Tag Archive: germany

Jun 28 2012

Bailing Out Europe

The heads of state of the EuroZone countries met in Brussels today for a two day summit to  try to come to an agreement on how to bail out two of its biggest members, Italy and Spain:

The 27 government chiefs will discuss buying Spanish and Italian government bonds to bring down borrowing costs that are near euro-era records, Finnish Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen said. He also proposed that bailout funds buy collateralized government debt in primary markets.

“I’ve come for very rapid solutions to support countries in difficulty on the markets,” French President Francois Hollande told reporters as he arrived in Brussels. Without specifying Spain or Italy, he said they “have made considerable efforts to deal with their public accounts.”

Leaders will consider short-term measures to stem the sovereign debt turmoil as EU President Herman Van Rompuy’s road map to strengthen the bloc’s common currency and financial oversight ran into immediate opposition from Germany. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has become increasingly isolated as Hollande, Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti and Spanish Premier Mariano Rajoy unite to push for quicker action to ease the crisis that emerged in Greece in late 2009.

Apparently all did not go German Chancellor Merkel’s way as she canceled her scheduled evening press conference. Or maybe she was watching her country’s football team get trounced by the Italians.

Euro 2012 Live Blogging: Italy 2 Germany 0

Jun 06 2012

Against Their Own Best Interests

Last week the Irish voted against their own (s)elf interest, which according to Yanis Varoufakis, professor of economics at the University of Athens, when they “voted in favour of the EU’s fiscal compact which specifies that which is both impossible to attain and catastrophic if it is attained“:

So, why did the Fine Gael-led Dublin government push so powerfully in favour of this piece of crippling idiocy? And why did the smart, decent Irish voters said Yes, despite their tradition of saying No to euro-silliness? The answer is simple: They were blackmailed. Ireland’s voters were told: Vote No and the flow of money from the troika will cease. And so they voted Yes, even though I suspect that no government minister, no rank and file Fine Gael or Labour Party member, no man or woman on the street believes that the Fiscal Compact they voted for makes sense. [..]

If on 17th June Greeks voted like the Irish did last week (that is, against their reasoning and guided by fear and blackmail), the Eurozone will become history, with terrible consequences for the global economy. This is not the case of the Philosopher Kings blackmailing the plebs to do what is right. This is the case of ‘madmen in authority’, to quote Keynes, who are not only steering the vessel toward the rocks but who are, in the process, punching holes in the life vests that may carry us to safety once the shipwreck is complete. [..]

To conclude, Europe’s peoples are being marched into a catastrophe. They know that this is their predicament. They can see their march is leading them off a mighty cliff. But they are too afraid to veer off, in case there are beaten back into line, in case they get lost in the woods, for reasons that sheep know best. However, the only way this hideous march can end is if someone summons up the courage and does it. And steps out, showing the others that this march can stop and must stop – for everyone’s benefit. Who is that someone? We, Europeans, do not have many options. As I wrote above, the Irish people had a chance but did not take it. In two weeks, the Greeks have their chance. Voting for Syriza would offer us (and by ‘us’ I mean all Europeans) a chance of this circuit-breaker. A chance to say: Enough! Time to change course in order to save the Eurozone, so as to prevent the Great Postmodern Depression which lurks once the euro-system fragments formally.

Varoufakis gives his reasons for supporting Sariza: first, that Sariza is the only party that understands that Greece needs to stay in the EuroZone and that the Eurozone won’t survive if it doesn’t give up austerity; second, the economic team that will negotiate on Greece’s behalf are good and persuasive with a clear understanding of the situation; and third, Syriza will not be the sole arbiter of the Greek government. It will be a coalition, so there is no need to fear the party’s extreme leftism.

I hope the Greeks’ come to their senses unlike the Irish and Wisconsins.

May 25 2012

EU Split Over Euro Bonds

This was predictable:

Germany and France clash over eurobonds at summit

French president François Hollande marks his Brussels debut by challenging chancellor Angela Merkel over bailout

A special EU summit marking the debut of France’s President François Hollande saw him challenge Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, on the euro, arguing that the pooling of eurozone debt liability – eurobonds – had to be retained as an option for saving the currency. Merkel has ruled out eurobonds as illegal under current EU law.

