Before long a domino is going to fall: a far-right candidate failed to become president of Austria by just 30,000 votes. The day before that election, the president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, warned: “There’s no debate or dialogue possible with the far right” (1). But what better gift could there be for the far right, which boasts of being outside the system, than that type of admonishment from the former prime minister of the tax haven of Luxembourg, who became EC president through horse-trading between the right and the socialists? In Austria, the right and the socialists governed together for 39 of the past 69 years, and were swept away in the first round of the presidential election…
Juncker, who has an opinion on everything, also pronounced on the planned El Khomri law (amending Frances labour laws, in a neoliberal direction), which the majority of French people hate: “The labour law reform, desired and imposed by the Valls government, is the minimum that needs to be done.” The minimum, that is, compared to “reforms such as those that were imposed on Greece.”
EU treaties effectively amount to a mountain of proscriptions, rules and purges (“reforms”). To implement them rigorously doesn’t require understanding them. Eurogroup president Jeroen Dijsselbloem recently admitted that he didn’t entirely grasp the meaning of the structural deficit, which no state is supposed to exceed: “As an indicator, it is hard to predict, hard to manage and hard to explain. One of my frustrations is that it goes up and down without me really knowing why” (2).
Yet the European institutions punish Greece because of such opaque statistics. They have imposed on it a vote on a budget bill 7,000 pages long, three large rises in value added tax, the cut-price privatisation of airports, an increase in the retirement age to 67, higher health insurance costs and the end of protection for small property owners who cannot repay their loans. Greece has just received in return a loan mainly intended to allow it to pay back the interest on its external debt. The IMF has conceded that that debt is “unsustainable”, but Germany refuses to allow it to be cut.
Germany and the EC do know how to show a more lenient side, though, and not just towards David Cameron’s UK (see Brexit, Lexit or Remain? and UK’s changed political landscape). No sanction has been imposed on Spain, with a budget deficit that far exceeds the limits under the treaties. Neither Germany nor the EU wanted to make trouble for Mariano Rajoy’s government, which belongs to the same political family as Jean-Claude Juncker and Angela Merkel, before Spain’s parliamentary elections on 26 June.
Imposing cruel sacrifices on entire nations in the name of rules that you don’t understand, and forgetting about those rules as soon as your political cronies break them, creates the climate of amorality and cynicism in which the far right advances.
(1) Le Monde, Paris, 21 May 2016.
(2) Les Echos, Paris, 29-30 April 2016.
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.