September 26, 2012
In all the dozens of summits and meetings held over the past couple of years about how to keep the euro show on the road, one subject has been notably absent. Amid all their talk of haircuts (on debt values) and tranches (of loans), European leaders have barely talked about the people who are bearing the brunt, first of the crisis and then of the throat-clearing that passes for firefighting in Brussels. This is not accidental. The euro project has relied upon draining the politics out of the inherently political: the very existence of a 17-nation economic union without a common treasury is testimony to that.
Especially amid austerity, however, it is impossible to ignore the politics. More than 200,000 demonstrators took to the streets of Athens on Wednesday. Thousands besieged parliament in Madrid on Tuesday. Last week more than half a million people marched in cities across Portugal to protest against cuts in social security. This is a pan-southern-European pushback against austerity, while the package is still being negotiated. The political strains are causing old regional fissures to re-emerge. One fifth of the population of Catalonia, 1.5 million people, marched last week in what can only be interpreted as a surge of separatist sentiment. For them it is not just the contract with Brussels and Frankfurt that needs to be renegotiated, but the contract with Madrid – in other words, the constitution. With regional elections coming up on 25 November, this is not something Madrid can ignore. Initially they wanted to collect their own taxes, which they would share with Madrid. When that was rejected, the price of peace escalated. Popular outrage over Catalan money going elsewhere, amid health and education cuts, is fuelling demands that the money stays put.