Europe is haunted by austerity. Public sectors across the European Union (EU) have been cut back and working class gains from the post-war period seriously undermined. In this article, I will assess the causes of the crisis, its implications for workers and discuss the politics of labour in response to the Eurozone crisis.
The underlying dynamics of the Eurozone crisis
Current problems go right back to the global financial crisis starting in 2007 with the run on the Northern Rock bank in the United Kingdom (UK) and reaching a first high point with the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers in 2008. Two major consequences of the crisis can be identified. First, states indebted themselves significantly as a result of bailing out failing banks and propping up the financial system. Second, against the background of high levels of uncertainty financial markets froze. Banks and financial institutions ceased lending to each other as well as industrial companies. Countries too found it increasingly difficult to re-finance their national debts. The Eurozone crisis, also known as the sovereign debt crisis, commenced.
Nevertheless, this analysis only scratches the surface of the causes of the crisis. The fundamental dynamics underlying the crisis have to be related to the uneven nature of the European political economy. On the one hand, Germany has experienced an export boom in recent years, with almost 60 per cent of its exports going to other European countries (Trading Economics, 10 May 2013). Germany’s trade surplus is even more heavily focused on Europe. 60 per cent are with other Euro countries and about 85 per cent are with all EU members together (de Nardis, 2 December 2010). However, such a growth strategy cannot be adopted by everybody. Some countries also have to absorb these exports, and this is what many of the peripheral countries which are now in trouble, such as Greece, Portugal, Spain and Ireland, have done. They, in turn, cannot compete in the free trade Internal Market of the EU due to lower productivity rates. Germany’s export boom has resulted in super profits, which then require new opportunities for profitable investment. State bonds of peripheral countries as well as construction markets in Ireland and Spain seemed to provide safe investment opportunities. In turn, these investments led to yet more exports from Germany to these countries and yet further super profits in search of investment opportunities.
Who is being rescued?
It is often argued in the media that citizens of richer countries would now have to pay for citizens of indebted countries. Cultural arguments of apparently ‘lazy Greek’ workers as the cause of the crisis are put forward. Nevertheless, this is clearly not the case. Greek workers are amongst those who work the longest hours in Europe (BBC, 26 February 2012). In any case, it is not the Greek, Portuguese, Irish or Cypriot citizens and their health and education systems, which are being rescued. It is banks, who organised the lending of super profits to peripheral countries, which are exposed to private and national debt in these countries. For example, German and French banks are heavily exposed to Greek debt, British banks to Irish debt (The Guardian, 17 June 2011).
What is the purpose of the bailout programmes?
Is the purpose of the bailout programmes to ensure the maintenance of essential public services in Europe’s periphery? Clearly not. On the contrary, the Troika consisting of the European Commission, European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) demands cuts in public finances precisely for services such as education and health care. Is the purpose to assist peripheral countries in re-gaining competitiveness? Again, this too is clearly not the objective. The bailout programmes do not include any industrial policy projects.
The true nature of the bailout programmes is visible in their conditionality, making support dependent on austerity policies including: (1) cuts in funding of essential public services; (2) cuts in public sector employment; (3) push towards privatisation of state assets; and (4) undermining of industrial relations and trade union rights through enforced cuts in minimum wages and a further liberalisation of labour markets. Hence, the real purpose of the bailout programmes is to restructure political economies and to open up the public sector as new investment opportunities for private finance. The balance of power is shifted further from labour to capital in this process. Employers, ultimately, use the crisis in order to strengthen their position vis-à-vis workers, facilitating exploitation.
Are German workers the winners due to the export boom?
In contrast to general assumptions, German workers have not benefitted from the current situation. German productivity increases have, to a significant extent, resulted from drastic downward pressure on wages and working related conditions.
“Germany has been unrelenting in squeezing its own workers throughout this period. During the last two decades, the most powerful economy of the eurozone has produced the lowest increases in nominal labour costs, while its workers have systematically lost share of output. EMU has been an ordeal for German workers” (Lapavitsas et al, 2012: 4).
