Europe’s Crisis Isn’t Finished But Its Politicians Are
Ever since Europe’s political class extended the life of the austerity regime in Greece with a second “bailout”, there’s been a misplaced triumphalism by some of the leaders most responsible for this era of unemployment and recession. Both president Sarkozy of France and European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi have declared that the crisis is resolved or that the worst is behind us. These statements are more than just irreconcilable with reality, these are statements entirely detached from the experience of Europeans enduring the full brunt of the crisis and are still facing more sacrifices demanded by parliaments from Lisbon to Athens.
While the European political class can look forward to luxurious summits marked by self-congratulation, the decisions of previous summits leave a future for workers disfigured by slashed wages, increased taxes, poorer working conditions, if not outright unemployment and poverty. It is not without the most extensive grievances that millions of workers in Spain participated in the general strike on the 29th of March. Just months into a new labor reform law that empowered employers, there’s been an increase in employee layoffs by a factor of eight in the Spanish region of Andalusia. Measures like these “resolve” the crisis in the eyes of policymakers. These are measures that weigh on workers and spare the preferred constituency of banks and large corporations. When thought is given to the real crisis, that of unemployment and poverty, politicians like Portugal’s prime minister Pedro Passoas Coelho can only manage to suggest young Portuguese emigrate to former colonies.
For all the declarations of triumph, Europe’s political class is left limping after the latest “bailout” package for Greece. Spaniards, Portuguese and Italians are hardly eager to attempt successive waves of budget cuts after seeing how they exiled Greece to a half decade of economic depression. On March 25th, Spanish voters in Andalusia denied the right-wing Popular Party the victory in regional elections, a victory election surveys had predicted, a victory Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy hoped would legitimize his second round of austerity following December’s national elections that brought the Popular Party to power.
The plight of austerity governments is far worse elsewhere. In Portugal, the economic downturn is worse than previously predicted with the high possibility of additional austerity required in exchange for additional European and IMF loans. The difficulties in Portugal strike a further blow to Europe’s austerity union as Portugal was trumpeted as the obedient and successful student in contrast to Greece’s alleged hesitancy to commit to austerity.
This leaves us with Greece, where the governing political consensus has been most shattered. This political class has embraced austerity, most recently slashing the minimum wage by 22%, 32% for those under the age of 25. It is because the two dominate political parties in Greece, New Democracy and PASOK, have embraced austerity that Greek voters intend to decimate their grip on power in the next election and replace them with anti-austerity parties outside the political mainstream.
Much of Europe isn’t in sight of the end of the economic crisis. It is restored employment and social services that will mark the end of the crisis, not rising global stock markets that the media and politicians cite as an indication of recovery. The politicians of the center-right and center-left, however, are largely finished. They are left as a force almost explicitly in parliament for the sole purpose of enacting the collective will of the markets. It is with stinging accuracy that Spain’s indignant youth chant: “They call it a democracy, it isn’t.” The public must traverse the wreckage of failed policies left by the political parties that are the obstacles preventing the exit from the crisis. What’s left, then, is to empower the worker, student, and pensioner to craft the political outcomes they have long been made subject to; reversing the leverage and making the banks and bosses subject to political outcomes of workers, pensioners, and students.