In the 1980s, the prospect of EU access for Greece, Spain and Portugal helped to pave the way to democracy. Today, EU economic policies contribute to the dismantling of these democracies.
All the three countries mentioned above are experimenting a long-term recession. The future of Southern Europe looks grim with prospects of long-term instability and unrest. Popular reactions to the harsh economic policies have taken various forms:
In Spain, break-up regional forces have been reinforced. In the Basque country, moderate and extreme nationalists were the winners of the October elections while state parties (PP – Conservatives and PSOE – socialdemocrats) collapsed. The same is expected to happen in Catalonia later this year.
Deligitimazation of the regime brought a high popular vote for the extreme right in the Greek June 2012 elections (while current polls credit Golden Dawn, the main extreme right-wing force with 14 per cent of the vote).
Recently, the Portuguese government could not pass measures due to high popular resistance. In all three countries, protests, street unrest and clashes with the police have become daily events.
Every day, a political drama unfolds in the South of Europe as governments struggle to survive. Democratic regimes are under tremendous pressure.
What is more severe though is the social drama: people lose their jobs, young people migrate for a better future, an increasing amount of homeless people start to appear in the streets, patients can no longer afford to buy their medicines. Cuts in education, welfare and health have brought the populations of Southern Europe down to their knees.
No one objects to cuts in bureaucratic and unnecessary state instruments. Deficit needs to be reduced but this cannot happen overnight. The imposition of a Merkel inspired narrow-minded logic is not a viable policy.
A sincere reflection on what went wrong in the South and the periphery of Europe needs to be sought. Policy failure did not only affect Greece but also hit the EU’s best students – Spain and Ireland who have long ago adopted the EU neo-liberal acquis.
Rather than boosting the importance of neo-liberal orthodoxies, EU officials should wake up to reality. A loosening of the current harsh budget rules, an extension of debt payment for the heavily indebted EU countries and considerable EU investment in job creating sectors (e.g. green investment) should be part of a new beginning.