Hollande told the dinner of 27 leaders that he wanted to see eurobonds established, while conceding that this would take time, witnesses at the talks said.

Merkel responded that this was nigh-on impossible since it would require changes to the German constitution and around 10 separate legal changes, the sources said.

There was no policy breakthrough at the summit, rather a reiteration by leaders of known positions. Any decisions were postponed until the end of next month after French and Greek parliamentary elections on 17 June.

Illegal? Require changes? Well, they created this mess by changing laws and constitutions, now they need to fix it by changing the laws and the EU constitution. Chancellor Merkel sounds more and more like George W. Bush, “it’s hard work” (read: I don’t want to do this). The Euro Zone nations can’t have their cake and eat it, too. They want Greece to to stay in the Euro Zone but they want them to accept the austerity agreement that the Greeks have clearly rejected.

In a New York Times Op-Ed, Amartya Sen, a Nobel laureate and a professor of economics and philosophy at Harvard, points out that the EU economic crisis is a road to hell paved with good intentions:

There are two reasons for this.

First, intentions can be respectable without being clearheaded, and the foundations of the current austerity policy, combined with the rigidities of Europe’s monetary union (in the absence of fiscal union), have hardly been a model of cogency and sagacity. Second, an intention that is fine on its own can conflict with a more urgent priority – in this case, the preservation of a democratic Europe that is concerned about societal well-being. These are values for which Europe has fought, over many decades. [..]

Europe cannot revive itself without addressing two areas of political legitimacy. First, Europe cannot hand itself over to the unilateral views – or good intentions – of experts without public reasoning and informed consent of its citizens. Given the transparent disdain for the public, it is no surprise that in election after election the public has shown its dissatisfaction by voting out incumbents.

Second, both democracy and the chance of creating good policy are undermined when ineffective and blatantly unjust policies are dictated by leaders. The obvious failure of the austerity mandates imposed so far has undermined not only public participation – a value in itself – but also the possibility of arriving at a sensible, and sensibly timed, solution.

This is a surely a far cry from the “united democratic Europe” that the pioneers of European unity sought.

As David Dayen said, “we’re are essentially in a holding pattern” until the Greek and French Parliament elections on June 17. Please, do not hold your breath for a good solution, no matter what you may think a good solution is. Not everyone is going to be happy at the end of this. Let’s hope it’s the austerians who are unhappiest.

May 21 2012

Austerity Is Economic Suicide

The economic crisis in Europe and the austerity response to it which has spread from Greece to other countries in Europe has dominated the news now for weeks. This past weekend the leaders of the G-8 met at Camp David where it was the main topic for discussion. While President Obama’s statement that encourages stimulus and growth as solutions to the EU problem, he did not discount austerity as one of the driving policies that has extended the downturn and caused social upheaval in Greece and now Spain. The reporting in the traditional mainstream media has been particularly lacking ion balanced analysis and, in some cases, some pretty sloppy and biased reporting.

William K. Black, an associate professor of economics and law at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, former litigation director for the Federal Home Loan Bank Board and a white-collar criminologist, takes reporters at the New York Times task for their profound ignorance on covering Europe’s financial, social, and political crises. He explains why they are so wrong:

Economists have known for roughly 75 years that adopting austerity in response to recession or depression will make the economic crisis grow and last far longer.  Austerity is to economics as bleeding was to medicine. [..]

The NYT article focuses on Alexis Tsipras, the Greek political leader whose party rose to prominence by promising to reject the loan-for-austerity program that the disgraced former Greek government agreed to at Berlin’s diktat. The article’s theme is that Tsipras is endangering all of Europe by demanding an end to austerity being imposed on Greece.  The reporters write, as if it were undisputed fact, that Tsipras has started “a high-stakes game of chicken with Europe’s leaders.”  But that reverses the facts.

The game that Berlin designed required the Greek to agree (1) to drive their economy off a cliff into a deepening Great Depression through increased austerity, (2) to force an enormous reduction in working class wages, (3) to sell Greek islands to private parties, and (4) to give up other aspects of sovereignty so that hostile, foreign, and private entities such as the IMF and the ECB could monitor its governmental actions.  The Greeks are now refusing to commit economic, political, and social suicide.  The Germans are demanding that they drive off the cliff because “a deal is a deal.”

