Posts Tagged ‘parliament’

Europe’s elites and their democracy

In News on March 1, 2012 at 6:19 pm

The European Union (EU) was never famous for its democratic credentials. Discussion about the EU’s “democratic deficit” began in the 1970s two decades after the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) was established in 1951 and later expanded to the European Economic Community (EEC, 1957).

The argument in favour of more democracy at European level was that as (Western – we are still in Cold War, remember?) European elites were engaging in economic cooperation, the executive branch i.e. the governments were gradually being empowered at the expense of the legislative branch i.e. the parliaments. As Ministers and Prime ministers were meeting in Brussels to agree on reducing cross-border barriers, liberalizing trade and setting a common external tariff, parliaments back home were only asked to ratify the international agreement, post-negotiation.

Following calls in favour of more democracy and accountability at European level, it was decided that European Parliament (EP) members would be finally directly elected by European citizens. The first EP elections took place in 1979, almost three decades after European integration (i.e. this process of European economic cooperation) had begun. The small print was that the EP’s role was consultative.

Over the years, the EP’s powers grew, just like the EEC transformed itself to a European Union with increasing powers not just in trade and agriculture, but also in economic and social policies, capital movements, justice affairs and immigration policy, education and consumer rights to mention a few. The gap between Europe’s elites and peoples widened with every treaty.

The Treaty of Maastricht was voted down by the Danish in 1992, the Treaty of Nice was rejected by the Irish in 2001, the European Constitutional Treaty was rejected by the French and the Dutch in 2005 and the Treaty of Lisbon was voted down by the Irish in 2008. Each and every time the reading of the negative results was the same: citizens were poorly informed and the “against the treaty” campaign was better organized. Each and every time the response was the same: conduct the referendum again (so that voters get it right).

In this light, it should come as no surprise that over the past few months a number of European officials and politicians have stated their preferences on the timing of the Greek elections. What shouldn’t they? European elites never thought much of their citizens and Europe has a tradition of placing markets above people.

For more on how democracy is currently re-invented in Greece, click here.


Greece and the Shock Doctrine

In News on February 15, 2012 at 11:54 pm

In the weekend leading to Sunday 12 February 2012, Greek politicians were debating the necessity of the latest austerity package. The austerity plan was to be approved, as a condition for Greece to receive a second-bailout package by the IMF-EU of €130 billion and to a debt restructuring. The majority of the Greek people are against further austerity measures, which come on top of previous tax increases and public spending cuts. The government knows this and is defying the will of the people.

According the Greek government, represented by appointed and unelected Prime Minister Lucas Papademos and its ministers:

  •  The dilemma facing Greece is “austerity package” versus “leaving the eurozone” – no middle ground exists
  • “Leaving the Eurozone” would entail social and economic disaster, which would see Greece’s standard of living reduced to that of thirty, forty, fifty years (number vary, depending on the emotional state of minister/speaker)
  • As a result, the austerity measures are the “only alternative” to a catastrophic default (more about this here) and should be approved, as it is the only way for the country’s growth and prosperity.

The facts:

  • The bailout package is a loan  and most of its funds will be used to pay previous loans.
  • In line with the neo-liberal agenda of the previous memorandum, the austerity plan foresees: reductions by 22% of the national minimum wage to €600 per month (before social security payments); Employees made easier to be fired (these two measures are known in neo-liberal-speak “reform of the labour market”; Reduction in the supplementary pensions; Reduction in public health expenditure
  • Greece is now in the 5th year of recession, starting in 2008. Its unemployment levels have reached 21%, with youth unemployment at 48%.

During the ten-hour debate in parliament, there was a large demonstration in Athens and other cities of Greece. In Athens, the riot police kept trying to push protestors outside Syntagma Square (where the Greek Parliament stands) and was throwing tear-gas, unprovoked, to  peaceful demonstrators. At some point, riots erupted which ended up in looting and fires across Athens during the night.

In the early hours of Monday 13 February 2012, the Greek parliament approved the austerity plan, with 199 out of 283 votes.

The mainstream media in Greece focused on the destructions that followed the demonstration; the violence; the fire in a historic theatre “Attikon” in Athens; the fact that the Greek government needs to implement harsher measures to gain its lenders’ credibility; the reactions of European officials to the result of the vote.

Not a word was said in the Greek mainstream media about the size of the demonstration, not a word about the fact that demonstrators were shouting “We are not leaving” amidst clouds of tear gas. Not one commentator questioned the legitimacy of the government or even bothered to wonder aloud whether this demonstration was any different from previous ones.

Over the past two years, the Greek people are being bombarded by mainstream media with falsified information that Greece is on the “brink of disaster”, scare-mongering speeches by their politicians about the future of the country, insulting comments from foreign commentators and politicians about Greeks and their “overspending”. Over the past two years, the Greek parliament passes law after law, entailing cuts, tax increases, and anti-social measures at great speed, before it has any time to recover.

Sunday’s events were no exception to this pattern. Is there anyone who still thinks Greece is not under the Shock Doctrine?

A day of no surprises

In News on June 29, 2011 at 3:41 pm

Today at 2pm (UK time), the Greek parliament voted in favour of the austerity measures, which are requested by the EU and the IMF as a condition to release the next instalment of the €110 billion bail-out that Greece received in May 2010. Without this payment, Greece would probably have to default on debt payments due on 15 July (the alternative would be to borrow from the international markets at very, very high rates).