The Agenda 2010 and here especially the so-called Hartz IV reform, implemented in the early 2000s, constitutes the largest cut in, and restructuring of, the German welfare system since the end of World War II. In other words, Germany was more successful than other Eurozone countries in cutting back labour costs. “The euro is a ‘beggar-thy-neighbour’ policy for Germany, on condition that it beggars its own workers first” (Lapavitsas et al, 2012: 30).
Hence, while the mainstream media regularly portray the crisis as a conflict between Germany and peripheral countries, the real conflict here is between capital and labour. And this conflict is taking place across the EU as the economic crisis is used across Europe to justify cuts. In the UK, although not in the position of countries such as Greece, Portugal or Ireland, people too are faced with constant further cuts and restructuring including privatisations in the health and education sectors as well as attacks on employment rights. In short, across the EU, employers abuse the crisis to cut back workers’ post-war gains. The crisis provides capital with the rationale to justify cuts, they would otherwise be unable to implement.
What possibilities for labour to resist restructuring?
Considering that austerity is a European-wide phenomenon, pushed by Brussels but equally individual national governments, it will remain important that trade unions combine resistance to neo-liberal restructuring at the European level with resistance at the national level. To declare solidarity with Greek workers is a good initiative by German and British unions, for example. Nevertheless, the more concrete support is resisting restructuring at home. Any defeat of austerity in one of the EU member states will assist similar struggles elsewhere.
When thinking about alternative responses to the crisis, short-term measures can be distinguished from medium- and long-term measures. Immediately, it will be important that German trade unions push for higher salary increases at home so that the German domestic market absorbs more goods, which are currently being exported. Along similar lines is the proposal by the Confederation of German Trade Unions (DGB) for an economic stimulus, investment and development programme for Europe. This new Marshall plan is designed as an investment and development programme over a 10-year period and consists of a mix of institutional measures, direct public sector investment, investment grants for companies and incentives for consumer spending (DGB 2013). Neo-Keynesian measures of this type will ease the immediate pressure on European economies. However, they will not question the power structures, underlying the European political economy.
A victorious outcome in the struggle against austerity ultimately depends on a change in the balance of power in society. The establishment of welfare states and fairer societies were based on the capacity of labour to balance the class power of capital (Wahl 2011). Overcoming austerity will, therefore, require a strengthening of labour vis-à-vis capital. As Lapavitsas notes, “a radical left strategy should offer a resolution of the crisis that alters the balance of social forces in favour of labour and pushes Europe in a socialist direction” (Lapavitsas 2011: 294). Hence, in the medium-term, it will be essential to intervene more directly in the financial sector. As part of bailouts, many private banks have been nationalised, as for example the Royal Bank of Scotland in the UK. However, they have been allowed to continue operating as if they were private banks. Little state direction has been imposed. It will be important to move beyond nationalisation towards the socialisation of banks to ensure that banks actually operate according to the needs of society. Such a step would contribute directly to changing the balance of power in society in favour of labour.
In the long run, however, even the change in power balance between capital and labour will not be enough. Capitalist exploitation is rooted in the way the social relations of production are set up around wage labour and the private ownership of the means of production. Exploitation, therefore, can only be overcome if the manner in which production is organised is being changed itself.
 This article was first published in Norwegian on radikalportal.no
 European Monetary Union
Are we now living in a German Europe? In an interview with EUROPP editors Stuart A Brown and Chris Gilson, Ulrich Beck discusses German dominance of the European Union, the divisive effects of austerity policies, and the relevance of his concept of the ‘risk society’ to the current problems being experienced in the Eurozone.
How has Germany come to dominate the European Union?
Well it happened somehow by accident. Germany has actually created an ‘accidental empire’. There is no master plan; no intention to occupy Europe. It doesn’t have a military basis, so all the talk about a ‘Fourth Reich’ is misplaced. Rather it has an economic basis – it’s about economic power – and it’s interesting to see how in the anticipation of a European catastrophe, with fears that the Eurozone and maybe even the European Union might break down, the landscape of power in Europe has changed fundamentally.
