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A System of Economic Punishment

Europe’s Brutal Discipline

by SERGE HALIMI

The European utopia is turning into a system for delivering punishment. As Europe’s regime gets tougher, there is a growing sense that interchangeable elites are taking advantage of each crisis to tighten their austerity policies and impose their federal fantasy (1). This twin objective has the support of boardrooms and newsrooms. But even if you boost their ranks with German rentiers, a few Luxembourgers specialising in tax evasion and most of France’s Socialist leaders, popular backing for the present “European project” isn’t much greater.

The European Union does not stop chiding states that fail to be concerned first with reducing their budget deficit, even when unemployment is rife. As they usually fall into line without further persuasion, the EU immediately imposes a programme of corrective measures, with objectives worked out to the last decimal point and a timetable for completion. But when a growing number of sick Europeans have to forgo treatment because they cannot afford it, when infant mortality shoots up and malaria returns, as it has done in Greece, national governments do not have to fear flak from the European Commission. For the convergence criteria, so strictly applied to deficits and debt, do not apply to employment, education and health. Yet everything is connected: cutting state spending almost always means reducing the number of hospital doctors and rationing healthcare.

Brussels is the usual target for all discontent, but two political forces, the Socialists and Liberals, have done more to promote the transformation of monetarist dogma into voluntary servitude; they have for decades shared power and positions in the European Parliament and Commission, and most of Europe’s capitals (2). Five years ago José Manuel Barroso, an ultraliberal who supported the Iraq war, was re-elected president of the Commission at the unanimous demand of the 27 EU heads of state and government, including the Socialists, even though all were aware of his astonishingly mediocre record.

Candidates to succeed him are currently a German Social Democrat, Martin Schulz, and a Christian Democrat from Luxembourg, Jean-Claude Juncker. They expressed their “opposing” views in a television debate on 9 April. And who do you think said “strict measures are essential to restore confidence” and who replied with “budgetary discipline is unavoidable”? Schulz, who thinks his comrade Gerhard Schröder’s pitiless “reforms” are “exactly the model” to follow, even said: “I don’t know what distinguishes us.” It certainly wouldn’t be a wish to shut down Europe’s economic boot camp.

Serge Halimi is president of Le Monde diplomatique.

Notes.

(1) See Serge Halimi, “A federal Europe, by order”,Le Monde diplomatique, English edition, July 2012.

(2) On 7 July 2009 the European People’s Party (EPP; rightwing) and the Socialists signed a “technical agreement” under which the Polish ultra-conservative, Jerzy Buzek, was president of the European Parliament from July 2009 to January 2012, and the German Socialist, Martin Schulz, has succeeded him.

This article appears in the excellent Le Monde Diplomatique, whose English language edition can be found at mondediplo.com. This full text appears by agreement with Le Monde Diplomatique. CounterPunch features two or three articles from LMD every month.