DPC French Market, New Orleans 1910
From southern Europe to the far north, matters are shifting, sometimes slowly, sometimes faster. There are moments when it seems all that goes on is the negotiations over the Greek dire financial situation and its bailout conditions, but even there nothing stands still. The Financial Times ran a story claiming Greece is about to default on is debt(s), and many a pundit jumped on that, but there was nothing new there. Of course they are considering such options, but they are looking at many others as well. That doesn’t prove anything, though.
Yanis Varoufakis’ publisher, Public Affairs Books, posted a promo for an upcoming book by the Greek Finance Minister, due out only in 2016, mind you, that reveals a few things that haven’t gotten much attention to date. It’s good to keep in mind that most of the book will have been written before Yanis joined the new Greek government on January 26, and not see it as a reaction to the negotiations that have played out after that date.
Varoufakis simply analyzes the structure of the EU and the eurozone, as well as the peculiar place the ECB has in both. Some may find what he writes provocative, but that’s beside the point. It’s not as if Europe is beyond analysis; indeed, such analysis is long overdue.
Indeed, it may well be the lack of it, and the idea in Brussels that it is exempt from scrutiny, even as institutions such as the ECB build billion dollar edifices as the Greek population goes hungry, that could be its downfall. It may be better to be critical and make necessary changes than to be hardheaded and precipitate your own downfall. Here’s the blurb for the book:
“The strong do as they can and the weak suffer what they must.” —Thucydides
The fate of the global economy hangs in the balance, and Europe is doing its utmost to undermine it, to destabilize America, and to spawn new forms of authoritarianism. Europe has dragged the world into hideous morasses twice in the last one hundred years… it can do it again. Yanis Varoufakis, the newly elected Finance Minister of Greece, has a front-row seat, and shows the Eurozone to be a house of cards destined to fall without a radical change in direction. And, if the EU falls apart, he argues, the global economy will not be far behind.
Varoufakis shows how, once America abandoned Europe in 1971 from the dollar zone, Europe’s leaders decided to create a monetary union of 18 nations without control of their own money, without democratic accountability, and without a government to support the Central Bank.
This bizarre economic super-power was equipped with none of the shock absorbers necessary to contain a financial crisis, while its design ensured that, when it came, the crisis would be massive. When disaster hit in 2009, Europe turned against itself, humiliating millions of innocent citizens, driving populations to despair, and buttressing a form of bigotry unseen since WWII.
In the epic battle for Europe’s integrity and soul, the forces of reason and humanism will have to face down the new forms of authoritarianism. Europe’s crisis is pregnant with radically regressive forces that have the capacity to cause a humanitarian bloodbath while extinguishing the hope for shared prosperity for generations to come. The principle of the greatest austerity for the European economies suffering the greatest recessions would be quaint if it were not also the harbinger of misanthropy and racism.
Here, Varoufakis offers concrete policies that the rest of the world can take part in to intervene and help save Europe from impending catastrophe, and presents the ultimate case against austerity. With passionate, informative, and at times humorous prose, he warns that the implosion of an admittedly crisis-ridden and deeply irrational European capitalism should be avoided at all cost. Europe, he argues, is too important to be left to the Europeans.
How dire the situation is in Greece becomes obvious from the following article by documentary film maker Constantin Xekalos, posted on Beppe Grillo’s site. It makes you wonder how Europe dare let this happen. How it could possibly have insisted prior to the January elections that the Greeks should vote for the incumbent government, and how someone like Eurogroup head Dijsselbloem could ever have had the gall to point to “all the progress we’ve made”.
Greece is a social disaster zone. 3 million people are without guaranteed healthcare, 600,000 children are living under the breadline and more than half of them are unable to meet their daily nutritional needs. 90% of families living in the poorer areas rely on food banks and feeding schemes for survival, and unemployment is approaching 30%, with youth unemployment approaching 60%. These are not just numbers, they are real people. In order to show their faces and tell their stories, writer and documentary film maker from Crete and now living in Florence, Constantin Xekalos, decided to make a documentary film entitled: “Greece, the Euro’s greatest success “. In today’s Passaparola he talks about this documentary film and about the suffering of the Greek people that he has encountered in his personal experience. Today it is all happening, but is Italy next?
The healthcare tragedy in Greece When we made this documentary it was said that 1/3 of the Greek population, (more than 3 million people,) were without any guaranteed healthcare. In the interim that number has grown. They have been abandoned. If you go to a hospital, obviously a public one, they will treat you and they will accept you if it is an emergency, but if you are admitted, you then have to pay. If you are unable to pay, they send the bill to the Receiver of Revenue’s office and they take it from there. If you have no money, they start with foreclosure, even your home , even if it is your only home!
This is crime against society that is totally unacceptable. In an advanced and so-called democratic Country that is part of the western world, things like this are totally inconceivable, absurd and unacceptable. I repeat, this is crime against society that we absolutely cannot accept! If you are ill, democracy guarantees the treatment you need, otherwise it should be called by some other name. When a child is not guaranteed the nutrition he/she needs, a mere helpless child, or elderly people that are no longer able to look after themselves, then that is no longer democracy. Some of the older Greeks were telling me that when the Germans were there during the occupation in the Second World War, the people lived exactly like they are living now.
