FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Tide is Turning Against Austerity

by DEEPAK TRIPATHI

Recent elections in France and Greece have generated a good deal of comment, suggesting that the years of center-right governance in Europe may be coming to an end. The defeat of President Nicolas Sarkozy of France by the Socialist candidate Francois Hollande, and the collapse in Greece of political parties that allowed unrestrained capitalism and chaos to take hold, are major developments. But whether they represent a turning-point likely to return Western Europe to social democracy cannot be taken for granted yet.

Certainly, the public opinion has become radicalized to an alarming degree. European societies are undergoing a process of atomization as confidence in mainstream political parties and their leaders collapses. In the midst of a severe continental crisis, millions upon millions of people feel that their leaders are both unwilling and unable to look for solutions to help the most vulnerable.

The masses have become disgusted with professional politicians after giving them many opportunities. Recent national and regional elections in Greece, France and Germany are proof of voters walking away from mainstream parties whose political labels and programs are deceptive. The same trend has been repeated in the recent local elections in Britain. Unfortunately, when a government loses, the victor picks up where the defeated left. Callous disregard of the masses, and obsession with the accountants’ jargon of “balancing the books,” are behind the austerity imposed on ordinary citizens throughout the European continent. The result is the collapse of traditional politics and the rise of groups on the extremes.

This phenomenon across Europe mirrors what has long been happening in the United States. The difference is that in Europe the coercive power of supranational financial institutions, supported by the United States, is being applied with extraordinary ferocity and haste. It goes against the post-war liberal consensus, developed following the devastation of the two world wars in the last century.

The most traumatic events are taking place in Greece. The fall of the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) from governance to near insignificance, and the collapse of the New Democracy Party vote by a third, in the recent general election are dramatic. The consequence is the rise of new political groups, most notably Syriza, vehemently opposed to the austerity package which, Germany, the wealthiest European country, insists upon.

The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, has her own domestic compulsions. Germany’s public opinion is strongly against bailing other countries out of the crisis. But in refusing to yield on harsh cuts and work for economic growth instead, the German chancellor has created a distinct impression that she does not recognize the Greek people’s democratic choice. The appearance of diktats from Bonn is a highly sensitive issue, for memories of Nazi occupation of Greece during the Second World War are still alive among many Greeks. They may be one of the poorest member-states in the European Union, but are proud of their history and civilization.

The Greek electorate’s refusal to accept harsh cuts any more, reflected in the country’s extraordinarily polarization, made the formation of a coalition government impossible. Reports of the German chancellor telling Greece to hold a referendum on whether Athens wanted to retain the euro currency added fuel to the fire and those reports had to be denied. Nevertheless, the coming election in June will in effect be a referendum on Greece’s continuing presence in the euro area. Otherwise, the country walks away from the straightjacket which eurozone has become, prompting a default on its debt payments and causing a financial “calamity,” as many free marketeers have been predicting with passion.

The past decade has been one of retreat for social democratic politics in Europe. From Scandinavian countries in the north to Italy and Greece in the south, the political right has been dominant across the continent. However, just when old social democrats looked utterly defeated, new forces of the left are beginning to come forward. They have begun to fight back and the tide has started to turn.

In recent months, Chancellor Merkel of Germany has looked like a heartless nanny who has mishandled the Greek crisis. As long as she had an ally in Nicolas Sarkozy as the president of France, the duo dominated. Now, however, Greece is not the only European Union member in crisis and Merkel stands severely weakened by at least two factors. One is the defiance of the Greek people. The other, even more decisive, is the defeat of Sarkozy by his Socialist rival Francois Hollande in the French presidential election. Along with Greece, France too goes to the polls for the National Assembly in June, when the domination of the French right is almost certain to end. At home, the defeat of Merkel’s party in Germany’s most populous region, North Rhine Westphalia, by the Social Democrats is a major jolt against her center-right coalition.

