If it was raining soup, the man would be out with a fork,’ famously said a disgruntled Fine Gael backbencher many years ago, in reference to his party leader’s tendency to always choose the wrong policy option.
This unfortunate tendency now characterises the Fine Gael/Labour Government in its response to the current economic crisis. The government has lashed itself more tightly than ever to the austerity wagon just as the wheels are wobbling and in imminent danger of falling off.
The political crisis in the Netherlands is quite significant in this regard. Here is a country whose government was a hardcore supporter of imposing savage austerity as a panacea for Europe’s economic problems and especially so in the case of the crisis ridden peripheral States like Greece and Ireland. But it fell victim to its own harsh prescription as its Budget deficit in 2011 came in significantly over the 3% of Gross Domestic Product target laid down by the European Union’s so called Stability and Growth pact.
As the Dutch government began to plan savage cuts to stay within EU guidelines, the Freedom Party walked out of the coalition, with its leader proclaiming that he could not tolerate ‘pensioners bleeding for Brussels diktats.’ The fact that this is a right wing/populist/racist political party shouldn’t diminish the significance of statements like this. This party and its leader, Geert Wilders, is opportunistically attempting to reflect growing opposition of poorer and working class people to the effects of austerity on their lives.
‘The Dutch case is a horrific display of Europe’s self harming.’ declared an Editorial in Wednesday’s Financial Times. It continued ‘ . . Europe’s policy of austerity for all, is dragging one economy after another back into recession – and the effect is not limited to the periphery.’
The FT wasn’t the only commentator using the self harm analogy in relation to the policy of austerity being dogmatically imposed across Europe and now enshrined in the new Austerity Treaty. Paul Krugman is a columnist with the New York Times, a Professor of economics at Columbia University and a winner of the Nobel Prize for economics. Not a Left revolutionary, then, rather a sober analyst of current trends in capitalism.
Last week in a hard hitting, syndicated column, he referred to the New York Times reporting on the tragedy of people taking their own lives in Europe over unemployment and financial difficulties. ‘But I’m sure I wasn’t the only reader, especially among economists, wondering if the larger story isn’t so much about individuals as about the apparent determination of European leaders to commit economic suicide for the continent as a whole.’
Krugman goes on to damn the fiscal austerity uniformly pushed by the leaders of the European Union. ‘This is, not to mince words, just insane,’ he declared . ‘Europe has had several years of harsh austerity programmes, . . . such programmes push depressed economies deeper into depression.’ He finished with a powerful broadside at the EU leadership, referring to the Fiscal Treaty locking in austerity as the response to any and all problems. ‘So, it’s hard to avoid a sense of despair. Rather than admit that they’ve been wrong, European leaders seem determined to drive their economy – and their society – off a cliff. And the whole world will pay the price.’
This is the reckless policy now being relentlessly pushed by the Irish government at the behest of the neo liberal economic and political establishment within the EU. Fine Gael and Labour, having decided to follow the Troika’s diktat that the Irish people should be economically bled to salvage the European financial institutions, slavishly repeat the austerity mantras. Thus, the fiscal Treaty is about stability, leading to ‘confidence’ in the markets and among multinational corporations.
‘The crisis is subject to growing political risks,’ wrote Financial Times columnist, Martin Wolf, in Wednesday’s edition. ‘The fall of the Dutch government and the victory of Francois Hollande in France in the first round of the French Presidential election demonstrate this point. The street might overwhelm the establishment.’
The hopes of the Fine Gael and Labour Ministers fronting the government’s Austerity Treaty campaign, that the acceptance of this treaty will lead to a period of ‘stability’, will be blown away in due course. It is not ruled out that, even before the Irish people vote in the May 31 Referendum, a new crisis could grip the financial markets. If the sharks that hold sway there believe that the final result in the French election, economic crisis in Spain, or other developments, threaten their profits, slavish declarations of adherence to more and more austerity by EU leaders will not assuage them.
A rejection of the Treaty by the Irish people would be a recognition that austerity is causing havoc across Europe and a powerful demand for a change of course.