If Greece were to drive off the cliff by adopting greater austerity it would likely destroy the EU.  Austerity would force Greece into a deepening depression, eventually lead to a default on Greek sovereign debt, and tear Greece apart.  Austerity has already generated a substantial neo-Nazi party in Greece.  Few Americans recall the Greek civil war between the right and the left that began in World War II and continued for several years after the war or the post-war coup.  Greeks recall the civil war and the coup and fear their resumption.  Proponents of the Berlin Consensus already have blood on their hands because of the suicides engendered by mass unemployment, small business failures, and hopelessness.  If the Berlin Consensus sparks a civil war or coup it could be fatal to the EU.

The EU crisis was also the topic of a heady discussion on this Sunday’s Up with Chris Hayes. Prof. Black was joined on the “Uppers” panel by Betsey Stevenson, former chief economist for the Obama Labor Department, Karl Smith, assistant professor of economics and government at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; and MSNBC policy analyst Ezra Klein.

Eurozone in fragile balance

Mr Hayes’ assessment of the political situation in Greece was challenged by a commenter at his blog. Carol P Christ wrote with regards to the political and social responses to the crisis:

Since you are a member of the Progressive Left, you might reconsider calling Syriza the ‘far” Left in comparison to ‘far’ right Golden Dawn. There is no comparison between the 2. Syriza is a coaliton of parties to the left of centrist PASOk and to the “right” of KKE the Communist Party. You might be voting for them if you were in Greece, but you surely would NOT be voting for Golden Dawn. There is NO “comparison” between the 2. Continuing to compare the 2 parties makes it seem that all Greeks are irrational. There is nothing irrational about voting for Syriza. [..]

The “austerity” programs of the EU and banking systems have already destroyed our economy. To blame immigrants as Golden Dawn does is illogical. To ask voters to reject the terms of the second austerity package which is leading to massive unemployment and daily failures of small businesses is by no means irrational.

The Green Party is also against the austerity packages. And we are not “irrational” either.

The dualistic thinking of the west (ironically a legacy of Plato) leads to the demonization of the “other” as irrational. Unfortunately Greece has been portrayed as the “irrational” other within Europe for some time now.

Greece does need to change, but punishing the poor and middle classes is not a “rational” policy. [..]

Let me add that the European union and the Euro should not be confused. The Euro has only been in existence for 11 years. England with one of the largest economies in Europe is not a member of the Euro, nor is Sweden. They are still part of Europe and the European Union.

In Greece the Euro led to a massive rise in prices (a cup of coffee from $1 to $3-5, etc.) without a concomitant rise in wages. For example a tour bus driver makes E700 a month and a radiologist E1400, wages that are near poverty level in the US. depending on family size. Yet the cost of living is as high or higher than in the US, thanks to the price rises that the Euro brought. Gasoline is over $10 a gallon. Sales tax is 23%.

The European Union is a good thing, but the Euro was driven more by market forces and the desire to sell goods freely in Europe, than by a concern for world peace, the environmental protection, or any of the other good things the European Union is working on.

The Euro has not been a good thing for Greece, in my opinion.

(I have taken the liberty of posting most of Ms. Christ’s comments because I think they go straight to the heart of the misrepresentation that is taking place in the traditional news media.)

In another article at the New Economic Perspective, Prof. Black reports that the former head of the European Central Bank (ECB), Jean-Claude Trichet, thinks that by giving European politicians the power to declare a sovereign state bankrupt and take over its fiscal policy it would salvage the euro. To quote Prof. Black, “austerians have decided that since democracy is the problem, imperialism is the answer.”

Nor are fixing the problems of the euro a solution for the austerians:

Trichet, however, says that answer is impossible:  “For the European Union, a fully fledged United States of Europe where nation states cede a large chunk of fiscal authority to the federal government appears politically unpalatable, Trichet said.”  Democracy remains the stumbling block, but Trichet has an answer to that problem – crush democracy.  He proposes that the EU:

   “[T]ake a country into receivership when its political leaders or its parliament cannot implement sound budgetary policies approved by the EU. The action would have democratic accountability if it were approved by the European Council of EU heads of states and the elected European Parliament, he said.”

