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Dear Angie, what part of ‘Nein’ do you not understand?

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So says Le Monde Diplomatique about the rousing change of government in Greece: “From multiple divisions and meetings (from 1968) of the left and progressive reformer, Syriza [Greece’s Radical Left Coalition party] made the biggest breakthrough of these critical elections. By itself, this result could spell the end of bipartisanship.”

“One of the three major issues of the election,” the L M Diplo continued, “was precisely to determine if any of the leftist forces successfully secure a dominant position. Issue decided: with 16.8% of the votes, it definitely gets Syriza leadership status, rising even as the second political force – behind New Democracy (ND, right), with only two points difference. Among young people who voted for the first time, among the unemployed, and throughout the Athens area, Syriza tops.”

From the French original: “Issu de multiples divisions et réunions (à partir de 1968) de la gauche réformatrice et progressiste, Syriza a fait la plus importante percée de ces élections décisives. A lui seul, ce résultat pourrait sonner le glas du bipartisme.”

“L’un des trois enjeux majeurs du scrutin consistait précisément à déterminer si l’une des forces de gauche parviendrait à s’assurer une position dominante. Question tranchée : avec 16,8 % des suffrages, Syriza obtient incontestablement ce statut de leader, se hissant même au rang de deuxième force politique du pays – derrière Nouvelle Démocratie (ND, droite), avec seulement deux points d’écart. Chez les jeunes qui ont voté pour la première fois, chez les sans-emploi, et dans toute la région d’Athènes, Syriza arrive en tête.”

There’s an abundance of ferment in Greece, real ferment, with the Occupy zeal but with a solid political base and programme this time. This re-post from Links (International Journal of Socialist Renewal) has said that Antarsya, the Front of the Greek Anti-Capitalist Left, is a united front of left-wing groups. It is separate from Syriza. There are a number of political differences between Syriza and Antarsya — including on whether to demand immediate withdrawal from the European Union. Antarsya’s position statement before the 06 May 2012 election indicates how volatile this ferment is.

Those dour Germans seem not to have understood what it is that is happening in Greichenland (as Greece is known in Deutschland) and, being firmly stuck in wirtschaftswunder mode, the German ruling oligarchies are making disapproving noises. Der Spiegel has said that that “several German leaders voiced their demands Wednesday that the country stick with the austerity measures negotiated as part of the most recent bailout package”.

The Spiegel reported that Martin Schulz, President of the European Parliament and a member of Germany’s center-left Social Democratic Party, told the tabloid Bild: “The Greek parties should bear in mind that a stable government that holds to agreements is a basic prerequisite for further support from the euro-zone countries.”

Moreover, that Jörg Asmussen, European Central Bank board member, told the German business daily Handelsblatt: “Greece must know that there is no alternative to the agreed to restructuring arrangement, if it wants to stay a member of the euro zone.”

The Germans are deaf to the exceedingly loud “NO!” that is coming out of Greece. Alexis Tsipras, head of Greece’s Coalition of the Radical Left (Syriza), who has been charged with forming the new government, declared on Tuesday that his country’s agreement to the rescue package was null and void. “The pro-bailout parties no longer have a majority in parliament to vote in destructive measures for the Greek people,” Tsipras said. “The popular mandate clearly renders the bailout agreement invalid.”

Now, Angie, what part of “Nein” do you not understand?

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Austerity and debt, the proletariat and protest – 1

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Archbishop Ieronymos, the head of the Church of Greece. Photo: ekathimerini

A round-up of reports on austerity and debt:

‘Head of Greek Church questions austerity, troika’ – Archbishop Ieronymos, the head of the Church of Greece, has taken the rare step of writing to Prime Minister Lucas Papademos to express serious concerns about the effectiveness of the government’s fiscal policy and the effect it is having on Greek people. In his letter, Ieronymos also raises doubts about the role of the European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund – or troika – in the country and whether Greece should agree to further austerity measures to receive its next bailout, suggesting that they are “larger doses of a medicine that is proving deadly.”

“Greeks’ unprecedented patience is running out, fear is giving way to rage and the danger of a social explosion cannot be ignored any more, neither by those who give orders nor by those who execute their deadly recipes,” he wrote. “It seems clear now that our homeland’s drama will not finish here but may take on new, uncontrollable, dimensions,” he wrote. “There are, at the moment, demands for even tougher, more painful and even more unfair measures along the same ineffective and unsuccessful lines as in our recent past. There are demands for even bigger doses of a medicine which is proving deadly. There are demands for commitments that do not solve the problem but only put off temporarily the foretold death of our economy. Meanwhile, the put our national sovereignty up for collateral.”

‘Greek debt audit campaign calls new agreements impoverishing’ – The new International Treaty and Memorandum, which accompany the ‘haircut’ of Greek public debt, push the Greek people further into impoverishment. They mean a dramatic drop in both living standards and working conditions, and enslave us to the state’s creditors. The reductions in pensions and wages, the abolition of collective bargaining legislation (contrary to Article 22 of our Constitution), and the 150 000 public sector redundancies lead to mass hunger and wages of 300 or 400 euros a month.

