Thursday, May 15, 2014

EU Commission Presidential campaign

The five top candidates for the Presidency of the EU Commission debated on Thursday: Jean-Claude Juncker for the European People's Party (EPP; Christian Democratic/conservative), Ska Keller for the European Greens, Martin Schultz for the Party of European Socialists (PES; social-democrats), Alexis Tsipras for the European Left Party (ELP) and Guy Verhofstadt for the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE; "liberal" in Europe means hardline support for deregulation and so-called "free market" policies). Verhofstadt is the co-author of the book Für Europa! Ein Manifest (2012) that I've previously discussed here along with longtime Green Daniel Cohn-Bendit, who split with the Greens for not being conservative enough.

As of this writing, the only video version of the entire debate I've found is this German-narrated one from ORF: Konfrontation der Spitzenkandidaten und Analyse 15.05.2014.

Tsipras and Keller both spoke explicitly about the critical need to end Angela Merkel's austerity policies; the other three talked around it with empty phrases, because they support it. Tsipras calls for a "New Deal" for Europe. Tsipras is very emphatic and convincing in his demand for an alternative to austerity. Keller also calls Verhofstadt at just after 32:00 on his conventional hot air talk about debt, using the example of Spain.

He spoke to the German Left Party recently, Alexis Tsipras' speech at the Die Linke Party Congress in Berlin, Germany European Left 11.05.2014:

We are only few days away from the most critical European elections in the history of the European Union. Because this time, we are not voting only to elect members of the Parliament. We are voting to shape the balance of political forces in a Europe, which is at a critical crossroads. We are voting to hold back catastrophic austerity and regain democracy. We are voting for our lives.

To tear down the «wall of money». To overcome the North-South division. A division that cancels the European idea and Europe itself.

The dilemma is now clear: Either with the Europe of the peoples or with the Europe of the bankers. Either with democracy and solidarity that unite Europe or with austerity that kills Europe. Either with the European Left or with Ms Merkel. [my emphasis]
"Europe" in that context means the European Union. And even allowing for the necessities of campaign rhetoric, it's not an overstatement.

Paul Krugman calls the GDP reports on Europe that just came out "really disappointing." (Not On The Mend 05/15/2014) That is, really bad news, despite the propaganda from Merkel and her austerity supporters have been claiming about signs of success in Greece and Portugal of late:

It's not just that overall growth remains slow — although after an extended slump economies are supposed to have a period of above-average growth as they return to trend, and 0.9 percent at an annual rate doesn't cut it. It’s also that the growth is in the wrong places. We need to see convergence between the austerity-ravaged peripheral countries and the core; in fact, Germany is the main source of growth, with the periphery falling further behind. ...

The European story remains one of deeply destructive economic policies, which have inflicted vast harm — but have not led to unraveling, because the political cohesion of the euro is stronger than people like me realized. The cohesion is a good thing, I guess, but the policies still aren't working. [my emphasis]
So Tsipras and Keller are very timely in calling for an end to austerity. It is very urgent.

None of the five candidates in the debate are household names in the US.

Several other people who are also not household names but are some of the world's leading living philosophers have just endorsed him, including Etienne Balibar, Wendy Brown, Judith Butler and Slavoj Zizek. (Also, for the paranoid, Frances Fox Piven OMG!) A third-place showing for Tsipras would be impressive. Edging out the social democrats is not likely. But that would be a an even bigger shock to the austerity cheerleaders! (Appell namhafter Intellektueller für Tsipras Neues Deutschland 14.05.2014; Internationally renowned intellectuals' declaration of support for Alexis Tsipras' candidacy Tsipras campaign press release 05/09/2014)

Since both the Christian Democratic (right-center) candidate Jean-Claude Juncker and the social-democratic (left-center) candidate Martin Schulz are completely committed to Angela Merkel's austerity politics, anyone who's pro-Europe but not a fan of Herbert Hoover/Heinrich Brüning economics, Tsipras is a pretty obvious choice.

Merkel's already said (short version) that she doesn't give a flip who the voters select, she intends to put whoever she wants in as EU Commission President; but that's another story. (Stral Sund reports on that wrinkle in Merkel plays down hope of quick deal on next Commission president Reuters 05/10/2014)

Yanis Varoufakis, currently the world's best-known Greek economist, has also endorsed him. Video is in English. Yanis Varoufakis Endorses Candidacy of Alexis Tsipras for the Presidency of the European Commission 05/01/2014:

Varoufakis gives a good brief description of what the euro crisis and Merkel's austerity policies are doing to Europe. With some melodramatic flourishes here and there, e.g., "the dirty war for Europe's integrity and soul," Merkel's austerity policies as "fiscal waterboarding." I'm guessing it was intentional that he put this out on May 1, International Workers Day.

The European Greens more generally don't seem to be very focused in this campaign. Their German website as of this writing certainly isn't putting an anti-austerity message front-and-center. Keller is telegenic and makes a decent anti-austerity case. But she certainly doesn't seem experienced enough to successfully go head-to-head with an austerity dragon like Angela Merkel.

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