Of course, the “sound budgetary policies” he means are the suicidal, and failed policies of trying to balance the budget during a Great Recession.  He does not understand even now that a nation in a severe recession cannot simply decide to run a budget surplus.  It can try to do so, by cutting spending or raising taxes, but those policies are likely to reduce already sharply inadequate public and private sector demand, which increases unemployment, increases demand for public services, and reduces government revenue – all factors likely to increase the budget deficit.  I am sure that the Greeks will consider the loss of their sovereignty at the hands of hostile foreign powers who openly sneer at the Greek people to represent the epitome of “democratic accountability.”

And what was the reaction of Berlin to Trichet’s policy to force suicidal austerity on the Greeks and bleed their economy while removing their sovereignty and right to democratic rule?  You know the answer.

As Prof Black so aptly noted that that austerity is “a policy where you’re handed a gun and told to shoot yourself. Eventually people say, ‘Now exactly why should I do that?’. [..]

Whether Greece is the good or the bad, the policy is stupid.”

The United States is not Greece. It has its own sovereign currency and a bond market which it controls. We do not need to follow the EU and shoot ourselves with austerity.

May 19 2012

Austerity?

Which European leader is serious about economic recovery?

Merkel gives self and ministers pay rise

Merkel, her ministers and their parliamentary secretaries of state will see their wages rise in three stages between now and August 2013, until they all get 5.7 percent more. It is the first pay raise that the German cabinet has taken in twelve years. [..]

She has been the chief advocate of austerity in the eurozone during the debt crisis, earning her criticism from some quarters, notably Greece and more recently France, whose new leader Francois Hollande wants to focus on growth.

As opposed to this:

France Hollande: Ayrault government takes pay cut

France’s new government has held its first cabinet meeting and announced a 30% pay cut for President François Hollande and all his ministers.

A campaign promise, the cut reduces Mr Hollande’s monthly salary from 21,300 euros to 14,910 (£12,000; $19,000).

The cut contrasts sharply with predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy’s decision to increase his pay on entering office.

Austerity?

H/t Chris in Paris @ AMERICAblog

May 15 2012

Greece Edging Towards Euro Exit

Negotiations with party leaders to form a government in Greece fell apart again, as Greece inches closer to new elections in June that could usher in the left wing Socialist government opposed to the draconian austerity agreement with the European Central Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the Eurozone. Talks will resume on Tuesday but the moderate Democratic Left party in Greece says it will not join pro-bailout parties in a coalition without the more radical far-left Syriza. It doesn’t sound promising but technically President Karolos Papoulias has until Thursday when Parliament reconvenes:

Without the support of Democrat Left, a decidedly “pro-European” force which won 19 seats in parliament, the New Democracy party and centre-left Pasok party fall two seats short of being able to achieve a workable majority.

Syriza, an alliance of leftists and ecologists that emerged as the poll’s surprise runner-up – and has since seen its popularity surge on the back of anti-austerity sentiment – rejected the idea of participating in a government that it claimed was bent on “destroying Greece”. Alexis Tsipras, Syriza’s young firebrand leader, refused to even attend the negotiations. [..]

Syriza, whose popularity has risen on a platform of rejecting such measures, is projected to win the election with as much as 27%, according to polls conducted over the past week. Tsipras, an unabashed populist who counts Hugo Chávez among his heroes, has promised to renegotiate the painstakingly acquired bailout agreement Athens has signed with foreign lenders.

With the radical left fast dominating a political landscape whose traditional parties have been decimated for backing policies now blamed for record levels of poverty and unemployment, analysts believe it is only a matter of time before Greece is cut loose from Europe. The result, they say, will be a dramatic decline in living standards as the debt-stricken country, bereft of international rescue funds, slips ever deeper into poverty.