First of all there’s a split between the Eurozone countries and the non-Eurozone countries. Suddenly for example the UK, which is only a member of the EU and not a member of the Eurozone, is losing its veto power. It’s a tragic comedy how the British Prime Minister is trying to tell us that he is still the one who is in charge of changing the European situation. The second split is that among the Eurozone countries there is an important division of power between the lender countries and the debtor countries. As a result Germany, the strongest economic country, has become the most powerful EU state.
Are austerity policies dividing Europe?
Indeed they are, in many ways. First of all we have a new line of division between northern European and southern European countries. Of course this is very evident, but the background from a sociological point of view is that we are experiencing the redistribution of risk from the banks, through the states, to the poor, the unemployed and the elderly. This is an amazing new inequality, but we are still thinking in national terms and trying to locate this redistribution of risk in terms of national categories.
At the same time there are two leading ideologies in relation to austerity policies. The first is pretty much based on what I call the ‘Merkiavelli’ model – by this I mean a combination of Niccolò Machiavelli and Angela Merkel. On a personal level, Merkel takes a long time to make decisions: she’s always waiting until some kind of consensus appears. But this kind of waiting makes the countries depending on Germany’s decision realise that actually Germany holds the power. This deliberate hesitation is quite an interesting strategy in terms of the way that Germany has taken over economically.
The second element is that Germany’s austerity policies are not based simply on pragmatism, but also underlying values. The German objection to countries spending more money than they have is a moral issue which, from a sociological point of view, ties in with the ‘Protestant Ethic’. It’s a perspective which has Martin Luther and Max Weber in the background. But this is not seen as a moral issue in Germany, instead it’s viewed as economic rationality. They don’t see it as a German way of resolving the crisis; they see it as if they are the teachers instructing southern European countries on how to manage their economies.
This creates another ideological split because the strategy doesn’t seem to be working so far and we see many forms of protest, of which Cyprus is the latest example. But on the other hand there is still a very important and powerful neo-liberal faction in Europe which continues to believe that austerity policies are the answer to the crisis.
Is the Eurozone crisis proof that we live in a risk society?
Yes, this is the way I see it. My idea of the risk society could easily be misunderstood because the term ‘risk’ actually signifies that we are in a situation to cope with uncertainty, but to me the risk society is a situation in which we are not able to cope with the uncertainty and consequences that we produce in society.
I make a distinction between ‘first modernity’ and our current situation. First modernity, which lasted from around the 18th century until perhaps the 1960s or 1970s, was a period where there was a great deal of space for experimentation and we had a lot of answers for the uncertainties that we produced: probability models, insurance mechanisms, and so on. But then because of the success of modernity we are now producing consequences for which we don’t have any answers, such as climate change and the financial crisis. The financial crisis is an example of the victory of a specific interpretation of modernity: neo-liberal modernity after the breakdown of the Communist system, which dictates that the market is the solution and that the more we increase the role of the market, the better. But now we see that this model is failing and we don’t have any answers.
We have to make a distinction between a risk society and a catastrophe society. A catastrophe society would be one in which the motto is ‘too late’: where we give in to the panic of desperation. A risk society in contrast is about the anticipation of future catastrophes in order to prevent them from happening. But because these potential catastrophes are not supposed to happen – the financial system could collapse, or nuclear technology could be a threat to the whole world – we don’t have the basis for experimentation. The rationality of calculating risk doesn’t work anymore. We are trying to anticipate something that is not supposed to happen, which is an entirely new situation.
