Europe rises against austerity

by our European Affairs correspondent

EUROPEAN workers said no to austerity last week in series of votes right across the European Union, toppling the Greek government and kicking Nicolas Sarkozy out of the élysée Palace in the French presidential race. The Tory-Liberal Democrat coalition was punished in the British local elections, while voters turned their backs on former premier Silvio Berlusconi’s reactionary party in the similar polls in Italy.

Jubilant crowds piled into the Place de la Bastille in Paris to savour the triumph of Socialist leader Francois Hollande over his Gaullist rival last weekend.

Hollande won 51.7 per cent of Sunday’s run-off vote after a fierce campaign that revolved almost entirely around the economy and Sarkozy’s austerity programme, which had singled out French workers and the country’s powerful small business sector to bear the brunt of the slump.

All of France’s left forces had closed ranks around the Socialist banner for the final round of the French presidential election to ensure an Hollande victory over his conservative rival Hollande pledged to raise the minimum wage, recruit 60,000 more teachers, restore the retirement age to 60 for some workers and raise income tax on the rich to 75 per cent in his effort to become the voice of a “United Left” to defeat the reactionary forces and implement a social-democratic alternative to austerity.

The French president-elect has now called for a renegotiation of the draconian European treaty on budget discipline, drawn up by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy and Hollande repeated his vow to refocus EU fiscal efforts from austerity to growth. “Europe is watching us,” Hollande declared. “Austerity can no longer be the only option”.

And that was the message of Greek voters who turfed out the conservative-social democratic coalition that had willingly managed the draconian cuts imposed by the EU and the International Monetary Fund to bail out the banks and keep Greece in the Eurozone.

threshold

Some 30 Greek political fronts vied for votes in the elections but only seven crossed the three per cent threshold to get into parliament. Six were well-entrenched parties of the left and right and the only newcomer was the Golden Dawn, a sinister fascist party that won 21 seats largely by wiping out the fascist-lite Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS) in the polls.

The Golden Dawn is an old-school fascist front, which claims to be following the tradition of General Metaxas whose dictatorship aped fascist Italy in the 1930s.

That “tradition” boils down to black T-shirted thugs calling for the expulsion of the million Albanian immigrants who, they claim, have stolen Greek jobs together with the usual rants against liberals, unions and communists. Though previously confined to the fringe of Greek politics they’ve been around for a long time and they are believed to have close links with reactionary circles in the army and the police.

Though the conservative New Democracy (ND) party retained its leading role, with nearly 19 per cent of the popular vote, its social-democratic Pasok partners were pushed into third place and ND has been unable to form a new governing coalition.

The Radical Left Coalition (Syriza), which bagged 12 per cent, came second and its parliamentary leader, Alexis Tsipras has now been asked to try and form a new coalition. Whether he can is another matter. Syriza can clearly count on the support of the Democratic Left but it would need the support of other parties including the 26-strong communist bloc to form a workable coalition. And that it is not going to get.

The Communist Party of Greece (KKE), which won five more seats in the poll, says it will not support any pro-EU party or any Syriza-led “coalition of the left” because it is not prepared to trade its principled opposition to the European Union, Nato and US imperialism for a handful of ministries. To do so, would not be a “small turn” but a “U-turn, a summersault” and an unacceptable compromise that has nothing to do with the interests of the people.