In the 300-seat parliament, 155 MPs voted in favour and 138 against. In the run-up to the vote, members of the Greek government and administrators, as well as European officials have made dramatic political statements to heighten the sense of urgency and stress the need for an approval of the measures by the Greek parliament. George Provopoulos, governor of Greece’s central bank, said that a “no” vote would be suicide. The president of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy said “the impact of the Greek vote would be felt worldwide said”, while the economics Commissioner Olli Rehn said that Greece has two options “pass the mid-term package or default”. While Christine Lagarde, the new head of the International Monetary Fund, called on the Greek opposition party (New Democracy) to support the government in pushing through a new austerity plan. Finally, the deputy prime minister Theodoros Pangalos, continuing his dangerous scare propaganda declared: “A return to the drachma would mean that on the following day banks would be surrounded by terrified people trying to withdraw their money, the army would have to protect them with tanks because there would not be enough police.”[1]

However, anyone who knows the Greek political scene, knows that there was never an really issue of a “no” vote. Party discipline has been at the heart of the Greek political system and the new Socialist government secured a majority of 155 MPs out of the 300 parliament seats last Wednesday. There were really no surprises there. The only surprise today was a negative vote by a Socialist MP (Panagiotis Kourouplis, who was immediately expelled from the socialist party as a result). However, this was matched by a positive vote by Ms Elsa Papadimitriou, MP of the opposition New Democracy party (again, officially no longer belong to the New Democracy party whose official line was against the measure).

As the MPs were voting inside the parliament, there were violent clashes outside the parliament building in Syntagma (Constitution) Square. This is the second day of violent clashes, following yesterday’s demonstration and violence, as there is a nationwide 48-hour strike in opposition to the measures. According to eye witnesses, there was a unprecedented use of tear and gas stun/smoke grenades by the riot police, which created a cloud of chemicals in the centre of Athens, making it impossible for anyone to breathe. According to reports from the Red cross tent at Syntagma Square, there were over 100 people with respiration problems and 40 injured (burn, bruises etc). The riot police used tear gas indistinctively, targeting demonstrators (there were reports from a SKAI journalist that tear gas was fired within a coffee shop), as well as journalists and reporters.

What followed was the usual cat-and-mouse game, played by the riot police and the “hooded” rioters who threw sticks, stones and self-made bombs. There were some arrests and some people ended up in the hospital. The people in the hoods who caused the violence were not arrested. Riot police in Greece is well-known for its lack of training, absence of professionalism, aggressive arrests, abuse of power in general and excessive use of tear gas and den bombs. So again, no surprises there.

The Greek parliament’s approval of the austerity measures was welcomed by European leaders who sighed with relief and markets picked up. According to the common statement issues by the Presidents of the European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and the European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, “the country has taken an important step forward […] but also a vital step back – from the very grave scenario of default”. Again, no surprises there.

[1] Anyone how knows about the military dictatorship in Greece (1967-1974) knows about the tank which run over the entrance of the National Technical University of Athens killing  Greek students in 1973, and can understand that this statement will deeply anger many Greeks and that such words are simply fuelling an already very tense social situation in Greece.

A three-level play

In News on June 19, 2011 at 1:58 pm

The Greek debts crisis is now unravelling in three different levels. The national level, the European level and the citizen level.

At the moment of writing, the Greek parliament is in its first day of a three-day debate, at the end of which the Prime Minister George Papandreou will ask for a vote of confidence of the new cabinet. The new cabinet was announced on 17 June, following two days of drama politics. One of the key changes was replacing the current Finance Minister Giorgos Papaconstantinou, with Evangelos Venizelos, which the Guardian described as “physically imposing presence”  (this apparently is a prerequisite for being Deputy Prime Minister, judging from the equally imposing Mr. Evangelos Pangalos). Mr. Venizelos is Mr. Papandreou’s longtime rival. He come from the Socialists’ “old guard” and was Mr. Papandreou’s opponent in the 2007 race for the party leadership. According some analysts, Mr. Papandreou forged an alliance with his “chief enemy”, with the aim of appeasing some members of his party who were opposing the new austerity programme. This reshuffle will presumably consolidate the Socialist party and will lead to greater support for the tough austerity measures. The hope is that the new government will win the vote of confidence (which is due on 21 June), and the new austerity programme will pass through parliament the week after.

At the same time, the Eurozone finance ministers are meeting in Luxembourg to discuss releasing a loan of up to €12 billion to Greece. This is the late payment of the €110billion EU-IMF aid package that was agreed in May 2010, without which Greece will not be able to pay forthcoming debt repayments. On 16 June, EU Commissioner Oli Rehn urged  Eurozone Finance Ministers to come to a “responsible agreement” on Greece’s bail-out. He also said that the Greek government should endorse the economic measures agreed.  On 17 June, the French President Nicholas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel agreed on principle that any extension of the maturities of the Greek bonds will be purely voluntary (the point of disagreement was the private banks’ contribution to the new aid package). Ms Merkel conceded to the demands of France and the ECB that the private banks’ contribution in the new bail-out package for Greece should be voluntary, she insists that it is “substantial” . However, while European frets, the financial markets jolt every time news were coming from Athens and Brussels. There are fears of a Greek default which could jeopardize the stability of the Eurozone. At the moment of writing, the next Eurozone meeting is 19-20 June is taking place, where it is expected that this agreement will be sealed off. The hope is that there will be an agreement and the new loan will be given to Greece.

Meanwhile, according to the latest poll, 47% of the Greeks are against the new austerity programme, which includes tax increases, cuts in civil servants’ wages and a long list of privatization. Since the bail-out, 400,000 have lost their jobs. Total unemployment is now 16%. Greece’s “indignant citizens” have been camping out in Athens’ central square (Constitution Square) since 25 May in protest against the government’s new measures. For some Greeks the hope is that their pension or their wage will not be reduced any further, that there will not be asked by their employer to work longer hours on the same wage, or that they will still have a job in a few months’ time. For the younger generation, there is no hope.