Take Germany as an example. If we look at Angela Merkel, a few years ago she didn’t believe that Greece posed a major problem, or that she needed to engage with it as an issue. Yet now we are in a completely different situation because she has learned that if you look into the eyes of a potential catastrophe, suddenly new things become possible. Suddenly you think about new institutions, or about the fiscal compact, or about a banking union, because you anticipate a catastrophe which is not supposed to happen. This is a huge mobilising force, but it’s highly ambivalent because it can be used in different ways. It could be used to develop a new vision for Europe, or it could be used to justify leaving the European Union.
How should Europe solve its problems?
I would say that the first thing we have to think about is what the purpose of the European Union actually is. Is there any purpose? Why Europe and not the whole world? Why not do it alone in Germany, or the UK, or France?
I think there are four answers in this respect. First, the European Union is about enemies becoming neighbours. In the context of European history this actually constitutes something of a miracle. The second purpose of the European Union is that it can prevent countries from being lost in world politics. A post-European Britain, or a post-European Germany, is a lost Britain, and a lost Germany. Europe is part of what makes these countries important from a global perspective.
The third point is that we should not only think about a new Europe, we also have to think about how the European nations have to change. They are part of the process and I would say that Europe is about redefining the national interest in a European way. Europe is not an obstacle to national sovereignty; it is the necessary means to improve national sovereignty. Nationalism is now the enemy of the nation because only through the European Union can these countries have genuine sovereignty.
The fourth point is that European modernity, which has been distributed all over the world, is a suicidal project. It’s producing all kinds of basic problems, such as climate change and the financial crisis. It’s a bit like if a car company created a car without any brakes and it started to cause accidents: the company would take these cars back to redesign them and that’s exactly what Europe should do with modernity. Reinventing modernity could be a specific purpose for Europe.
Taken together these four points form what you could say is a grand narrative of Europe, but one basic issue is missing in the whole design. So far we’ve thought about things like institutions, law, and economics, but we haven’t asked what the European Union means for individuals. What do individuals gain from the European project? First of all I would say that, particularly in terms of the younger generation, more Europe is producing more freedom. It’s not only about the free movement of people across Europe; it’s also about opening up your own perspective and living in a space which is essentially grounded on law.
Second, European workers, but also students as well, are now confronted with the kind of existential uncertainty which needs an answer. Half of the best educated generation in Spanish and Greek history lack any future prospects. So what we need is a vision for a social Europe in the sense that the individual can see that there is not necessarily social security, but that there is less uncertainty. Finally we need to redefine democracy from the bottom up. We need to ask how an individual can become engaged with the European project. In that respect I have made a manifesto, along with Daniel Cohn-Bendit, called “We Are Europe”, arguing that we need a free year for everyone to do a project in another country with other Europeans in order to start a European civil society.
A more detailed discussion of the topics covered in this article is available in Ulrich Beck’s latest book, German Europe (Polity 2013). This interview was first published on EUROPP@LSE
I have no doubt that Kenny and Noonan have good intentions but can you see these men throwing down the gauntlet to force radical change to IMF/ECB policy… no these guys will not rock the boat for the are bonded to their masters
We are a country blitzed by the imposition of austerity…no credit, mounting household debt, high unemployment, plummeting standards right across the broad spectrum of education/social services and finally the Government selling off the what remains of the family silver. Light at the end of the tunnel I don’t think so all I see is devastation and more ruin. Given the level of mounting Government debt at some stage we are going to reach the point of no return and what then. Do we have to wait until the bitter end to face face reality.
Cutting public sector jobs means higher unemployment and fewer people in work paying taxes
Freezing public sector pay and higher unemployment means less disposable income to be spent in the private sector, with a knock-on effect on private sector jobs
Cutting business taxes means less revenue to close the deficit and pay off our debt.
The government is presenting its plans as simply ‘dealing with the deficit’, but that is a smokescreen for another agenda. The government wants to cut and privatise public services because it believes in a market for even essential goods and services; that business should be free to extract profit from any public service, even schools, hospitals, welfare ETC.
The government’s policies are failing because the public sector is not the real problem.
Instead of solving the crisis, these policies are making it worse.