The markets reacted negatively with the prospect of a Greek withdrawal from the euro:

Financial and energy shares fell the most among 10 groups in the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index. JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM) and Bank of America Corp. (BAC) sank at least 2.6 percent as European lenders slumped. Alcoa Inc. (AA) and Schlumberger Ltd. (SLB) slid more than 1.5 percent to pace declines in commodity producers. Symantec Corp. (SYMC), the biggest seller of security software, retreated 1.4 percent after Goldman Sachs Group Inc. cut its recommendation.

The S&P 500 slid 1.1 percent to 1,338.35 at 4 p.m. New York time, the lowest since Feb. 2. The Dow fell 125.25 points, or 1 percent, to 12,695.35. The Chicago Board Options Exchange Volatility Index, which measures the cost of using options as insurance against S&P 500 losses, rose 10 percent to an almost four-month high of 21.87. About 6.6 billion shares changed hands on U.S. exchanges, in line with the three-month average.

Meanwhile, German Chancellor Andrea Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union was handed a defeat in Sunday’s election in Germany’s most populous state, North Rhine-Westphalia, receiving only 26% of the vote:

The outcome will be seen as a rejection by voters of the strict austerity policy promoted by Ms Merkel’s party at both local and national level, and a boost for the opposition. It will encourage the SPD and Greens to campaign all out for a “red-green” coalition at national level when Ms Merkel stands for re-election in autumn 2013. [..]

Opinion polls suggested that voters did not regard Ms Merkel’s national and European policies as relevant, and opted instead for the popular “red-green” coalition in the state, headed by Hannelore Kraft of the SPD, which had governed without an absolute majority for the past two years. The surprise election was caused by the defeat of Ms Kraft’s annual budget by the CDU, FDP and the far-left Linke party.

The defeat is the worst suffered by Ms Merkel’s CDU since the party lost control last year of the state of Baden-Württemberg in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

Chancellor Merkel has chosen to ignore the defeat at home and stuck to her position on austerity agreement with Greece:

Merkel tells Greece to back cuts or face euro exit

Greece may be forced to leave the euro if the country refuses to implement spending cuts agreed with the European Union, Angela Merkel warned. [..]

Yesterday, Mrs Merkel raised the spectre of Greece leaving the euro. She is under increasing pressure in Germany to force the country out of the single currency to avert several more years of uncertainty. “I believe it’s better for the Greeks to stay in the euro area, but that also requires that we set out a path on which Greece gets back on its feet step by step,” said the chancellor.

“The solidarity for the euro will end only if Greece just says, ‘We’re not keeping to the [austerity] agreement.’ But I don’t expect that to happen. I do think they are making an effort. There are many, many people in Greece who actually want it.”

The worries over will happen to the Greek economy should they exit from the euro are really unknown. From Paul Krugman:

In particular, I keep reading that Argentina’s example is irrelevant, because Greece has hardly any exports.  [..]

What is true is that Greece doesn’t export a lot of goods. But it exports a lot of services – shipping and tourism (pdf). How might these respond to the devaluation of the new drachma? [..]

This isn’t a prediction that everything will be fine, but it is a caution that the pessimism about Greek prospects once the turmoil is past may be overdone.

If the left wing holds out and wins enough of a majority in June to form a new government, we’ll find out sooner than later who’s right about Greek prospects without the euro.

May 09 2012

So Goes Greece, So Goes the Euro?

Greek, French and German voters went to the polls this past weekend and rejected pretty much told the European leaders they were very unhappy with the austerity measures that were being forced on them to bail out European banks. It took until yesterday for the world markets to react to this new reality with the Dow closing below its inflated 13,000 mark. Germany, the chief cheerleader for austerity, is not happy with France and very displeased with the new Greek leadership that blithely told Germany what to do with its austerity measures:

Alexis Tsipras, whose bloc came second in Sunday’s vote, said Greek voters had “clearly nullified the loan agreement”. [..]

The European Commission and Germany say countries must stick to budget cuts.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said on Tuesday: “What member states have to do is be consistent, implementing the policies that they have agreed.”  [..]