The Greeks are dying of hunger 90% of Greek families living in the poorer areas are obliged to rely on food banks and feeding schemes in order to survive. Unfortunately there are many in this situation. We toured a number of Athens’ districts and in each and every district there is a square where good people, people who care about others and truly have a sense of community have rolled up their sleeves and, with the help of the Church, are providing meals for those who would otherwise have nothing to eat. Every district has its own square. I saw children passing out because of lack of food, but are too embarrassed to admit it. We simply cannot accept this kind of thing. It’s a crime when children go without food to eat. I will shout that from the rooftops until I burst and I hope that they lay charges against me: it is a crime when a child cannot get enough to eat!
The disappearance of the Greek middle-class Many good people found themselves unemployed from one day to the next, not through any fault of their own and not by choice, not lazy people as they would have us believe. They want to work but at this point there simply are no jobs any more. The social fabric is gone, there is no more middle-class, it is virtually nonexistent. All there is is an ever-shrinking oligarchy of very wealthy people and then the rest of the people who are becoming ever poorer. Very real poverty! Currently, and here I’m talking about the latest data from a month ago now, someone who does indeed find a job has to accept a salary of €300 a month . Take into account that Athens is a very expensive city to live in, even more so than Florence. I happen to live in Florence so this is just by way of example, but I was horrified at the thought. How on earth do these people manage to live? There is no way that they can live decently, there is no longer any dignity and therefore they cannot be free: they are destroying your soul as well as you body!
Over 50% of young people are unemployed Youth unemployment is now standing somewhere between 50% and 60% . The young people do whatever they can, they accept any kind of position, even things that not right and unfair, simply because necessity forces them to accept job offers that should not even be made. I saw jobs offered at €100 a month . This sort of thing is now happening here in Italy as well.
What all this will eventually lead to, inevitably so, becomes clear from the following. Anti-euro, anti-immigrant, anti-bailout and down the line anti anything to do with the failed European project. In Finland, of all places, the anti-euro party looks certain to get into the next government. Finland’s economy is in tatters, despite its AAA rating, and people increasingly choose to see the world through blinders.
The anti-euro The Finns party, which eight years ago got just 4% of the vote, is now dressing itself up for Cabinet seats as Finnish voters are set to oust the government after four years of economic failure. The Finns, whose support is based on equal parts of anti-euro, anti-immigrant and anti-establishment sentiment, have captured voters on the back of the euro-area’s economic crisis and a home-grown collapse of key industries. In the 2011 election, during the height of the euro crisis, it shocked the traditional parties by winning 19% of the vote. “We can’t be ignored, because a strong majority government won’t be possible without us,” Timo Soini, the party leader, said [..]
The country is struggling to emerge from a three-year recession after key industries such as its papermakers have buckled amid slumping demand and Nokia Oyj lost in the smartphone war, cutting thousands of jobs. The government has raised taxes and lowered spending, adding to unpopularity, and on top of that have been bailout costs for Greece and Portugal, among others, which have eroded finances for Finland, still top-rated at Fitch Ratings and Moody’s Investors Service. “Our stance will be very tight, no matter what,” Soini said. “Nothing is forcing Finland to participate in these bailout policies. If we don’t want to take part, we can refuse.”
Soini’s recipe for fixing the economy includes encouraging exports, backing entrepreneurship, investing in road infrastructure and cutting red tape. The party seeks to balance public finances through budget cuts of as much as €3 billion and higher taxes for the wealthy. The euro-skeptic group will probably join a three-party coalition. Polls predict more than 50 seats out of 200 for the opposition Center Party.
The Center Party backed bailouts and loans for Greece, Portugal and Ireland while in government in 2010 and 2011 and was then ousted. It has since opposed further help, alongside The Finns party. The Center Party and us will have a majority within the government, if it keeps the stance it has had,” Soini said. His group isn’t currently pushing for Finland to exit the euro. Still, “Finland should under no circumstances declare it will always and forever stay,” he said.
The party first negotiated joining government after the 2011 elections, after catapulting to third place with 39 lawmakers. Its opposition to euro-area bailouts in the height of the crisis meant the door to government was closed. In 2007, its five seats didn’t qualify for an invitation to join talks to form a ruling coalition. “We’ve grown, we’ve moved forward, we’ve stabilized,” Soini said. “It’s a key goal for us to consolidate our backing and be one of the big parties, so that we’re not just a one-vote wonder.”
Of course, there are worse options than the True Finns. You can get from anti-immigrant to downright extreme right wing, where Greece may be headed if Europe doesn’t adapt to Syriza’s view of what the eurozone might be.
The prevailing views amongst Europe’s richer nations, and its domestic banking sectors, don’t look promising. And when the European project crashes to a halt, things are not going be pretty. The wisest thing for Brussels to do may well be to try and dismantle itself as peacefully as it can. But Brussels is far too loaded with people seeking to hold on to the power they have gathered.
Still, there’s no denying they have held sway over rapidly deteriorating conditions on the ground (though they will prefer to lay the blame elsewhere), which will down the line lead to their own downfall. They better listen to Yanis now.