I'm referring to a report in Spiegel Online (Gregor Peter Schmitz, Debatte um Euro-Spardiktat: Vier gegen Merkel 18.06.2014) that describes how the leaders of four Social Democratic parties are making such a show: French President François Hollande, German SPD leader Sigmar "Sigi Pop" Gabriel, Social Democratic candidate for EU President in May's elections Marting Schulz, and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.
Renzi's success in the May European elections in keeping his Democratic Party in first place and the Five Star Movement a distinct second is probably a big part of the impetus for this. He took a position that austerity measures should be lightened in the short run in exchange for a commitment to even more drastic neoliberal measures to reduce wages and living standards in the near future. And that's what the four Social Democratic leaders are demanding, according to Schmitz' report.
I believe that the Social Democrats see a need to raise their profile among their base voters if they don't want to lose their status as the largest left party in various countries. And it's good that they recognize that they have to at least pretend to not be such enthusiastic fans of austerity as they have been during the current depression.
But as a change of policy, I just don't buy it yet. For one thing, the messengers are questionable. Hollande campaigned in 2012 on a promise that he would oppose Merkel and insist on a renegotiation of the EU Fiscal Suicide Pact before he would recommend the French Parliament to approve it. But as soon as he got elected, it was embarrassing how fast he scrambled to cave in to Merkel and start promoting austerity, not to mention looking eagerly for wars in which to get involved.
So I'm skeptical that Hollande is really ready to stand up to his pal Merkel now. As Bush the Magnificent, Liberator of Peoples and Scourge of the Heathen famously said, "Fool me once, shame on ... shame on you. Fool me, can't get fooled again."
Renzi replaced the previous Prime Minister of his own party sounding like he was more eager than his predecssor to push "reforms," the neoliberal euphemism for reducing salaries and wages, deregulation, and cutting public services.
SPD Chairman Sigi Pop is current Vice Chancellor and Economics Minister in Merkel's Grand Coalition (GroKo) government. In a thoroughly lackluster campaign last year, the SPD also mildly criticized Merkel's austerity measures, especially as they touched German voters, but didn't give much attention to articulating any kind of alternative to Merkel's eurozone policies. And after their second-place finish, they couldn't wait to become junior partner (again!) in a Merkel-headed GroKo government.
Martin Schultz as leader of the Social Democrats in the European Parliament has generally been a faithful Angie-bot on European issues. And he's part of the German SPD, as well.
And these four are going to leading the charge against Angie-nomics?
Miracles happen. Depressions and losing elections have been known to focus politicians' minds.
But the real test is whether they will seriously fight Merkel on this, or whether it's just political Kabuki. When the SPD seriously threatens to pull out of Merkel's GroKo and form a left government in Germany with the Greens and the Left Party, then I'll take Sigi Pop and Angie-bot Schultz more seriously.
Schmitz also features this recent quote from Sigi Pop:
Wir Deutschen stehen heute besser da als viele andere Staaten, weil wir uns mit Gerhard Schröders Agenda 2010 ein hartes Reformprogramm auferlegt haben. Aber auch wir haben damals Zeit gebraucht, um die Staatsschulden zu senken.Agenda 2010 was basically the Social Democrats' bigger capitulation to the neoliberal agenda, and its effects limited German income and decreased job security. If Sigi Pop is praising Agenda 2010 while he's suggesting that, well, maybe we should possibly think about easing up on the austerity in the eurozone for a brief time as long as the neoliberal "reforms" are enforced even more intensely soon after - he's not serious about fighting austerity.
[We Germans are in better shape today than many other states because we imposed a difficult reform program with Gerhard Schröders Agenda 2010. But we also needed time then to reduced the public debt.]
Tags: angela merkel, austerity economics, eu, euro, european union, france, françois hollande, spd