‘Tanzanian govt rejects IMF plan on minerals royalties’ – The government has rejected a proposal by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to introduce a new system to calculate mining royalties because doing so would adversely affect tax collections. Had the government agreed to introduce the single royalty payment, the amount of tax the government collects from the mining firms would have dropped significantly.

‘Portugal unions slam IMF, EU’s “poverty agenda” ‘ – Thousands of protesters have taken to the streets of Lisbon to voice their opposition to government austerity policies. Unions organised the march in protest at spending cuts agreed in return for a seventy eight billion euro bailout. Armenio Carlos, the leader of the Confederation fo Portuguese Workers, said: “We are here to protest against exploitation, inequality and poverty. “That’s the agenda of the troika: the IMF, the EU and the European Central Bank.”

‘Hundreds of thousands rally in Portugal against austerity’ – Hundreds of thousands protested in Portugal Saturday against austerity measures ahead of next week’s talks with international creditors, with unions vowing to keep up the pressure. Officials from the so-called Troika — the European Union, European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund — will next week evaluate progress on the country’s bailout programme. Demonstrators arrived in Lisbon from across the country in the rally described as one of the country’s biggest in three decades. Many were brandishing banners such as “The struggle continues” and “No to exploitation, no to inequality, no to impoverishment.”

‘Greece to pledge 20% cut in minimum wage, draft accord shows’ – Greece will pledge permanent spending cuts, including lower pension payments and a 20 percent reduction in the minimum wage, as the economy contracts this year at a faster pace than originally estimated, according to the draft of a new financing deal with the European Union and International Monetary Fund. “To restore competitiveness and growth, we will accelerate implementation of deep structural reforms in the labor, product and service markets,” according to the letter of intent addressed to IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde in a document obtained by Bloomberg News.

[With thanks to the Bretton Woods Project for its compilation of these reports.]

Of German wurst, French fries and an IMF bullet

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A closed chips stall called 'La Reine des Fritures' ('The Queen of French Fries') in French Flanders. Photo: Stephan Vanfleteren / Panos Pictures

Le Monde Diplomatique, that fearless critic of globalisation and the tyranny of the multilateral lending institutions, has said in its 2011 December issue that in November, the Franco-German directorate of the European Union, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fundthe ‘troika’ — were furious when the Greek prime minister, George Papandreou, announced plans to hold a referendum.

Absolute oligarchs dislike referendums because the idea has a great deal to do with consultation – not a favourite subject for the IMF in the 67 years it has claimed to shape the global economy. That is why, summoned to Cannes for an interview during a summit that his country was too small to attend, kept waiting, and publicly upbraided by Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy (who were responsible for exacerbating the crisis), Papandreou was forced to abandon the plan for a referendum and resign. His successor, a former vice-president of the ECB, promptly decided to include in the Athens government a far-right organisation banned since the Greek colonels lost power in 1974.

In ‘Europe in crisis, rule by troika’, Serge Halimi has written in LMD that the European project was supposed to secure prosperity, strengthen democracy in states formerly ruled by juntas (Greece, Spain, Portugal), and defuse “nationalism as a source of war”. But it is having the opposite effect, with drastic cuts, puppet governments at the call of the brokers, and renewed strife between nations. Everything, in short, that the IMF and the World Bank have pursued since 1944 mostly successfully in Asia, Africa and South America.

Former bankers Lucas Papademos and Mario Monti have taken over in Athens and Rome, exploiting the threat of bankruptcy and the fear of chaos. They are not apolitical technicians but men of the right, members of the Trilateral Commission that blamed western societies for being too democratic. “Having crushed Greece and Italy, the EU and the IMF have now set their sights on Hungary and Spain,” Halimi has written, and it is a grim warning.

A ferris wheel runs in the centre of Brussels next to an old building advertising Martini and Zanussi. Photo: Stephan Vanfleteren / Panos Pictures

Red Pepper has more on the ways and means of the IMF.

“It’s stripped millions of people of their livelihoods, but the global economic crisis has brought one institution back from the dead: the International Monetary Fund. Two years ago, the IMF looked to be on its last legs. It had got to the stage where nobody wanted to borrow its money. Many developing countries started accumulating reserves to avoid ever having to go to the IMF loan shark. Developed countries in trouble would go just about anywhere – China, Russia, Saudi Arabia – to avoid the IMF.”

Then came the meltdown. “The IMF failed to see it coming – pretty damning for a body supposed to oversee global financial stability – but bankrupt countries suddenly had no choice but to come begging.” Exactly the point – the IMF did see it coming because this is what its prescriptions for the previous decade were aimed at in the first place. In April last year, the G20 pumped the organisation with £330 billion of new funds. Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano called the decision ‘black humour’, saying it would ‘rub salt in the wound’ of countries hit by a crisis they did not create. The IMF is now re-armed and doubly dangerous, with large new areas in what was formerly the Eurozone to subjugate.

Not quietly by any means. After all, the Greeks are Greeks first and then, perhaps, Europeans. Ditto with the Italians, Portuguese, Hungarians, Spaniards and Latvians. It is looking rather like the Germans and the French (elite, mind you, not the labour, the unemployed, the migrants and the armies of informal workers struggling on 25 euros a day) are the last Europeans left.

