EUROPE VOTES AGAINST AUSTERITY
‘The emphasis on austerity is becoming increasingly unpopular, with opponents saying it creates a self-defeating cycle of economic stagnation leading to lower tax receipts. It has been denounced in large rallies in Greece, Spain and the Czech Republic recently, and has proved to be a losing plank in any recent European election where it was tested.’
This is how the New York Times described the new revolt against austerity that is sweeping Europe. There are now three major flash points outside Ireland that can sink the austerity treaty. They indicate that there is no point in Irish people voting for an already discredited Treaty.
The results of the Greek general election have exploded like a bombshell in the face of the ruling class.
The parties that had supported the “technocratic” coalition government headed by former banker Lucas Papademos suffered a crushing defeat.
Back in 2009 these parties controlled 266 of the 300 seats in the Greek parliament. Now they are down to 149 seats between them. And even this figure is misleading, as it includes 50 seats given as a “bonus” by the electoral system to party with the largest share of the vote.
Pasok, the Labour-type party that had won 44 percent of the vote in 2009, won less than a third of its previous result with 13 percent. The conservative New Democracy (ND) is down from 33.5 percent to 19 percent. And the far-right Laos party will not be represented in this parliament as it fell below the 3 percent barrier.
The swing to the left was huge. The combined vote for all left parties was 872,000 in 2009. Now it reached 2,115,000—33.75 percent of the total.
These are unprecedented heights for the left. We have to go back 54 years to find a previous example.
In 1958 the United Democratic Left (EDA) polled 25 percent, and that electoral success unleashed a massive wave of working class struggle into the 1960s.
It took a military coup in 1967 to crush that dynamic. This time the movement is stronger and the outcome can be different.
In 2010 and 2011 there were 17 general strikes in Greece against attempts by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the European Union (EU) to impose harsh austerity measures.
That explains the course of the election campaign. When the election was called, both Pasok and ND were hoping to blackmail voters into supporting them. They claimed that a vote for the left would lead Greece out of the eurozone and into an economic wilderness.
The Greek vote means there is no longer a working majority to implement austerity policies.
François Hollande won close to 52 percent in the second round of voting. He now becomes France’s first Socialist Party president since François Mitterrand left office in 1995.
Hollande’s victory is part of a growing backlash against austerity across Europe. But what is he promising?
“Austerity need not be Europe’s fate,” he told crowds on election night. Hollande’s programme includes plans to renegotiate measures agreed by eurozone nations to deal with the sovereign debt crisis, placing more emphasis on economic growth.
During the campaign he argued that the rich would have to make sacrifices. He has pledged to increase taxes on banks and big corporations, and to raise the top rate of tax to 75 percent for those earning more than 1 million euros.
The retirement age will also revert back to 60 from 62, but only for those who have worked for 41 years.
Hollande wants changes to the Fiscal Treaty to promote an EU wide stimulus programme. He is not a radical socialist and will go back on many of his promises. But his victory has increased the confidence of those who are opposing the austerity road.
Italy’s centre-right People of Liberty (PDL), the largest party backing Mario Monti’s technocratic government, has challenged the unelected prime minister, Mario Monti, over his commitment to a speedy ratification of the Fiscal Treaty and says he must change his economic policies to avoid early elections.
Renato Brunetta, former minister for public sector reforms in Silvio Berlusconi’s previous government and PDL spokesman for economics, said that the fiscal compact had to be amended to give the European Central Bank the authority to take part in government debt auctions and allow for commonly issued debt, or eurozone bonds.
Mr Monti’s government is in talks with German officials to stage a synchronised ratification of the fiscal compact in both countries’ parliaments. But Brunetta, dismissed the possibility of that happening unless the pact was amended.
The Irish government are desperately trying a damage limitation exercise, claiming that they too are for a growth agenda. But the reality is that they want us to vote for a treaty that is only based on austerity.
We should give them a loud No and join the European revolt.