Sunday, 1 June 2014

The people have spoken

This article was published in The Malta Independent on Sunday - 01 06 2014

We had a weekend of elections and the people have spoken loud and clear.

On the local front the MEP election results gave a huge endorsement to PL government and thumbs down to PN opposition in a degree much bigger than one could reasonably foresee.

The PN can fool themselves to their heart’s delight if they rejoice electing, by a whisker, three MEP candidates whilst ignoring that in first count votes they lost to PL with even a bigger percentage margin than their disastrous performance of March 2013.

The message for the PN, if they want to take it, needs little sophisticated interpretation.  I quite agree with their Leader that any analysis report would be superfluous because there is very little to analyse. 

In fact if such a report were to be written it could be condensed in one simple sentence:  The PN have lost because they have yet to accept the people’s verdict with humility and remember they are in Opposition. 

At least until last weekend they still had not accepted the role designed for them by the electorate at last general elections. PN still operated as if they had a God given right to govern.  They behaved in defiance of the people’s mandate as if by obstructing the Government confrontationally and by spreading doom and gloom even where there is evidence of daybreak,  the PN was pursuing God’s will to be restored to government irrespective of the electorate’s will.

This attitude suits PL well in the short term but too much of a good thing could be deceptive.   PL must guard against over-confidence and must proceed as if their majority is a mere handful. 

In many ways while giving a round endorsement to government policies the people were also protesting against the PN’s defiance.  Labour’s exceptional performance is a mixed result of their own merits and their opponents’ deficiencies.   They can control the former but not the latter.

Last weekend’s MEP elections had significance beyond our shores. There had been
some trepidation that mainstream  parties would lose ground to radical protest movements.

Protest parties did well in some places. The UK Independence Party (UKIP), whose leader had predicted “an earthquake” in the election, came first in the UK.  France also saw an “earthquake” – the phrase the French prime minister used to describe the first place performance of the country’s Front National, which advocates the dismantling of the Eurozone.

In Greece, first place went to Syriza, a party opposed to the austerity measures that accompanied the country’s bail-outs. Protest parties made gains in many other countries, not just in the periphery but also in ‘core’ Eurozone countries including Germany, where a breakthrough was made by Alternative fuer
Deutschland, a new party that favours a Eurozone break-up.   They probably command little sensibility to how much Germany has gained from the Euro through avoiding the loss of competitiveness they would have suffered from appreciation of the Deutsche Mark if they still had their own currency.

But we had surprises on the Europhile side as well.   Matteo Renzi in Italy  showed what can be done by a young leader who offers the sort of political leadership the Italians have been long yearning for; the leadership that Berlusconi had promised but failed to deliver.

There is so much in common between Prime Ministers Renzi and Muscat:
·         Both are leaders of socialist parties
·         They are roughly of the same age
·         They are both having their first experience as Prime Ministers
·         They were both chosen to lead their party when it was practically non- electable
·         Both worked miracles in turning round the fortunes of their party They accept a challenge and go head on to win it
·         They communicate exceptionally well to deliver unity of purpose
·         Both command an appeal beyond the traditional boundaries of the party they lead.
·         Both are strong pro-Europeans
·         They both believe that growth not austerity is the solution to Europe's problems
·         Both want Martin Schultz to be the next Commission President
·         They both fight excessive bureaucracy and let nothing stand in the way of getting things done
·         They are both election winners
·         They lead the only two EU governments that have been roundly endorsed by their electorates in last weekend’s MEP elections.
Pity that the other main socialist Prime Minister in Europe seems cut form a different cloth. It is indeed worrying that in an important country like France the main political force is now the far right Front National of Le Pen whose policies are ultra-nationalistic bent on dismantling all that true Europeans built over the last six decades where the continent enjoyed unprecedented period of peace and economic development.

Why is the French electorate behaving so differently from the Italian and Maltese electorates?

Simply because President Hollande is failing to deliver on his main campaign promise to be a valuable counter-weight to the power of Chancellor Merkel in the Council of Ministers of the EU. Where it matters Merkel is still calling the shots and preaching the merits of austerity and expecting all EU countries to become perfect images of the motherland. This does not work. The EU is a union of nation states with their own individual identities but wishing to share their economic fortunes in a spirit of social solidarity.

Following last weekend’s result France would do well to team up with Italy and Malta and seek support from other states whose economic growth is being restricted by misplaced austerity measures.    They should join forces to press Germany and other core Euro countries to let the ECB operate autonomously according to its mandate and lift the pressure for the ECB to fight non-existing inflation; to let the ECB do whatever it takes to save the Euro and repair the transmission mechanism which is blocking the delivery of its monetary accommodation measures to the places where it is most needed.

Without growth sourced by efficient credit markets for Italy’s SME’s, Renzi cannot deliver.   He needs to use his newly acquired political capital to bring a fresh approach to EU’s economic management in the second semester when Italy enjoys the Presidency. That is the most effective and apt response to the significant protest vote delivered by European electors last weekend.  They must be listened to and Europe must change.

Countries in the Euro must not only share their currency; they must also share their economic fortunes. Those that are not prepared for this must graciously exit the common currency so outside the core currency bloc the EU becomes a looser arrangement as demanded by voters in UK and Denmark.   This double act of deeper integration at the core and looser arrangement for the periphery is the only way forward for the EU to remain relevant.

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