On Monday, the 12th of November, German Chancellor Angela Merkel will arrive in Portugal, one of the countries most ravaged by economic crisis in the Euro Zone. She arrives in a country debating a budget for 2013 that will impose enormous tax increases while cutting further into basic public services. It’s a country enduring a deep recession set to enter a Greek style depression where despite persistent austerity, budget deficits continue, provoking new cuts & yet higher unemployment and a continued fall in living standards.
Numerous people share the blame for this current crisis in Portugal, I include Merkel among them. Unions and social movements are on solid ground in calling protests on the day of her visit. These forces have stressed their opposition to austerity imposed by the IMF and EU without any democratic mandate. As written in a powerful open letter to the Germany Chancellor signed by leading activists, public figures and intellectuals:
“This letter cannot and should not be seen as any sort of nationalist of chauvinist vindication – it’s a direct address to you as the chief promoter of the Neoliberal doctrine which is ruining Europe. We do not address the German people who have all the democratic legitimacy to elect whomever they want for their representative offices. However, in this country where we live, your name was never on any ballot. We did not elect you. As such, we do not recognize you the right to represent us and even less the right to make political decisions on our behalf.”
Not all protest gestures have been as measured and thought through in the lead up to Merkel’s high profile visit. A video addressed to the German public attracted great -I’d say undeserved- attention on the Sunday before her arrival:
I found that the video shamefully promoted a sense of national victimhood, that the Portuguese people have been mistreated, in contrast to a German people who’ve benefited from debt forgiveness and lax EU rules on deficits, the video purports. The video strays into blatant incoherence at times, I suspect this is due to the contradictions of a clip that appeals to both a nationalism of grievance and European solidarity.
Let’s be clear, the Portuguese people aren’t a single item that have been mistreated. Within Portugal, there are banks that have been bailed out, there are companies and wealthy individuals who have benefited from privatization and an abundance of precarious labor, and then there’s the working class which has seen its taxes gone up, its services reduced, and wages fall.
It’s critical to point out this video is a product of Portugal’s governing center-right PSD (Social Democratic Party). It doesn’t strike me as a matter of coincidence that at a time when the center-right coalition government is plummeting in opinion polls, a former PSD minister would promote a video directing frustration over austerity away from the Portuguese government.
At the start of this blog entry, I included Angela Merkel among those I held responsible for the crisis. She is but one figure in a political class across Europe that has engaged in a dangerous act of postponement. Austerity has become a political act of stalling, of avoiding the critical decisions about the Euro Zone project. The continent is in the worst kind of stalemate where countries don’t want to commit to the deep integration a common currency like the Euro entails, yet they are also afraid of the Euro Zone breaking up and the day of reckoning it would be for the centrist political parties that rushed into this economic powder-keg. Instead, they go on passing austerity, insisting it will solve the debt issue even as the debt still rises and the budget deficits remain.
Austerity does buy European governments a few months, but it doesn’t deliver any meaningful long term solution and end to the crisis. In Spain, Portugal, and Greece, unemployment is between 15% and 25%, social unrest is on the rise; in the case of Greece, neo-Nazis are attacking political opponents and migrants on the street, all of this before the much feared turmoil of a Euro Zone exit. It’s intolerable that all this suffering will persist just so Europe’s political class can live in denial through another year. That is all the reason needed to protest in Lisbon on Monday, not misguided and incoherent nationalism.