Europe remains — wait for it wait for it — yes, in crisis today, with the announcement that Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi will resign — but not yet, and announcements that Greece will soon announce a new prime minister and cabinet — but not yet. The effect has been paradoxical — until the resignations of Papandreou and Berlo were announced the markets were in turmoil. Once it became clear that they were going, they eased off a bit — which gave the politicians of both countries a chance to begin manoeuvring for position again.
Thus, in Greece, though it is virtually certain that Lucas Papademos, a non-MP, will become prime minister, further arrangements as to how the parties will mesh in a coalition caretaker government are up in the air. One sticking point has been the inclusion of the hard-Right LAOS, or New Orthodoxy, party in any future government. LAOS has 15 MPs in the 300-member Greek parliament — it also has a slew of old skool eastern European anti-Semites, which are far from a good look.
Indeed, under pressure from the German Jewish community, Merkel and co are already making noises about keeping LAOS, or certain of its members, out. I know, I know, hilarious. Karatzaferis, the LAOS leader was allegedly offered the post of deputy PM, but refused — or had the offer withdrawn, and took a face-saving response.
Papandreou and Papademos apparently want the new government to have more flexibility with an election date — which is to say that this government of the political class would sign up for the October 26 agreement, and thus guarantee the €8 billion funding necessary to avoid a default in early December, and then stay in power, with its own discretion as to when it would leave.
Indeed EU Commissioner Olli Rehn has demanded that the Greek government make a “written commitment” that it would stick by the agreement. How this would be enforced should parliament renege on the agreement — and what chance is there of the Greek government suddenly changing course, that’s crazy?
Their fears are not allayed by the various movements of New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras, a fervent neoliberal politician, who is nevertheless opposing the austerity package that the EU/IMF/ECB troika is imposing on the country. Not only does Samaras set a new standard for opportunism, but he is not in control of his party, with up to 20 ND MPs keen on rejecting the deal.
Add in about 50-60 other dissident MPs — 35 Communist and Left, 15 LAOS and perhaps 10 independents, and you’re getting some serious numbers. Could Pasok hold discipline in such circumstances? Such rebellion would not threaten a vote on the deal, but it might represent a challenge to the Greek party system, which in turn would create a fresh round of instability.
The continued failure of the country to come up with a PM and a government surprised many, but again all eyes were on Italy. There Berlusconi won the vote he was seeking — ratifying the 2010 public accounts, a greater government investment in fiction than the Oz Council literature fund — but lost the politics of it, as abstentions (321) topped the yes vote (308).
Following the vote, Berlusconi was allegedly seen writing the words “traitors” and “resignation” on pieces of paper — but then had an hour-long meeting with the President, Giorgio Napolitano, after which the latter announced that Berlusconi would be later stepping aside. This outcome was inevitable after Northern League leader Umberto Bossi pulled his support, calling for a change in leadership to prevent the left from gaining power in any election.
Berlusconi’s desperation to stay in power puts Italian politics in a wholly different cast from Greece, and comes from a different source — without his status as PM, it becomes a lot easier to pursue for the half-dozen court cases he is currently facing, perhaps the most serious of them charges of having s-x with an underage prostitute.
However, it also falls into the pattern that has occurred all over Europe, starting with Ireland — the government makes a commitment to a draconian EU repayment deal, in the name of stability, and then goes to an election, in the name of democracy. In that circumstance, any party arguing that the country should repudiate the deal comes to be seen as wrecking and traitorous.
The deal in Greece has been an end-run around the people’s resistance to the provisions of a deal, jammed through by raising the prospect of a referendum whose simple form would fail to express more complex desires — staying in the euro, but with a less destructive repayment/austerity plan in place. It seems more than likely that Spain and Portugal will be faced with the same invidious choice. But this wave of take-it-or-leave-it deals has its own reverse effect — the undemocratic process becomes more visible.
Indeed, what is now being noticed is that the whole of Europe is being run by the eight-member “Frankfurt group” consisting of IMF head Christine Lagarde, together with Mario Draghi, the new president of the ECB; Eurogroup chair Jean-Claude Juncker, European Commission President José Manuel Barroso, Herman van Rompuy, the president of the European Council; and Olli Rehn, Europe’s economic and monetary affairs commissioner. With the group increasingly unwilling to pull punches on what beleaguered economies need it’s a measure of how little the EU now care about the effect their diktats are having on the local populace.
But perhaps they feel they have little alternative. For with Europe having an earthquake, there is also a tsunami on the way from across the Atlantic with the US Congress having to agree on more than $1 trillion of budget cuts before November 23. If not, they face a poison pill they set for themselves — immediate, crude and across-the-board department cuts, which will communicate huge uncertainty, and create on-the-ground turmoil in the US.
For the elites of the world — and let’s face it, for a lot of other people as well — the worry is that these events would coincide in a Fukushima-style economic event, with a sudden Greek reversal — which, as Yanis Varoufakis, doyen of Greek crisis theorists says would end the euro within days — coinciding with the US meltdown. But as they say in finance every liability is also an asset for someone somewhere. Or to put it another way, who whom.