France, Greece, Europe: wind of change?

The general elections held yesterday in France and Greece are significant not only in relation to the new political landscape that will now occur in those countries, they are very important for the European Union’s future too.

In France, the triumph of Hollande means a deep change of the French role inside the Community. If Sarkozy has always been Merkel’s first ally, dictating to other countries the policies they were expected to enterprise in order to face the international finance crisis, Hollande’s opinion is quite different. Since the very beginning of his election campaign, he said that his idea of reacting against the crisis is based on a necessary collaboration not only with Germany, but also with countries like Spain and Italy, that were not really involved in the decision procedures until now. Moreover, the new Elysée’s guest has a new approach towards the economical measures that must be adopted in order to stop the rising unemployment and, at the same time, to give a believable answer to people’s request for a bigger buying power and better living conditions. The austerity plan imposed by Germany is based on uncontrolled liberalisations, big cuts to the welfare state, a protraction of retiremen age and the revocation of important worker’s rights. Hollande, on the contrary, has won the elections by saying that this kind of policy cannot be accepted as the only possible strategy to seek a way out of the crisis: his rescue package includes the creations of jobs, a block of the maximum pensionable age (60 years) and, in a general sense, the defense of worker’s rights. Is this proposal realistic? We are going to find it out in a close future. In this regard, one thing is for sure: a failure would mean a big risk for Europe’s political stability. The astonishing success that Marie Le Pen’s National Front has had in the first turn is a clear signal of how much such an Euroskeptic and neo-nationalistic propaganda can be tempting for a big share of the electorate.

For the same reason, we ought to observe very carefully what’s going on in Greece: yesterday’s results are in fact pretty clear. In a country that has been dramatically hit by the economical crisis, all the parties who formed the past caretaker government have been the victims of a strong elector’s disaffection. The two main Greek parties, Nea Dimokratia (right-wing, 20%) and Pasok (left-wing, 13,2%) are not able to form a coalition because of the huge loss of votes they had to face. A third member is needed, that according to Greek observers is nowhere to be found: the only party that could be appropriate in this sense, Dimar (Left-wing, 6,1%), has already made clear that is not going to be involved. Starting from today Nea Dimokratia, first Greek party, has a three-day deadline to form the coalition. If this attempt will fail, the second Greek party is going to have his own chance. And here comes a big surprise. The real winner of this elections is in fact Syriza (16,76%), an array of radical left and green groups. “Merkel should worry and Europe should hope in us”, so the leader Alexis Tsipras during an interview with “The Observer”. Why should Merkel worry? First of all, because this party gained such a result by following and inciting a strong popular opposition against the politics of austerity, wanted by Germany and implemented by the caretaker government. Greece voted against the old political establishment, considered guilty of the economical collapse and, even worse, entirely dominated by Merkel’s government.

"Seastorm" by Roger Schmidt

This sounds like a strong warning for Italian politics too: even though the situation of the two countries is not comparable, some similarities should not be ignored. Monti’s caretaker government is in fact losing public consent day after day, and society is showing a big disaffection towards the parties that decided to take part in it. Moreover, a large decline is still affecting Italian economy, and the request of social equity and sustainable development, similar to the Greek’s one, is clearly rising.

It seems like a wind of change is blowing in the sails of the vessel “Europe”, a wind who speaks of hope and social justice. It remains to be seen whether it will be able to bring the ship in safe waters or nationalism and anti-Europeanism will rock the boat.

Riccardo Motti

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