The Rome Radical Left daily, Il Manifesto, recently headed a recent article about European politics (which I have summarized here) with the name of Emile Roemer. The 50-year old Roemer is the leader of Holland’s leftwing Socialist Party (SP), a man almost unknown in much of Europe even though today he is the most popular politician in The Netherlands and favored to win national elections on September 12. A Socialist victory there would represent a major electoral turn-about in The Netherlands. The sudden rise in popularity of the leftwing Socialists in Holland is attributed to the left’s opposition to the rightwing government’s proposal for austerity policies calling for a 13 billion euro budget cut in order to reduce the national deficit to less than 3% of the GDP, as per the Fiscal Compact decided and imposed on European Union members by the non-elected technocrats of the EU in nearby Brussels…
If Dutch Socialists win, Europeans returning from long summer vacations will receive a lesson about the value of democracy and electoral power, writes Il Manifesto. Europeans will see first hand an alternative to the economic crisis of neoliberalism—extended capitalism that is, capitalism at it deadliest. And not in the economically weak country of Greece where last year the radical left of Syriza came within a hairsbreadth of an electoral majority. This time, the reversal of directions can come about in one of the pillars of neoliberal orthodoxy, Holland, Germany’s most loyal ally. A highly visible and abrupt reversal of a great part of the electorate in this nation of 15 million. At the outbreak of the crisis the Dutch elected, incredibly it now seems, the neoliberal right in alliance with the xenophobic and populist Party of Freedom precisely at the time of the collapse of the capitalist financial-economic system and when the recession of 2009 showed most clearly the disasters of neoliberalism. A left vote at this point today is a defensive measure on the part of Dutch middle classes against the already proven failures of neoliberalist economics. [One wonders if the lessons of history are ever learned or remembered.—Eds)
The thrust toward change which exploded in Greece last year was different. It was born in the desperation of the Greek situation. There, it was the citizens of a country barely touched by the crisis, with a low public debt but a high private debt, which had however long applied liberalist policies of every type such as flexible employment, widespread part-time work, workers who still counted on the welfare state.
Surprisingly, both Athens and The Hague are marked by a strong presence of emergent political forces capable of going beyond the limits of the traditional left (and its divisions), and know how to speak to all citizens and how to offer an alternative at the precisely the same moment that the seats of national and European power insist there is no alternative to cuts, for the most part into the welfare state. That is, they preach, there is no alternative to austerity which translates into cutbacks into the hard-won safety net constructed over a hundred years of social struggles. Though this new left keeps “Europe” in mind, it does not lose its way in improbable and sterile discussions about an exit from the Euro currency system. Nor does it bend to the now famous Greek Memorandum accepting the conditions and austerity measures for economic help to Greece, imposed by the non-elected officials in Brussels also on the rest of European Union members in crisis, measures which consist of such a degree of austerity as to lead Greece and Europe straight into a great depression.
Socialists thus reopen the practice of democracy—both on a national and European level—while the non-elected officials of the European Union in Brussels continue to suffocate it. The road ahead is not an easy one. In Germany, the Social Democratic Party and the Greens have accepted a compromise with the right government of Angela Merkel and her Christian Democrats concerning austerity policies of the so-called Fiscal Compact, while the Linke (the real left party) is isolated and itself divided. However the radical left demands a national referendum concerning approval of the Fiscal Compact demand by EU officials and its national leaders..
In France, the Socialist government of François Hollande has accepted the same Fiscal Compact which will soon reach Parliament for approval. Some Greens of Hollande’s government majority will not vote in favor of the measure. Critical voices are also heard from inside Hollande’s own Socialist Party. So in Paris the debate is hot and the reasons for rejection of austerity and the Fiscal Compact have been efficiently presented to French people.
As a variant, Hollande’s government is experimenting with other forms of austerity by cutting salaries for government ministers while raising the minimum wage, limiting retirement cuts imposed by Sarkozy’s former right government and the hiring of an additional 8000 teachers in public schools (excellent schools, by the way) while reducing the armed forces by the same number, the imposition of a 75% tax on salaries of above one million a year, limitations on firings caused by the crisis, and new limits on housing rents. Small steps which however are signs of a desire for a redistribution of wealth against inequalities and in defense of labour, signs that the economic virulent orthodoxy reigning in the capitalist world can at least be moderated.
