It's Clear: Europeans Have had Enough!
Watch Europe tip left and right as voters rise in fury against the austerity menu that's been bringing them to utter ruin. In Holland, the right-wing Freedom Party leader, Geert Wilders, brought down the governing coalition on Monday bellowing his defiance for the "diktats from Brussels," and asserting, "We must be master of our own house." Labor and Christian Democrats, Holland's major parties, are crumbling.
Almost certainly doomed is France's Nicolas Sarkozy, with Francois Hollande poised to win in the second round, but the National Front Party's Marine Le Pen's fiery, anti-banker populism has reaped her deserved rewards. As Ambrose Evans-Pritchard writes in the Daily Telegraph: "Elected governments have already been swept away -- or replaced by EU technocrats without a vote, indeed to prevent a vote -- in every Eurozone state where unemployment has reached double-digits: Spain (23.6 percent), Greece (21 percent), Portugal (15 percent), Ireland (14.7 percent) and Slovakia (14 percent)."
What will Chancellor Angela Merkel do as the pan-European mutiny against austerity rises? With her ally Sarkozy in all likelihood gone, it's Germany that's looking isolated. Will Francois Hollande be up to the task of forcing a change of step for Europe and Keynesian reflation? I wish I had confidence in the man, but I don't, even though he was more spirited in Tuesday's (SET ITAL) mano a mano (END ITAL) TV debate with Sarkozy than I'd expected. Marine Le Pen has the fire, no doubt about that.
American discussions of Europe swivel between rationality and hysteria. A discussion of Europe's awful unemployment figures and swelling mutiny against austerity suddenly mutates into tremulous wails about the menace of fascism in France, rancid racism in the Netherlands, the anti-Semitic beast unchained in Germany (in the rather mild form of Gunter Grass's new poem).
A lot of this has to do with Marine Le Pen, leader of France's National Front. Now and again I'll mention her in something I've written, without the obligatory insults about her family heritage and presumed totalitarian agenda. Furious letters pour in, particularly since she made a strong showing in the first round of the French presidential elections.
Marine Le Pen is a nationalist politician, no anti-Semite, quite reasonably exploiting the intense social discontent in France amid the imposition of the bankers' austerity programs.
She has gone to the heart of the matter, asserting that monetary union cannot be fudged, that it is incompatible with the French nation-state. She has won 18 percent of the vote by campaigning to pull France out of the euro and smash the whole project. A recent poll shows only 3 percent of French voters consider immigration the main issue. So logically, Le Pen cannot owe her 18 percent to that issue. The No. 1 issue is employment.
It's true; things could get ugly. Europe's politics are being refashioned before our eyes. Greece has 21 percent unemployment, and the Socialist Pasok Party could face near-extinction in the upcoming elections. In Spain, 1 in 4 persons are out of work, and the right-wing prime minister insists on maintaining austerity. As Evans-Pritchard points out, "We forget now, but Germany was heavily indebted to foreigners in 1930, like Spain today. It was the refusal of the creditor powers (U.S. and France) to reliquary the system and slow monetary contraction that pushed Germany over a cliff. The parallels are haunting."
But there's another aspect to this habit of flinging the charge of fascism at Europe, and that's the simple matter of national hypocrisy. The mobs that flooded into the streets to revel in the execution of Osama bin Laden were not exulting in America, land of the free and of constitutional propriety. They were lauding brute, lawless, lethal force. In this year of political conventions we'll be hearing a lot of tub-thumping about American freedoms, but if there's any nation in the world that is well on the way to meriting the admittedly vague label of "fascist," surely it's the United States.
Ultimately, a fascist state claims the right to imprison its victims without term or hope of redress or legal representation. As the executive power, in the form of the president, it claims the right to kill its enemies, whether citizens (al-Awlaki) or others (Guantanamo), without judicial review. In other words, rule by decree -- which is what Hitler's Enabling Act, won him in March 1933.
Alexander Cockburn is co-editor with Jeffrey St. Clair of the muckraking newsletter CounterPunch. He is also co-author of the new book "Dime's Worth of Difference: Beyond the Lesser of Two Evils," available through www.counterpunch.com. To find out more about Alexander Cockburn and read features by other columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.