Monday, May 8, 2017

Macron v. Schaueble?

Needless to say, those of us who are not fascists were quite relieved by Emmanuel Macron's substantial victory over Marine LePen in the French election.  It is understandable that many on the French left were uncomfortable supporting a banker/financier, but despite the refusal of Jean-Luc Mélanchon to endorse his centrist rival, most progressives managed to overcome their misgivings.

One voice of the left who is quite positive about Macron is Yanis Varoufakis.  You may remember Varofakis as the Greek envoy to the EU for bailout talks a couple of years ago.  He resigned as finance minister to Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras when Tsipras caved in to German demands that Greece accept yet another round of austerity in return for loan "renegotiation" — in essence, accepting who knows how many more years (still counting) of Greek suffering for the sake of staying in the Eurozone.

The architect of European austerity was German finance minister Wolfgang Schaueble.  Austerity measures have provided moralistic gratification to northern European Protestants raised on the fable of the grasshopper and the ant; but, more importantly, they make it possible for German and Dutch banks to avoid writing off a lot of bad loans to southern Europe.  When Varofakis opposed more austerity, he had an important ally: Emmanuel Macron.  Macron resigned from François Hollande's government at about the same time Varofakis resigned from Tsipras's.

Only aggressively stimulative economic action will do anything to alleviate double-digit southern European unemployment, and Italy and Spain have suffered under austerity almost as badly as Greece.  Perhaps Macron will shift the balance of power in the EU away from Germany; perhaps the French will accept some softening of their ironclad job protections in exchange for a great many more job opportunities.  Upcoming contests for seats in the French Parliament are likely to determine just how much or how little Macron can accomplish.

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