In Spain the unemployment rate is now 25%, while youth unemployment is over 50%.
We are the 99% – and as an end game harassing the 99% cannot not work.
Wages have disportionately . Inflation has been higher than the annual increase in pay. This fall in real wages means we are able to buy less with our money than before, as we have less disposable income.
. . . .
Redistribution: to the 1%
Why is this happening and where is the money going? At the same time that wages and other income has been squeezed for the majority of people, a few people at the top are doing better than ever A few at the top are getting very rich by cutting pay and pensions for the rest.
Freedom of information
The very fundamentals of democracy are build on freedom of information and yet on a worldwide basis it appears to be politicians want to squeeze the information been fed to its citizens. Why will the Irish/EU not release the full details of the bailout agreement to its people.
Cutbacks In in education will mean will mean we revert to being a nation of unskilled factory workers.
What next immigration to Bangladesh?
Education is one of the few remaining life lines open to the country
No sell off of public utilities
Everywhere this has happened it has been an unmitigated disaster
A banking system that works for people not profit
Some of the banks that were bailed out by the government are still using loopholes to advise their corporate and wealthy clients how to avoid paying tax.
They have also laid-off thousands of their own staff to maintain the greed at the top. It feels like we have nationalised the debts while the profits are privatised.
The banking collapse, which caused such economic damage , means the finance sector has lost the right to carry on as before. It must now act in the public interest; publicly owned and controlled.
The money, real money, that is held by the finance sector is ours anyway: our pension funds, our savings, and the cash in our current accounts. The rest of it is credit – electronic money (as over 90% now is) created out of thin air by the banks to lend. The banks are given the right to create credit by governments.
We therefore need the government to ensure that when banks create credit, or lend or invest with our savings or pension funds, they are doing so in our collective interest.
That means investing in infrastructure like new council housing not lending recklessly and creating a housing bubble (and inevitable crash). It means investing to create new jobs in renewable energy rather than speculating on food prices to profit from starvation. And it means investing in new businesses and ideas, not getting windfall dividends and bonuses for merging existing businesses and laying-off staff.
Essential public services are being cut back and privatised, and people’s living standards have been falling , both for those in work and even more so for those unemployed.
There are social consequences too, which have clear financial costs.
Research from previous recessions shows that the increased financial pressures push more people into depression and substance abuse, means couples are more likely to separate, and suicide rates increase.
Politics is about choices – and there is always a choice and always an alternative. Because there always is an alternative but yet we are continually fed the mantra there is no alternative to austerity.
There is an economic crisis – one of rising unemployment, inequality and economic stagnation. Austerity isn’t working, and is not producing the economic growth that the government promised it would. But it is not just growth that matters. If we value people’s lives as more important than simply making more transactions, then the relevant tests for judging an economic recovery are:
Is unemployment falling?
Are people’s living standards rising
Is inequality reducing
Is the tax gap closing?
These are the tests against which we should measure the government’s economic strategy and proposals.
Also the government we have appear to be incapable of showing any leadership whatsoever. They sheep like continue to follow the dictate of their masters…Ollie Rehn. “the eurozone has shown a degree of resilience and problem-solving capacity that many observers and policymakers would not have predicted even a year ago”…Commission chief Jose Barroso insisted that the policy(austerity) is “fundamentally right” and working in Ireland, a risible statement if ever.
We need a leadership that knows how to play rough and this was familiar territory for the IRA. The lesson learnt was once the financial heart of London was bombed peace was in the making.
If the politicians do not heed the wishes of the electorate what then, protest marches …if they still do not listen…civil disobedience… if they still remain deaf well the options narrow. Revolution,guns , violence bombes I hope not.
May common sense prevail
What does ‘Euro’ mean?
Is a euro in a Cypriot bank, locked down by withdrawal limits and capital controls, the same as a euro in an Irish or French bank? Is a euro sitting in, say, a payroll account in Laiki with a balance of more than €100,000 (and subject to an unspecified “haircut” on Thursday) the same an “Irish euro”?