Italy unfortunately remains distant from even such limited developments. An European Union backed, non-elected government came to power in Rome with promises of austerity, reforms and economic growth. Italians have thus far seen only the first. Unemployment and under-employment rage while taxes (an average of 55%) are the highest in Europe, while wages are among the lowest, more comparable to Greece than The Netherlands. Gasoline prices are now the highest in the European Union, while public transportation is among the worst. Hollande’s measures already introduced in France are absent in the program of the Italian left. The now notorious Fiscal Compact and the balanced budget was approved in the Rome Parliament without any debate on the heels of non-elected Premier Monti’s presentation of his neoliberalist policies as the last stand in the country.
Sadly and unbelievably the center-left Democratic Party, the country’s biggest party and the major party of what remains of Italy’s left has proposed making Monti’s liberalist policies part of its electoral program for next year’s national elections. This, while stock market speculation against Italy rages, while Italy pays over four times the interest paid by Germany for its state bonds, the GDP is to fall 2.5% in 2013, industrial production stands at 25% less than at the start of the economic crisis, unemployment is at 9%–for persons under 25 years of age unemployment is 35%. Such dramatic statistics notwithstanding, both right and left promise to continue the route laid out of by Mario “Trilateral-Bilderberger” Monti after next year’s election
The Italian political class seems incapable of seeking alternatives to defend the interest of 9 Italians of 10—the real losers in this long crisis. The left is unable to aggregate a social bloc that can reach beyond confused populist reactions, to reconstruct policies based on democracy as is happening in Greece and now The Netherlands. Italy could begin with the small steps as today in France: limit the power of finance, tax the rich, re-launch production and defend labour. Instead it is static.
I would note here some general considerations that might help American readers to appreciate more the small steps outlined above (and how they are suggestions for change in America. And also to understand better Europe.) When I first arrived in Europe a half century ago, I saw each country as distinct and particular. As time passed I too came to see Europe more as one. I too was fascinated by the idea of a United Europe. Europeans however until not many years ago—even after the birth of the nucleus of the European Union—continued to think in terms of their own countries, separate and distinct. They thought the idea of Europe—like “I’m going to Europe this summer”—as a distinctly American concept. Instead, they were French or German or Italian or Danish. Only in recent years, especially among youth, have people begun to think proudly of themselves as Europeans, with European passports and a single European currency, and passing borders with no complicated controls and customs checks. Yet each still thinks first of himself as first of all Greek or Dutch or Serb, and secondly European. The political differences sketched out above reflect these national differences and reflect also a growing mistrust of the mass of non-elected persons in the European Commission in Brussels and now in some cases, as in Italy, also non-elected governments. The national differences on the one hand and the new pride in the still newborn European-ness create a kind of parallelism, if not a form of political schizophrenia, across this variegated and historically tortured continent which however is part of the American subconscious, our heritage and our forefathers. Therefore, what is happening in Greece and Holland, in France and Italy, in Germany and Serbia are of far-reaching, if not crucial import to us Americans. We could more profitably spend more time learning from them rather than trying to impose Americanism on them. Boot-licker Italy for example had ordered 131 of America’s Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II attack aircraft, the second largest order in Europe after the UK! Its rising cost—an estimated $197 million each in 2013—caused Rome to reduce its order to 90 of this airplane which Italy does NOT need anyway at the same time the Rome neoliberal government was slashing welfare and pensions and raising taxes across the board.
Conclusion: it matters whether a rightist government or a truly left party is in power across the continent of Europe. The problem is, while most rightist parties are the real deal, far too many on the left are not.
Gaither Stewart is a Featured Writer on Dandelion Salad and Senior Editor and Rome-based European correspondent of The Greanville Post. His latest novel, Lily Pad Roll, about the cancerous growth of global military bases and the reckless encirclement of Russia, is slated for publication in September by Punto Press.
Previously published at www.greanvillepost.com on August 23, 2012.