Mr Tsipras made his position clear to reporters in a five-point plan:

 

  • Cancelling the bailout terms, notably laws that further cut wages and pensions
  • Scrapping laws that abolish workers rights, particularly a law abolishing collective labour agreements due to come into effect on 15 May
  • Promoting changes to deepen democracy and social justice
  • Investigating Greece’s banking system which received almost 200bn euros of public money
  • Setting up an international committee to find out the causes of Greece’s public deficit and putting on hold all debt servicing

It looks increasingly like the Greeks will be abandoning the Euro, it’s just a matter of when:

“Germans are now predominantly of the opinion that they would be better off if Greece left the euro zone,” said Carsten Hefeker, a professor of economics and an expert on the euro at the University of Siegen. “If the country really is continuing on the path they are taking now, it would be hard to justify keeping them in. How do you deal with a country that says we don’t want to keep any of the commitments we have made?” [..]

Perhaps the one card Greece has to play is the danger its exit could pose to other, much larger members like Spain and Italy, with far greater consequences. If Greece were pushed out, Mr. Hefeker said, the bond markets would start betting on the next country to be kicked out. “Then Spain or Italy would be put under pressure, and the danger would be of the whole euro zone collapsing,” he said.

There are few options are open for the European Union, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund which is holding most of Greece’s debt and easing the threat to the banks.

First, the so-called “troika” could release just enough funds to keep the government running until the political situation stabilizes;

The terms of the agreement could be renegotiated with the creditors:

Or, lastly, the “troika” could just refuse to give Greece any money, as the IMF did over 10 years ago when Argentina faced similar economic crisis. This actually turned out well for Argentina over a shorter recovery than is predicted for Greece under the current terms.

Perhaps it is past time for Greece to go it on its own and let the Eu continue the blood letting without them.

May 06 2012

François Hollande Est le Président de France

“Europe is watching us, I am sure that when the result was announced, in many European countries there was relief, hope and the notion that finally austerity can no longer be the only option.

“And this is the mission that is now mine — to give the European project a dimension of growth, employment, prosperity, in short, a future. This is what I will say as soon as possible to our European partners and first of all to Germany, in the name of the friendship that links us and in the name of our shared responsibility.”

“We are not just any country on the planet, just any nation in the world, we are France.”

~François Hollande, President-elect of France~

François Hollande is the new President of France defeating Nicholas Sarkozy. With half the votes counted, M. Hollande won a narrow victory with 50.8% to Sarkozy’s 49.2%, as per the French Interior minister. According to exit polls, the vote is closer to 52% for M. Hollande.

Crowds roared at the center-left candidate’s campaign headquarters as the exit poll results came out Sunday evening.

“Many people have been waiting for this moment for many long years. Others, younger, have never known such a time. … I am proud to be capable to bring about hope again,” Hollande said in his victory speech.

Celebratory car horns blared along the Champs-Elysees in Paris.

“It’s a great night, full of joy for so many young people all across the country,” said Thierry Marchal-Beck, president of the Movement of Young Socialists.

Hollande will be the nation’s first left-wing president since Francois Mitterrand left office in 1995.

His victory and the elections in Greece and Germany are sending economic shock waves through Europe:

François Hollande’s election threw down the gauntlet to Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, who has railroaded the eurozone into agreeing a new “fiskalpakt” treaty enshrining Germany’s austerity doctrine.

The economic doctrine of austerity, to cut the burden of state spending to free up the economy, has ruled supreme with the support all of Europe’s leaders, the European Union and financial markets.

But political leaders were on Sunday night conceding the consensus had been shattered beyond repair.

With Europe’s economies plunging further into recession and as unemployment in the eurozone breaks record levels, voters demands for a new approach had finally become to great to ignore.

The popular backlash to EU imposed austerity to the centrist New Democracy and Socialist parties in Greece threatens the existence of the euro itself.

While in Germany, Chancellor Merkel was sent a message from German voters:

Exit polls by German broadcaster ARD put Mrs Merkel’s Christian Democrats at 30.5 per cent, just one per cent more than the left-wing Social Democrats.

But the Free Democrats, Mrs Merkel’s ailing coalition ally, scored a lowly 8.5 per cent, meaning that the coalition that has ruled the rural state on the Danish border since 2009 faces the prospect of being unseated.

