Basta Bankers! Could Populists Crash the Euro?

Shortly after the electorate gave Italian dump-the-euro populist Beppe Grillo 25.5% of a national vote, France’s own populist Marine Le Pen jumped on Grillo’s anti-European bandwagon to demand a French referendum on withdrawal from the EU.

Beppe Grillo, the EU’s bete noir (Credit: Wikipedia)

The two populists are giving voice to the feelings of angered Europeans particularly the mass of jobless youth faced with the bleakest of futures. More than one out of every five — that is 5.732 million — of under 25-year-olds in the European Union has no job. As Spanish indignados made clear in protests 18 months ago, that figure includes many expensively-qualified and highly-trained recent graduates.

This destructively high youth unemployment, which across the EU now stands at 21.4 %,  is in large part due to the barren wasteland left by unpunished rogue bankers and financial felons whose economic scorched-earth policies may have peaked in 2007 but continue unabated and still uncontrolled.

The Grillini outcome in Italy has unleashed a tidal wave of concern from Europe’s ruling elites unused to such a direct challenge by those outside the “accepted” channels.

As Der Speigel notes: “Grillo (the inspiration behind the MoVimento 5 Stelle or Five Star Movement) is an Italian phenomenon, but his party’s election results are an expression of the mounting rage and anxiety that is spreading throughout crisis-stricken Southern Europe. A new citizens’ movement is taking shape, one that shares a mistrust of the established political system and a desire for more grassroots democracy. Only in Italy has it been democratically legitimized thus far… Since the advent of the Grillini, Italians are debating Europe more than ever before, including their country’s possible exit from the euro zone.”

Why did the Grillini win Italy? Take a look at these unemployment rates and ask where next?

The unemployment rate in the euro area is on an endless climb. According to Eurostat the EU statistics service, it stood at 11.9% of the labour force in January, a record high. Some 26.217 million people were unemployed in January in the EU-27 and 18.998 million in the 17 countries of the euro area. Youth unemployment has reached 59% in Greece, 55.5% in Spain, 38.7% in Italy, and 26.9% in France. Unemployment in France hit a 14-year high in the fourth quarter of 2012.

Incompetent and blinkered national politicians, a severe European recession, destruction of lives, career opportunities and pensions are, as analysts and reporters watching developments record, behind the growing disenchantment expressed by voters at grassroots level.

The Poujadistes of 2013 appear to be on the march and this time they are not contained within France. A wired and highly interconnected young generation are organised Europe-wide via social networks and the web and are setting out to change both the nature of protest and the potential outcomes in national elections. (See here and here).

Pierre Poujade after whom an earlier populist group in France was named.

Encouraged by the show of populist power in the recent Italian elections the increasingly influential Marine Le Pen, leader of France’s rightwing Front National party, is demanding a referendum be held in January 2014 to let the French decide on whether to quit the euro and the EU. She added that if the president did not accept the challenge she would turn the European elections in June 2014, into a “referendum for or against the EU, and we will win”, she said, before concluding: “The European Union is like the Soviet Union, it cannot be reformed” .

Her move follows a number of recent polls which reflect rising French middle class discontent with François Hollande’s Socialists, the euro and the EU,  polls which tend to show how profoundly politically disenfranchising the EU-wide crisis has become. As one analyst noted recently: “one of the key tenets of democracy is some degree of accountability between the elected and the electorate”.

A Harris interactif poll for Marianne, a left-wing weekly showed: “The French are critical of the policies of François Hollande and the government of Jean-Marc Ayrault. 70% believe that their situation has deteriorated, resulting in a pronounced distrust towards the Executive which is expressed as ‘disappointment (32%)’ or ‘profound disagreement (38%)’ – compared to the policies of Hollande’s predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy.”

Three other pollsters indicated that François Hollande was rated as turning in one of the worst performances of any President of the Vth Republic. “According to BVA, more than two-thirds of the French and 44% of those who voted for François Hollande in the presidential election are disappointed. An OpinionWay poll found that nearly three-quarters of the French are unhappy with Hollande’s economic and social policy while a TNS Sofres poll found that confidence in the president was below 30%, the lowest rate recorded in a president’s 10th month in office, since 1981.

The president is in a bind after his earlier half-hearted efforts at leading a “Latin alliance” involving France, Italy and Spain, failed to make any headway with its demands for a slackening of German-imposed austerity and a move to boosting growth, key elements of his electoral platform.

Jean Claude Juncker: Europe’s demons are only sleeping. A senior European politician has made the extraordinary claim that resentment of Germany by the Mediterranean countries has “chilling” parallels with complacency in 1913 that led to the First World War.‘

As the economic pain in Greece and Spain worsens and French voter dissent grows, the rise of the populists may start to take on a much wider appeal and there are signs of concern about just such a development, all over the media.