They’re both euro, both promises to pay the bearer, but honestly, do you have a preference? Of course you do. You’d prefer your money to be outside Cyprus. You’d prefer an Irish euro to a Cypriot one. So they’re not the same. Do we even have a single currency now, then? What does the Euro mean?
And how did this happen? At least in part, it happened because all the finance ministers of the Eurozone sat around earlier this month and let the Cypriots leave the room with a proposal to make depositors pay for bank losses, including insured depositors with balances of less than €100,000. They rowed back on that part, but you can’t undo the damage of their having taken it seriously to begin with. Imagine a snowed-in family just once agreeing “if we get really hungry, we can eat the rabbit”. You can take that back all you like – everybody knows the rabbit’s not safe any more. He’s not just a pet, he’s protein. Depositors aren’t just protected customers now, they’re also a source of money to save the bank.
We sat back and let that happen – all the Eurozone countries did. We let deposits in Cyprus undergo that subtle shift in meaning. We let their banks be closed for ages, with devastating impact on small firms and families. We let their tax rate be changed. We let them hang out there, hoping it would save us, the rest of this uneasy union. Where does that leave solidarity, in this European Project under our presidency?
Just now, you’d prefer an Irish euro to a Cypriot one. Remember that feeling, because, as Martin Niemöller might have written were he more interested in money, and living in more peaceful times, “First they came for the Cypriots …”
The quite wonderful Gavin Kostick of Fishamble Theatre has a comment on Irish Economy which is too good to linger there… It’s super.
And Draghi came down from the mountain with two tablets of stone.
(1) Thou shall love the god of the market. Thou shall have no other god before it.
(2) Thou shall have no other engraved image except the Euro. There shall be no other image on thy coin, for I run a jealous central bank
(3) Thou shall not take the name of the Euro in vain or speak slightingly thereof, for those who seek to destroy confidence will not be held guiltless.
(4) Thou shall work all of the days, excepting none, for this is the will of the free market. And you shall remember that you are a debt slave as you once were in Egypt.
(5) Honour Germany and France and the contract they made in their betrothal at the altar of the European Coal and Steel Community: for these are your mother and father to whom you must be obedient.
(6) Thou shalt not kill the bondholders.
(7) Thou shalt not commit adultery with other nations, neither the Russians nor the Chinese, nor any other nation against which we set our face.
(8) Thou shalt not steal deposits with high interest, low tax or any other wiles against which we set our face.
(9) Thou shalt not falsely accuse the ECB of running a tyranny, or threatening to implode your banks, being subservient to German interest, nor any other false witness against them.
(10) Thou shalt not covet a living possessed by your neighbours, but rejoice in the purification of your impoverishment.
Eurozone nations have to fundamentally reorganize themselves and shift sovereignty away from national parliaments to new layers of centralized, transnational, beyond-control bureaucracies that can decide at will when to extract untold wealth from taxpayers. That’s what the Eurozone has to do, according to the “first ever European Union-wide assessment of the soundness and stability of the financial sector,” released Friday by the institution that the world couldn’t do without, the IMF.
“Financial stability has not been assured,” the report stated flatly about the fiasco in the Eurozone, despite ceaseless hope-mongering by Eurocrats and politicians, and banks remain “vulnerable to shocks.” The report, which never mentioned banks or countries by name, discussed a number of “risks” that could topple these banks, with some of these “risks” already having transitioned to reality:
“Declining growth.” Banks with “excessive leverage, risky business models, and an adverse feedback loop with sovereigns and the real economy” are particularly vulnerable. Hence, most banks. A number of European countries have been in a deep recession, some of them for years. So “declining growth” is a reality, and these “shocks” are happening now, said the IMF in its more or less subtle ways.
“Further drop in asset prices.” Real estate prices are now dropping in some countries that didn’t see a collapse during the first wave, including France and the Netherlands—where it already took down SNS Reaal, the country’s fourth largest bank [A Taxpayer Revolt Against Bank Bailouts In the Eurozone]. So hurry up and do something, the IMF said.
The report points at other risks for banks. Pressures in wholesale funding markets could dry up liquidity and tighten refinancing conditions. And the market could lose confidence in the sovereign debt that banks hold. For example, an Italian bank, loaded with Italian government debt, would topple if that debt lost value—but of course, the report refuses to name names.
And in “several countries,” the heavy concentration of megabanks “creates too-big-to-fail problems that could amplify the country’s vulnerability.” So Germany, France, and the UK. Alas, in Europe too-big-to-fail doesn’t necessarily mean big. In tiny Cyprus, fifth country to get a bailout, the banks, though minuscule by megabank standards, are getting bailed out anyway. It’s psychological. A fear. If even a small bank were allowed to go bankrupt, the confidence in all banks across the Eurozone would collapse. That’s how fragile Eurocrats and politicians fear their banks have become—despite their reassurances to the contrary.
And so “policymakers and banks need to intensify their efforts across a wide range of areas” to save these banks, the IMF exhorts these Eurocrats and politicians.
Big priorities: “bank balance sheet repair”; banks should build larger capital buffers to be able to absorb shocks. And “credibility” repair of these balance sheets. In an admission that bank balance sheets still aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on, the IMF calls for stiffening the disclosure requirements, “especially of impaired assets” that are decomposing in hidden-from view basements.
The new Single Supervisory Mechanism (SSM), the EU-wide banking regulator under the ECB, to be operational by early 2014, would have to have real teeth, along with expertise, the IMF pointed out. It should regulate all banks in the Eurozone “to sustain the currency union” and in the entire EU to sustain “the single market for financial services.” In other words, without the SSM, the currency union won’t make it.
But the IMF’s killer app is the Banking Union, a “single framework for crisis management, deposit insurance, supervision, and resolution, with a common backstop for the banking system.” Under this system, taxpayers in all Eurozone countries would automatically be responsible for bailing out banks, their investors, bondholders, counterparties, and account holders in any Eurozone country.
For the most hopeless cases, the Single Resolution Mechanism would step in to dissolve banks “without disrupting financial stability”—hence bail out investors, disrupting financial stability being a term that’s commonly used to justify anything. The medium would be the transnational taxpayer-funded ESM bailout fund; it would bail out banks directly, rather than bail out countries after they bail out their own banks—which is the rule today.
In the process, countries would surrender much of their authority over banks—and how or even whether to bail them out—to this new instrument. Decision makers would be Eurocrats, far removed from any popular vote. Victims would be the people who’d end up paying for it. Investors and speculators would profit. Other beneficiaries would be politicians who’d no longer have to bamboozle voters into bailing out banks because it would be done by a distant power.
The dictum that there is never an alternative to bailouts would be cemented into the system. Democracy, which always gets trampled during bailouts, would be essentially abolished when it comes to transferring money from citizens to bank investors. And that’s of course the ultimate goal of the banking industry.
The stark reality facing millions of Spaniards, Italians, Greeks, and Portuguese is hidden—buried deep under a mountain of economic data, massaged to suit the purposes of the central planners-in-chief.
Here is a breakdown of the alarming numbers:
– More than 26 million people unemployed in the 27-member European Union.
– Almost 19 million unemployed in the 17-country euro zone.
– Euro zone average: 11.9% unemployment
– European Union average: 10.8% unemployment
– Highest rates:
– Lowest rates:
Germany and Luxemburg: 5.3%
– The U.S.: 7.9% unemployment in Jan. 2013.
– Australia: 5.4%
– Japan: 4.2%
Not surprisingly, youth unemployment was also up:
– Euro zone youth unemployment: 24.2%, up from 21.9 in Jan. 2012.
– European Union under-25 unemployment: 23.6%, up from 22.4% in Jan. 2012.
The worst European countries for youths:
– Greece: 59.4% youth unemployment rate.