So the tide is turning in Europe and the left is emerging from the wilderness years. But it is not certain how bold the new left, splintered and still facing a strong challenge from the entrenched right, is going to be. It is to be seen whether the left is able to assert itself in the ideological battle with the right.

Deepak Tripathi is a writer whose interests include Europe after the Cold War. He blogs on http://deepaktripathi.wordpress.com and he can be reached at: dandatripathi@gmail.com.


Deepak Tripathi is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland. His works can be found at: http://deepaktripathi.wordpress.com and he can be reached at deepak.tripathi.writer@gmail.com.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

January 19, 2017
Melvin Goodman
America’s Russian Problem
Dave Lindorff
Right a Terrible Wrong: Why Obama Should Reverse Himself and Pardon Leonard Peltier
Laura Carlsen
Bringing Mexico to Its Knees Will Not “Make America Great Again”
John W. Whitehead
Nothing is Real: When Reality TV Programming Masquerades as Politics
Yoav Litvin
Time to Diss Obey: the Failure of Identity Politics and Protest
Mike Whitney
The Trump Speech That No One Heard 
Conn Hallinan
Is Europe Heading for a “Lexit”?
Stephen Cooper
Truth or Twitter? Why Donald Trump Is No John Steinbeck
Binoy Kampmark
Scoundrels of Patriotism: The Freeing of Chelsea Manning
Ramzy Baroud
The Balancing Act is Over: What Elor Azaria Taught Us about Israel
Josh Hoxie
Why Health Care Repeal is a Stealth Tax Break for Millionaires
Kim C. Domenico
It’s High Time for a Politics of Desire
Shamus Cooke
Inauguration Day and Beyond
Clark T. Scott
More and More Lousy
David Swanson
Samantha Power Can See Russia from Her Padded Cell
Kevin Carson
Right to Work and the Apartheid State
Malaika H. Kambon
Resisting the Lynching of Haitian Liberty!
January 18, 2017
Gary Leupp
The Extraordinary Array of Those Questioning Trump’s Legitimacy (and Their Various Reasons)
Charles Pierson
Drone Proliferation Ramps Up
Ajamu Baraka
Celebrating Dr. King with the Departure of Barack Obama
David Underhill
Trumpology With a Twist
Chris Floyd
Infinite Jest: Liberals Laughing All the Way to Hell
Stansfield Smith
Obama’s Hidden Role in Worsening Climate Change
Ron Leighton
Trump is Not Hitler: How the Misuse of History Distorts the Present as Well as the Past
Ralph Nader
An Open Letter to President-Elect Donald Trump
Binoy Kampmark
NATO and Obsolescence: Donald Trump and the History of an Alliance
Zarefah Baroud
‘The Power to Create a New World’: Trump and the Environmental Challenge Ahead
Julian Vigo
Obama Must Pardon the Black Panthers in Prison or in Exile
Alfredo Lopez
The Whattsapp Scandal
Clancy Sigal
Russian Hacking and the Smell Test
Terry Simons
The Truth About Ethics and Condoms
January 17, 2017
John Pilger
The Issue is Not Trump, It is Us
John K. White
Is Equality Overrated, Too?
Michael J. Sainato
The DNC Hands the Democratic Party Over to David Brock and Billionaire Donors
John Davis
Landscapes of Shame: America’s National Parks
Andrew Smolski
Third Coast Pillory: Politicians and Rhetorical Tricks
Chris Busby
The Scientific Hero of Chernobyl: Alexey V. Yablokov, the Man Who Dared to Speak the Truth
David Macaray
Four Reasons Trump Will Quit
Chet Richards
The Vicissitudes of the Rural South
Clancy Sigal
“You Don’t Care About Jobs”: Why the Democrats Lost
Robert Dodge
Martin Luther King and U.S. Politics: Time for a U.S. Truth and Reconciliation Commission
Jack Sadat Lee
I Dream of Justice for All the Animal Kingdom
James McEnteer
Mourning Again in America
January 16, 2017
Paul Street
How Pure is Your Hate?
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
Did the Elites Have Martin Luther King Jr. Killed?
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail