Wednesday, October 3, 2012
Democracy itself is at stake in southern Europe
October 3, 2012
Economics has driven the debate on the eurozone crisis, but it is the politics we should be worrying about. After all, the postwar European project was all about using economic integration and its benefits to emancipate the continent from its bloody past. But now in southern Europe, violence is returning as a direct consequence of the austerity programmes that are touted as the price of continued eurozone membership. What is at stake is not just membership of a monetary union; it is the nature and future of democracy itself.
In Spain, austerity protests have revived the debate over regional secession. Leftwing activists are on the march in Lisbon and Paris. But Greece, most beset of the debtor nations, offers the clearest evidence of fracture. Last week’s general strike is the precursor of worse to come as the government struggles to implement the latest round of cuts.
We used to praise the way a two-party system had emerged soon after the junta had fallen in a country with a long history of political instability. Indeed, Europe itself could take much of the credit for facilitating Greece’s transition. Now it is unravelling as the crisis reveals Greek democracy’s fragility. One of the two historic ruling parties, Pasok, has already shrunk faster than anyone could have predicted – from 44 per cent of the vote in 2009’s general election to 12 per cent in June. If the government of Antonis Samaras falls, the same may happen to New Democracy on the centre-right. The cause is clear: seemingly endless austerity, plus the Greek electorate’s reasonable perception that these parties were the chief architects of the imbroglio.
What is likely to be the result? The closest parallel is perhaps Italy, where the end of the cold war led to the disappearance of Christian Democracy and brought Silvio Berlusconi to power, along with the Alleanza Nazionale, heir to the postwar neo-fascists. In Greece the future is bleaker economically and the prospects even less reassuring.