Posted by Big Gav
I find myself somewhat bemused by the way democracy has simply been brushed aside in Greece and Italy with EU technocrats simply installed as the new Prime Ministers. Crikey's Guy Rundle casts a cynical eye over the proceedings, noting that conspiracy theorists couldn't have invented a more caricatured representative of the New World Order if they'd tried (Cryptogon - and no doubt all of the others - has already noted this - Chairman of the European Branch of the Trilateral Commission and Bilderberg Member Becomes Leader of Italy) - Italy’s Monti appointment a concession to bewilderment.
Silvio Berlusconi has departed as prime minister of Italy. After 17 years dominating Italian politics, he was effectively edged out by President Giorgio Napolitano, a former Communist, and will be replaced by Mario Monti, a former European Commissioner. Crowds gathered outside Parliament were quoted as saying that they wouldn’t believe he was gone until they saw it for themselves. They were right. Berlo was barely out of the gates before making a statement that he would be around politics for years to come.
Monti is a lifelong bureaucrat. He’s been appointed senator for life, to make him eligible for the post of Prime Minister. In Greece, new Prime Minister Lucas Papademos is an ex-ECB deputy head, and won’t go into Parliament at all — the Greek constitution makes no explicit demand that the PM be an MP. Their dual appointment has stabilised Europe and the eurozone — for the moment. But it has also undermined the European project, by laying bare its power relations.
Some have been describing what has happened in Greece and Italy as a coup. But it is rather the opposite — a coup occurs as a response to a strong oppositional force. What has happened in southern Europe has been a total collapse of legitimacy, in the absence of a clear alternative and an opposition. In Greece, the majority of the population want to remain in the EU and the euro, but they don’t want to accept the October 26 austerity agreement that comes with it. The forcing out of Papandreou and the appointment of Papademos has simply deferred the handling of that contradiction, allowing for the €8 billion payment that will forestall a pre-Christmas default.
Italy lacked even the organised and forceful opposition of Greece, and the appointment of Monti was simply a concession to bewilderment on all sides. The anti-Berlusconi movement, which had taken up the colour mauve, for reasons best known to itself, tended to be civic and abstract in its concerns and rhetoric. Focused on Berlusconi and co’s mammoth corruption, it had been overtaken by the sudden shift in Italy’s fortunes and prospects, as dictated by the sudden, and contrived, jump in 10-year bond yields.
In Greece, the Communists can draw on an uninterrupted militancy and a long-standing refusal of consent to notions of parliamentary democracy. In Italy, the Left has long since consented to the parliamentary process that Berlusconi and his assets and allies in the media and the establishment, have wrapped around their little finger. The accession of Berlusconi in the ’90s, with parties more like football teams — Forza Italia — drawn from a mix of technocrats, ex-fascists, and “radish” communists (red on the outside, white — i.e. conservative — within) — was a group whose interests never coincided.
Some wanted simply to keep the Left out, others to push forward modernisation perpetually stalled under the pre-1994 party system, and others just wanted to make money. Political determination was supplied by the Northern League, with its obsessive anti-immigrant politics, its petit-bourgeois resentments, and its celebration of an invented country — Padania — cobbled up because the separate northern movements, of Lombardy, Piedmont, etc, lacked critical mass unless united.
The weakness of the Right was a direct product of the Left it defined itself against, which had failed to understand how Italy had changed politically and culturally, after the end of the Cold War, and the final collapse of Communism. Pundits writing obituaries of the Berlusconi era will focus on the persona he projected, of the one who gets away with it, and everyone, Italian commentators included, will exaggerate its importance. True, there was very little that could shift it, even when the stories stopped being about tax evasion and started to be about underage prostitutes.
Yet his success had far more to do with the ability of his political machine to successively reshape the electoral rules, so that Parliament could be stuffed with a series of faceless cronies. In a generation, Italy had gone from being a country where politics was lethal on a grand scale, to one wholly inverted, where a prime minister could send to the European Parliament a list of MEPs consisting almost entirely of exotic dancers. weather girls and the like, a two-decade dell’arte recapitulation of the country’s post-war trauma.
