A gigantic 'no' from Europe's voters
Political crisis is spreading like a forest fire through Europe following the inconvenient intervention, for the ruling classes that is, of millions and millions of voters in Britain, France, Greece and now Italy.
A rejection of austerity has produced the rare ousting of an incumbent president in France, the overwhelming rejection of austerity parties in Greece, a hammering for the ConDems in Britain and in Italy huge success in local elections for a new movement led by a comedian.
The 5 Star Movement, led by Beppe Grillo, a tussle-haired comedian who wants Italy to quit the euro, made some stunning advances. In Parma, it knocked Silvio Berlusconi's PDL which had previously ruled the city, into fifth place, winning 20% of the vote.
"We are an epic change. And this is just the beginning. The parties are melting into a political diarrhoea. The citizens are taking back their institutions," Grillo said in a YouTube message.
This concerted rebuff for the old political order has had an immediate impact on European capitalism’s cherished project, the single currency. With bankrupt Greece unable to form a government in time to meet bail-out conditions, its ejection from the euro is a distinct possibility.
Jason Conibear, director of the global foreign exchange specialist Cambridge Mercantile, said of the election results:
There's every chance the euro will go into freefall in the weeks ahead against all the major currencies… Whether it was right or wrong, until the French and Greek elections this weekend there was at least a script. The script of austerity has now been torn up and the sovereign peoples of Europe are starting to ad lib.
In another eurozone country, Spain, the slump in the economy has left banks on life support and needing a bail-out sooner rather than later. Whether the Spanish state can find the resources for this operation is an open question. Industrial production has fallen by 7.5% in a year and one in four workers is unemployed.
Right round Europe, the massed voices of voters through the ballot box express a clamour for change. The political class, old and new, have tried to embrace the movement. In Greece, Alexis Tsipras, leader of the second most successful party, the united left bloc Syriza, declared:
The people of Europe can no longer be reconciled with the bailouts of barbarism ... We want to create a government of leftist forces in order to escape the bailout leading us to bankruptcy ... We're not going to let in through the window what Greek people kicked out the door.
Such a government seems an impossibility, however. And unless Greece meets its EU/IMF loan obligations, it may not be able to pay public sector salaries next month.
In France, president-elect Francois Hollande pledged to “finish with austerity” after defeating Nicolas Sarkozy, whose political party, the UMP, is facing a break-up as a consequence of his ousting. But Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel has told Hollande there can be no going back on the fiscal pact agreed by eurozone states.
Although voters have spoken in dramatic terms, solutions to the crisis will have to be found outside of the parliamentary arena. For example, Hollande’s “growth” policy is not an option because the global capitalist economy is in a period of great contraction. This has a momentum of its own that is more powerful than any policy adjustments that might be made.
The parliamentary state, however democratic it appears, is actually part of the problem. It has all but merged with corporate and financial power. Effectively, we live in a corporatocracy not a democracy.
Voters around Europe have demonstrated their potential to challenge for power itself rather than being content with rearranging the deckchairs. In every country, the electorate has to become a thing for itself rather than an object for others to use and abuse. Helping to build this self-awareness with the aim of putting Europe’s bourgeois elites out of their misery, is the challenge.
8 May 2012