Europeans choose sides over financial crisis
Source Dave Anderson
Date 12/03/21/16:38
Europeans choose sides over financial crisis
By Harold Meyerson

EVEN AS many European nations recoil from the obligations of economic
union (because neither borrowers nor lenders are very happy these
days), a radical cross-border European politics is being born.

Ironically, the founding document of a genuinely pan-European politics
isn’t one that unites the continent. To the contrary, the fiscal
compact that German Chancellor Angela Merkel persuaded her European
Union colleagues to embrace — with an assist from French President
Nicolas Sarkozy — has given rise to bitter dissents both within and
among European nations. The pact, which codifies fiscal constraints
that will inflict years of economic stagnation, if not accelerated
decline, on such debtor nations as Spain and Greece, has divided
Europe into rival camps — the Keynesian leftists against the austerity

Nothing new there. What’s new is that these camps extend across
national borders. An embattled Sarkozy, facing a strong reelection
challenge from Socialist Francois Hollande, has sought and received
Merkel’s endorsement. The German chancellor has not only expressed her
support for Sarkozy but also her willingness to take to the stump on
his behalf. Although heads of government often meet with opposition
candidates, Merkel rebuffed Hollande’s request for a meeting; fellow
conservatives David Cameron and Mariano Rajoy, respectively the
British and Spanish prime ministers, have also said they did not wish
to meet with Hollande.

Hollande’s heresy is that he believes — with good reason — the
austerity budgets the Merkel-Sarkozy compact would inflict on Southern
Europe’s already deeply depressed economies will make it impossible
for those nations to return to financial health. He wants to
supplement the compact with measures to stimulate those economies now
and push back the budget-tightening by several years. Hollande’s
critique and proposals are widely shared among Europe’s social
democratic parties.

Once Merkel chose sides in France, the door was open for Germany’s
left-of-center parties to do the same. This month the German Social
Democrats declared their support for Hollande’s candidacy. They are
talking with the French Socialists about developing common positions
on taxes, minimum wages and a host of economic questions.

The rise of pan-European — or at least Franco-German — politics is
arriving about 100 years behind schedule. In the early 20th century,
the socialist parties that were strengthening across Western and
Central Europe pledged their solidarity to one another and to the
workers of the world. The workers of one nation, they declared, would
never take up arms against the workers of another. This grandest of
illusions crumbled with the outbreak of World War I. French socialist
leader Jean Jaures and German socialist leader Hugo Haase met in
Belgium on the war’s eve to declare “guerre a la guerre,” but four
days later, and for four years following, guerre devoured the
continent — and any notion of socialist solidarity.

In the years since, cross-border camaraderie among ideologically
compatible parties has been more the exception than the rule. In the
’60s and ’70s, such social democratic leaders as West Germany’s Willy
Brandt, Austria’s Bruno Kreisky and Sweden’s Olof Palme reinforced
each other’s perspectives and initiatives when they could.
Conservative parties, however, have customarily been too nationalistic
(and their voters, more so) to seek commonalities with other
countries’ conservatives. The European Parliament, a creation of the
European Union in which parties of kindred ideologies from different
nations form distinct parliamentary blocs, was supposed to become the
fulcrum of cross-border politics. But the parliament’s powers are so
limited that it never remotely eclipsed the prominence of national
legislatures and prime ministers.

What the parliament couldn’t achieve, however, Merkel’s fiscal compact
did in one fell swoop: By, in effect, mandating the budgetary policies
(and some financial regulations) of every E.U. member state, it has
spurred the creation of a European politics. The more that economic
decisions are made at the European level, the more that parties of the
Euro-Left will band together and parties of the Euro-Right will find
common cause. (British Conservatives, however, are so much more
laissez faire in their approach to economics than are their
continental counterparts that they’re likely to keep their distance —
as they did when they rejected Merkel’s compact out of deference to
Britain’s high-flying financial operators.)

The Tories notwithstanding, all politics in Europe isn’t local any
more. Roll over, Bismarck, and give Clemenceau the news: The German
chancellor wants to campaign for the French president. Mein Gott! Mon
Dieu! OMG!

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