something of a mystery to me. When a Limbaugh or a Buschkowsky uses "political correctness," they mean something they find politically incorrect. For them being "politically incorrect" is politically correct. It gives me a headache. And while I'm ranting, one would think a guy with a Slavic-sounding name like "Buschkowsky" might be hesitant to beat his chest in public about what a fine German white guy he is. But apparently one would be wrong.

It wasn't so long ago that it was generally assumed in Europe and the US that among the problems economic depressions brought on were political fractures, racism and xenophobia. But Frau Fritz' brand of Ordoliberalism isn't much concerned about such things, it seems.

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