Experts predict that the Social Democrats will try to cobble a coalition together with the Greens, the third biggest party, in order to take control of the state. [..]

While the Free Democrats appears to have avoided the humiliation of being wiped out all together in Schleswig-Holstein the continuing unpopularity of the party could force Mrs Merkel to search for a new coalition partner come next year’s federal elections.

I don’t think this is a surprise to most Europeans. It should be a clear message to the leaders of countries who are considering only austerity measures as a solution to debt.

May 04 2012

The French Presidential Election 2012: A Pause Before the Vote

The French Presidential election will take place this Sunday, May 6. Meanwhile, the campaigning has ended Friday evening with the Socialist challenger, François Hollande, still predicted to defeat current President Nicholas Sarkozy:

The last Ipsos poll for French television and Le Monde puts Hollande on 52.5% with Sarkozy closing the gap but still behind on 47.5%. The poll was taken before the dramatic decision by centrist François Bayrou to throw his weight behind Hollande in the second round.

The vast majority of voters appear to have made up their minds, with 92% saying they know who they will vote for, and 82% saying they will definitely turn out.

Many are seeing this as not just a referendum about Sarkoszy’s “hyperactive” style but the start of a revolt against austerity which many now believe has slowed the recovery from the recession. Wolfgang Münchau wrote in the Financial Times that Hollande is start of progressive insurrection:

. Nicolas Sarkozy does not look like a president, talk like a president, or act like a president. But there is a better reason why he deserves to be ejected. He won the 2007 campaign with a promise of ambitious economic reforms. He was one of the few European politicians with a mandate for big changes. He flunked it for a reason that already became apparent during the 2007 campaign: he was hyperactive. Reforms are for boring politicians. [..]

The main reason why I look forward to a Hollande presidency is for its impact on Europe. At present, all the large, and many of the small, eurozone countries are governed by centre-right governments. Angela Merkel is their undisputed queen. Mr Hollande is not going to be a comfortable partner. On some issues, such as the fiscal pact, he will challenge her outright.

I would welcome a Hollande presidency on the grounds that it would introduce a much needed shift in the toxic narrative about the eurozone crisis and its resolution. According to this narrative, the crisis was caused by fiscal irresponsibility. Its prescription is austerity and economic reforms. The tool to achieve the former is the fiscal pact, which Mr Hollande has said he will not sign unless it is complemented by policies to boost economic growth.

I wish that Mr Hollande would go further because austerity will snare countries in a low-growth trap. No set of structural policies will change this. I understand the political reason why he does not want to go further. He does not want his presidency to start with an existential fight with Germany – and the dreaded prospect of another panic attack by global investors.

While, as Paul Krugman as noted, the prospect of a Hollande presidency has generated some “hysteria” in the financial world:

Today’s FT is all Hollande, all the time. Some of it is sensible; some of it is like, well, this piece by Josef Joffe, which declares that Hollande’s likely victory is “a bleak prospect for all but new Keynesians and old socialists.” [..]

Joffe is, however, useful as a guide to the German view, which is basically that we got ourselves competitive and restored growth, so why can’t everyone else. Somehow he never mentions that Germany’s recovery in the 2000s was driven by a huge move into trade surplus; is everyone supposed to do the same thing, all at once? What’s the Germany for “fallacy of composition”?

The voting ends at 8 PM Paris time and the results will be reported here Sunday afternoon around 2 PM EDT.

Apr 26 2012

The French Presidential Election 2012: A Rejecting of Austerity?

With the first round of elections over, the campaign for the Presidency of France between the two top candidates, François Hollande and Nicholas Sarkozy begins under the cloud of most of Europe in economic recession. Just how much the latest news of England slipping back into recession under the weight of the Cameron government’s austerity measures along with increased taxes, remains to be seen but there are signs that it is already having an impact:

To the left: a likely new direction for France and Germany

If a new austerity-sceptic alliance emerges across the Channel, will Cameron and Osborne end up as Europe’s last deflationists?

Quite suddenly, there is talk of change in the eurozone’s economic strategy and, in particular, of the need for urgent action by the European Union to reverse the downward spiral of negative growth and rising unemployment. The likelihood that François Hollande will be elected as president of France next weekend has injected an important note of dissent into the pro-austerity consensus. Even more important than the French elections, however, may be the indications that even the political debate in Germany is now changing its tune.