Reflecting on the Grillini the normally pro-European Le Monde opted to blame the Germans for the Italian outcome: “The ‘German dream’ is a ‘European nightmare’ the newspaper wrote in a vehement commentary.”   According to the newspaper, Germany doesn’t give a damn about the euro, is selfish, acts as if it has all the answers and has decreed that Italy and Greece shall be ruled by technocratic governments. After the election defeat of Mario Monti, such governments have no future, the commentary concludes. Arnaud Leparmentier’s piece begins with a bitter observation about the nature of the new immigration to Germany:  “The ‘new guest workers’ are no longer the Turkish peasants of Anatolia who arrived in the 1960s. They are Italian, Spanish, Greek or Eastern European graduates from the best universities of their home countries, the young elite of Europe sucked into the German economy,” he wrote, because there is no future for them at home.

Der Speigel itself underlines the concerns: “All of Southern Europe appears haunted by a spectre, which played a key role in the Italian election: austerità. This term is shorthand for the belief that the rigid austerity measures are a diktat from Germany, and that Chancellor Merkel is to blame for the recession in Europe…. For many young Greeks, the election in Italy now provides a model. If the population of the third-largest economy in the euro zone so openly opposes the austerity measures, then the exit of individual countries from the euro zone is no longer taboo. ‘That then,’ says Aris Chatzistefanou, the Greek documentary maker, ‘is perhaps exactly the right approach’.”

Below is a thought-provoking comment added to the Der Speigel article by an unidentified reader:

Will Internet wired angry youth depose established European democracy?

Click this link to read the whole comment on the Der Speigel website.

French financial analyst and commentator Charles Gave of GKResearch went even further in celebrating the Italian election outcome: “The Italian electors’ rejection of Brussels-imposed economic diktat is an extraordinarily important moment in the history of modern Europe – perhaps the best political news since the fall of the Berlin Wall. Given the power of unelected technocrats, it is easy to forget that sovereignty in Europe still resides with the nation state as expressed through elections. The problem for those unelected officials who conspired to capture the political system – think Jacques Delors, Jean Claude Trichet or Mario Monti – is the obvious failure of their great project. For the first time a majority of electors has decisively voted against the euro and rejected policies imposed by technocrats.

“As usual, the proponents of technocracy claim that the Italian vote changes nothing substantively and soon it will be business as usual. This is the standard response whenever European electors express disagreement (think of referendums in Ireland, France, and Holland..) and upset this freedom-killing project. Since more than half of Italian voters chose parties with an overt anti-euro stance, I would beg to differ.

“The euro project is a financial Frankenstein which could not and has not worked; this Italian vote may mark the beginning of the system’s ultimate demise. Italy is different from other European problem economies since it runs a primary budget surplus, a current account surplus and finances most of its debt internally. Hence, Italy can leave the euro tomorrow and be much better off. Italians have led the way and soon the Spaniards, French and the Portuguese will reject this slavery in order to achieve “reforms” whose only purpose is to make a dysfunctional system work…. As a Frenchman, as a European, I want a diverse Europe in which each nation is managed by its own elected people. If the nation chooses to be poorly managed—so be it, this is what democracy is all about,” he concluded.

German voters too — increasingly aware of who is underwriting all the vast sums of money being poured into the very minority sport of ‘saving’ European banks from collapse — are showing signs of EU-weariness and bailout fatigue.

Reuters news agency reported: “One in four Germans would be ready to vote in September’s federal election for a party that wants to quit the euro, according to an opinion poll published on Monday that highlights German unease over the costs of the euro zone crisis… The poll conducted by TNS-Emnid for the weekly Focus magazine showed 26 percent of Germans would consider backing a party that wanted to take Germany out of the euro and as many as four in 10 Germans in the 40-49 age bracket would do so….A new eurosceptic movement called ‘Alternative for Germany’ (AfD) comprising mostly academics and business people is due to hold its first meeting later on Monday in a northern suburb of Frankfurt. One of its founders, economics professor Bernd Lucke, told Focus he had no concern that it would be able to raise the required 2,000 signatures in each German region to take part in September’s federal election”.

An Open Europe news alert March 11 noted: “Open Europe Berlin Director Michael Wohlgemuth is quoted in the Telegraph as saying that the new anti-euro ‘Alternative for Germany’ party lacks the organisation for a quick breakthrough, but its moment could come in next year’s elections to the European Parliament as “By then the real costs of the bail-outs for German taxpayers will be clearer. People sense that a crisis is looming, but they have not yet felt it” while in an interview with Welt am Sonntag, CSU general secretary Alexander Dobrindt said that “if Greece is not capable or willing to achieve financial stability, then there must be a way outside the eurozone. The European Commission should finally establish a legal framework for an orderly state insolvency and for the exit of a country from the currency union.”

Those who fear him label him a clown but if the five year old EU crisis continues to worsen, Grillo and his Grillini may yet have the last laugh.

Here is Beppe Grillo at a stand-up show in 1998 talking about the global monetary system.   (Contains some strong language):

“Whom does the money belong to?  Who does its ownership belong to?  To the State fine…then to us, we are the State. You know that the State doesn’t exist, it is only a legal entity.  WE are the state, then the money is ours…fine.  Then let me know one thing.  If the money belongs to us…Why…do they lend it to us??” – Beppe Grillo in 1998

Story: Ken Pottinger

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