Voters across Europe reject austerity
Hoang Nhu Hoa
European voters are pushing back on the prescription of austerity as the solution to the debt crisis. With the election this week in France of Socialist Francois Hollande, set to become the nation's first left-wing president since Francois Mitterand left office in 1995, is the latest sign that voters are rejecting the rigors of austerity.
"Austerity can no longer be something that is inevitable," Hollande said in his speech on Monday, after defeating President Nicolas Sarkozy.
Hollande vowed that he would reopen talks to ensure the EU's agreements focused on growth rather than simply imposing deficit-cutting measures – an idea opposed by Germany.
In Greece, meanwhile, a coalition of anti-austerity parties appeared poised to form a government under the left-wing Syriza Party, after Greece's two main parties saw support nosedive in Sunday's elections. The vote failed to produce a clear winner but gave an overwhelming boost to Syriza, which now has 52 seats in parliament, making it the second largest party.
While the Socialist (Pasok) and New Democracy parties had pledged to continue deficit-cutting reforms, they will only send a combined 149 MPs to the 300-seat parliament, not enough to reform the coalition led by current Prime Minister Lucas Papademos.
On Tuesday, Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras said he aimed to form a cabinet which would reject all austerity measures imposed under the EU-IMF loan deal. He called on the leaders of Pasok and New Democracy to renege on their pledges to international creditors, vowing to form an anti-austerity coalition with other leftist parties and abolish a spate of labour law reforms demanded by Greece's creditors.
Assuming that Syriza and other anti-bailout parties can overcome their gaping differences, they would be able to muster 151 votes, just enough for a razor-thin majority in parliament.
The only option to forestall another election, said Ethnos daily, would be for Syriza and the smaller Democratic Left Party to settle on a joint candidate for prime minister which the third-seeded Pasok could support.
Market analysts saw the developments as added evidence that Greece would soon be exiting the euro.
"The failure of the Greek election to produce a new government provides some support to our view that Greece could leave the eurozone as soon as the end of this year," the French news agency AFP quoted London-based Capital Economics as saying.
The political development in France and Greece demonstrate that voters are rising up against austerity measures that have added to the already tough times faced by workers.
And the wave has arrived in Ireland. Since receiving a US$111 billion EU-IMF bailout in November 2010, Ireland has kept its side of the bargain, slashing away at its deficit with the public feeling the sharp end of the cuts. But with the European drive for austerity now in question and Hollande vowing to put more emphasis on a push for jobs and growth, some in Ireland want to renegotiate their terms.
The republic holds a referendum on the EU fiscal pact on May 31. A "No" vote could give Hollande a platform for a showdown with Germany on renegotiating the deal.
"The imposition of austerity across Europe has proven economically toxic and socially corrosive," said Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) general secretary David Begg. "Austerity hasn't worked and it won't work and many people have now woken up to that fact. Across Europe the tide is turning and we are beginning to see the emergence of a new jobs and growth agenda."
Eleven European countries are now in recession with the unemployment rate in the 17-nation eurozone at around 10.9 per cent. In Spain and Greece, a majority of young workers are jobless.
With governments in Ireland, Portugal, Slovakia, Italy, Greece, Spain, the Netherlands and France having all fallen due to the debt crisis, EU leaders will gather later this month for an emergency summit to discuss whether to tear up the EU fiscal pact in favour of a greater focus on growth rather than austerity.
"Anything that puts growth on the European agenda is a very good thing," said Brigid Laffan, a professor at University College in Dublin. — VNS