The opposition German social democratic SPD hopes for election victory in the key state of North Rhine Westphalia on 13 May, as well as in the German general election next year. The SPD has already signalled that it will support the French Socialists in support of an investment-led EU strategy to boost growth and jobs. Moreover, the German social democrats and the German Green party also back the creation of euro-bonds and using the proceeds of a tax on financial transactions to finance a return to growth.

Chancellor Angela Merkel is a bit nervous about a Hollande government:

It is unclear at this time whether next year’s German general election will lead to an SPD/Green coalition government or to a “grand coalition” of the SPD and Chancellor Merkel’s Christian Democrats. But Angela Merkel has already sent some of her top advisers to Paris to explore the proposals of the French Socialists and to see to what extent she and a future President Hollande might be able to salvage a Franco-German partnership in the EU.

The conservative German government is resolutely opposed to any formal re-negotiation of the “stability and governance treaty” which has been cited to justify the crippling austerity measures imposed on Greece and other eurozone “peripheral” economies. But Hollande is now focussing on a series of “additional measures” rather than actual “changes” to the treaty. These additional growth measures would include a major boost to the resources of the European Investment Bank to allow it to put far more capital to work, especially in the hardest-hit economies. Second, the French Socialists would like to see the European stability mechanism given the status of a bank, so that it can receive funding from the European Central Bank and thus be better able to contain any future crisis affecting the euro. Third, they argue for widening the mandate of the ECB so that it is obliged to pursue growth objectives as well as price stability.

Unsurprisingly, a number of sympathetic noises off are being heard from Rome, Madrid and other EU countries, where centre-right governments which are struggling against economic suffocation by obsessive austerityitis.

President Nicholas Sarkozy, who is behind Hollande 54% to 46% in the polls, has said that there would be no coalition with the far right wing National Front Party, whose candidate, Marine Le Pen garnered 17.9% of the vote placing third:

“There will be no pact with the Front National,” he told France Info radio, adding there were too many issues on which they disagreed to imagine giving the party cabinet posts. The Front National has called for France to quit the euro and a hold a referendum on the death penalty, both far from Sarkozy’s manifesto.

“There will be no Front National ministers, but I refuse to demonise men and women who in voting for Marine Le Pen cast a crisis vote, a vote of anger, a vote of suffering and a vote of despair. I have to listen to their message and take them into account, and not think it’s time to hold my nose,” Sarkozy said.

Currently the National Front holds no seats in the French Parliament but hope to change that in the up coming national elections in June.

Geographically, Le Pen has broadened Front National support beyond her father’s heartlands in the south, and polled well in villages and rural constituencies across the country as well as on the outskirts of cities. She did well in the depressed former industrial areas of the north and east, but also saw increases in support in rural areas beyond Bordeaux and in Normandy. The prospect of Front National gains has left Sarkozy’s ruling UMP party, a broad coalition of centre right and rightwing factions, scrapping over what tack to take to hang on to their seats. The party is already divided and facing an internal battle over its future if Sarkozy loses the election

There will obviously be a battle for Le Pen’s 6.4 million voters with the far left accusing Sarkozy of drifting too far to the right, making some ugly comparisons:

The communist paper L’Humanité sparked a row with its front page comparing Sarkozy to Marshal Pétain, the leader of France’s Nazi collaborationist Vichy regime in the 1940s, who was convicted of treason after the second world war.

The paper said Sarkozy’s decision to hold his own Labour Day rally in Paris on 1 May to celebrate what he termed “real” work, as opposed to the traditional, trade-union-led rallies by the left, harked back to a Pétain-style discourse. Pétain – whose motto was “travail, famille, patrie” (work, family, country) – had aimed to reclaim 1 May for the right.

Max Staat wrote: “Sarkozy isn’t Pétain, happily, but the similarities point to the dangers for our country of the president-candidate adopting the theses of the extreme right.”

And you thought American political campaigns were ugly. Fortunately, the election is May 6, eleven days and all campaigning  ends on Friday May 4.

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