– Spain: 55.5% youth unemployment rate.
“We thought we might dip our toes into trying some small elements of democracy and we might give the people some say in how they should be governed,” Jose Bubbarosso, the senior EU Commissioner for EU Dictatorial policy said at a recent conference.
Democracy is something that is completely alien to the EU but they say they are at least trying to implement it in a few hundred years time.
“We may consider giving the masses some say in the EU but there is still not much chance of that ever happening in our super soviet state because that could be very dangerous to our system of total control,” another unelected bureaucrat said.
The anti-austerity march on Saturday will give people the chance to tell the Government that it’s time to change economic direction. By Michael O’Reilly.
Austerity is costing jobs.
When the Government published their Medium Term Fiscal Statement last week, they all but admitted that their employment policy will fail. When they took office the unemployment rate was 14.2%. Now they accept that the unemployment rate by 2015 will be 13%. In other words, the Government admits that the unemployment rate will hardly change while they are in office. This is a devastating admission.
Since the crisis began, Ireland has suffered one of the worst collapses in employment of any EU-15 country. We are up there with Spain and Greece. While the numbers at work in Ireland have fallen by over 15%, the Eurozone average is less than 2%.
Much of this job loss is due to the collapse in the property market. From the peak, the numbers at work have fallen by 350,000 – the construction sector has made up 45% of this job loss. However, in the last year, 80% of job losses have come from non-construction sectors. What was initially a crisis in the construction sector has now spread throughout the economy.
Austerity measures are continuing to drive down employment. When the Government cuts investment, it cuts the number of people at work on capital projects; when it cuts spending on public services, it cuts the number of people employed directly by the public sector and people in the private sector who got work through procurement contracts; when the Government cuts social protection, it cuts demand in the economy, putting further pressure on domestic businesses and their employees.
In short, when the Government cuts spending (or increases taxation on low-average income groups), it drives down economic activity. Why should anyone be surprised that the numbers at work are continuing to fall?
The Government‘s jobs policy ignores what’s happening in the labour market. There are about 30 unemployed people for every job vacancy. Increasing the skills of our workforce (both employers and employees), retraining people, getting young people back into education – all these are necessary to increase our capacity to grow. But these will come to nothing as long as there is no demand for labour – as long as 300,000 people are competing with each other for a relative handful of jobs.
According to the Government, the prognosis is not good. They expect there will still be fewer people at work in 2014 than when they took office. How can we begin to turn this around?
First, we can begin to drive investment. Investment not only has the capacity to put people back to work in the short-term, it increases the capacity of the economy to grow in the future. This will continue to increase employment in the medium-term. Investment in next generation broadband, a modern water and waste system and energy-efficient buildings (we have one million buildings in need of retro-fitting) could directly employ tens of thousands of people, with more jobs created downstream. Most important is investment in education – from early childhood all the way through to life-long learning; this is the single most important long-term investment.
Second, we can stop digging ourselves into a bigger hole. While we have to repair our public finances (and investment will help by driving up tax revenue and reducing unemployment costs), we should ensure that budgetary measures are ‘growth-friendly’. This means taxation measures on high-income groups and their unproductive capital and property. This will have less impact on domestic demand than cutting spending on public services and social protection, or hitting low-average income earners through taxation.
Third, we must start driving up wages – in particular, those of the low-paid. Corporate profitability has returned over the last two years. Many businesses are struggling – not because wages or taxes are too high but because not enough people are employed and have too little money in their pockets to spend. Increasing wages in enterprises that can afford it will increase tax revenue for the Government and increase spending in the economy.
This is not the complete solution to unemployment. But it is a start. It is the programme that the Dublin Council of Trade Unions is calling for. And it is one of the reasons that we are asking people to come out on Saturday, 24 November.
We can defeat austerity. We have a programme that will grow jobs and living standards. And if we have the people, the Government will have to listen to us.
Michael O’Reilly is president of the Dublin Council of Trade Unions.