The political vacuum created by a top-down Europe made that possible, and the same top-down Europe brought it to an end when required. Monti is an ex European commissioner, Bilderberg member, Trilateral member, a consultant to Goldman Sachs and Coca-Cola among others. Had he not existed, it would have been necessary for 9/11 truthers to invent him. Yet the very fact that he and Papademos can step so easily into their appointed roles is clear evidence that the European political crisis began long before they got the call.
In the last analysis this crisis was not an economic one, it was political — and a good thing too. Brought on by the refusal of Greeks to pay with a blank cheque for a crisis largely talked up by bond traders, it wouldn’t have happened had the Greeks simply knuckled under, as did Ireland. That would suggest that it is far from over — not least because these periodic crises have become so lucrative for the money markets. With Italy squared away, it would be surprising if Portugal was not suddenly, in the days ahead, a place about which something must be done. And then Spain. And then, God knows.
Rundle has a follow up looking at the mood on the ground in Athens - Mogadishu with spanakopita, and the mood is dangerous.
Europe, having narrowly avoided crisis with the departure of Silvio Berlusconi, appears to have been plunged into it again, when Greece — or shift-F1 on the keyboard as I like to call that sentence — again backtracked on its commitment to usher through the full package of October 26 austerity measures.
With new Prime Minister Lucas Papademos addressing Parliament last night — a Parliament of which he is not a member — and inaugurating a two-day debate leading to a vote of confidence on Wednesday, the momentary consensus that made the new government possible has already been put on hold.
New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras, having accepted the terms of the deal, is now making objections both to the full implementation of the austerity package, and also to a further demand by commissioner Olli Rehn, that a commitment to the deal be signed by not merely the PM and President, but also major party leaders and the head of the Greek state bank.
The letter is clearly of no legal standing, and Samaras insists that it’s a deeply humiliating bit of political theatre. It is, but like the proverbial million dollar proposition, objections on grounds of dignity seem a bit beside the point. We’ve already established what kind of girl Greece is; now we’re just haggling about the price. ...
As the three-party government — which Samaras, bizarrely, suggests New Democracy is not a part of — finalises a more detailed program, the news has come that unemployment has officially hit 18.75% — and is almost certainly closer to 25%.
Unemployment benefits — a maximum of €115 a week — run out after a year, and usually before, and the country is now seeing a slow accumulation of social fraying following on from economic collapse.
Athens, a scruffy but lively city, has been, for the past two years, portrayed as Mogadishu with spanakopita in a half a hundred profiles. Now, the prophecy is starting to come true. Even at the centre, building proches and colonnades are filling with homeless, and at night, the police presence is massive.
Crime is slowly but remorselessly on the rise. And while it is always dangerous to generalise on such matters, one could also say that the mood on the street has changed decisively. There is a dourness here, in the shops and streets, beyond the usual east European style of hospitality.
The mood spells danger for both major parties. Should they go to the election with no great change in their image, they will both lose out, but New Democracy will lose out more. PASOK will get some credit for tackling the crisis — from those who are still willing to vote for either major party, or at all.
Samaras is also facing opposition from within New Democracy — with one veteran MP arguing that the party is being infiltrated by far-Right figures betraying the party’s original vision, under Samaras’s watch — just as Papandreou is also facing a threat to his party leadership.
The result is that Greece is repeating the farcical process which attended the last days of Papandreou – the country is heading for a vote of confidence which will be won, but with no actual confidence being expressed in the lead-up to it.
The vote is timed for the evening of November 16, on the eve of Polytechnic Day, which will have its traditional large Left rally to commemorate the fight against the junta. The march usually ends at the door of the US embassy, to make clear where the real power lay.
Always rambunctious, this year it promises to be something more — as the old law of university sanctuary — by which the police could not go on campus grounds — has been removed. Frequently a running battle, this time it promises to be more of a pitched one.
By that time, Papademos won’t even be in the country. He’ll be in Brussels, a location presumably based on the idea that there is no point even pretending that he is the choice of the Greek people. Removing himself to the capital of Europe removes one component of any symbolic challenge, such as another storming of Parliament.
To say that this is far from the north European idea of smooth technocratic government is an understatement. But it is simply a reflection of the key fact underlying the whole process — that there is something weird about the whole set-up, a government that has the people’s consent, gauged only by opinion polls, gaining confidence by a vote from parties that have none, to implement a deal the people would reject if they could. And the health of the world economy still hinges on it. New democracy you could call it …