But this is why major protests have been convulsing Greece throughout the autumn with strikes, and occupations of the main squares in many towns. Civil servants blockaded their ministries, preventing ministers from accessing their departments in September and October. The early November surprise announcement of a popular referendum in Greece on the EU-IMF loan terms and conditions would have marked the first time an IMF lending package was subjected to a test of popular ownership. In the end the political pressure heaped on the Greek prime minister by other European countries, the Greek political opposition and factions from within his own government forced him to back down and resign as prime minister.

After the collapse of the Greek government, Elena Papadopoulou of the Athens-based Nicos Poulantzas Institute said: “Despite the proclaimed enthusiasm, there is no realistic reason to believe that the new coalition government – with the participation of the extreme right – will follow anything other than the socially destructive policies applied according to IMF recipes with the agreement of the European elites.”

‘Germany is not head of the class of the Union’

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A 'debt meter' shows the level of Germany's debt, which is currently over 80 percent of GDP. By European standards, that is nothing to boast about. Photo: Der Spiegel / Carsten Koall

About the euro and Germany, and about Europa and the Germans, there’s not a lot that can be read on the matter that helps clear it up. We need some help from inside Europe to do that – instead of clueless yammering about ‘markets’ from American economists, or instead of smug garbage about Euro politics from barmy Brit commentators, and instead of overaged tripe about the EU from the World Bank and the IMF. Without further ado, here’s the help.

Jacques Attali, the influential former advisor to Mitterrand, has sent a blunt warning to Angela Merkel, the German Bundeskanzlerin. Writing in Slate.fr Attali has said that Merkel either must agree to the purchase of defaulted European bonds by the European Central Bank and the issuance of European bonds, or she will end up holding the smoking gun of Europe’s suicide. In a translation of Attali’s short but astringent article, helpfully provided by Sign and Sight, we are told that he rids Germans of their most cherished illusions. “Germany is not head of the class of the Union, who winds up having to pay for the sins of all the others. Its public debt is close to 82 percent of its gross domestic product, practically as bad as France. Ten of its banks, all owned by the government, which provide twenty percent of the credit outside of the financial markets, are currently in very poor condition. Germany’s energy consumption will increasingly rely on Russian gas, which today represents 37 percent of its imports. Its demographics are so catastrophic, that Germany will already have less inhabitants than France in 2060, and 44 percent of the Germans are over 65 in comparison to 35 percent of the French, which will make it particularly difficult for Germany to repay its debts.” Over to you, Angie, if you dare.

"We are deeply ashamed," the German parliament declared in a joint statement issued on Tuesday condemning the crimes committed by a neo-Nazi terror cell. Photo: Der Spiegel / Michael Gottschalk / dapd

Here is part of the French original:

Elle n’est pas le bon élève de l’Union, qui refuse de payer pour les erreurs des autres. Sa dette publique est de 82% du PIB, pratiquement égale à la dette française; dix de ses banques, toutes publiques, qui fournissent 20% des crédits au secteur non financier allemand, sont en très mauvaise situation. Sa consommation d’énergie dépendra de plus en plus du gaz russe, qui représente 37% de ses importations. Sa démographie est catastrophique au point que, en 2060, il y aura moins d’Allemands que de Français et que 44% de la population allemande aura plus de 65 ans contre seulement 35% en France, ce qui rendra particulièrement difficile le remboursement de la dette publique allemande. Enfin, l’avenir de l’industrie allemande n’est pas si prometteur qu’elle le croit: selon une récente étude anglaise, sur les 100 entreprises les plus innovantes du  monde, 11 sont françaises et seulement 4 sont allemandes.

What is it about Deutschland, Germans and the idea of Europe that invariably gets all tangled up in knots? Eurozine has presented an interview, originally carried by the magazine Esprit, with Jan-Werner Müller who talks about “German contradictions”.

This situation now has to be addressed by leaders who are clearly not great believers in moral-historical justifications for European unity, and who often obfuscate the issues: Germany’s foreign minister has just called for ‘more Europe’ while a Christian Democratic minister recently even demanded the creation of the ‘United States of Europe’ – without saying what in practice this would mean. So I fear that Germany has no real road map of how it wants to relate to Europe, other than preserving what has already been achieved in the way of economic gains and personal freedoms (e.g. travel), while at the same time minimizing the costs.

To be sure, there are also some voices who advocate a much more assertive global role for Germany in conjunction with core Europe (of course France in particular) – for instance the political theorist Herfried Münkler, who in a recent article in Der Spiegel openly expressed his concern that Europe is being destroyed by its periphery (e.g. Greece), instead of adopting a global strategy to increase its power. He explicitly called for ‘all power to the centre’ so as to re-empower European elites and for Germany to exercise more leadership, rather than hoping for some illusory democratization of the EU as it is. This is a coherent stance that may well become attractive for a German government, especially if the current approach of muddling through makes neither Germans nor other Europeans really happy – and fails to solve the Euro crisis.