Four more years “in search of lost time” for Europe? “Madame Alternativlos” and her eurozone austerity disaster

Angela Merkel was sworn into office as German Chancellor for the first time on precisely this date, November 22nd, in 2005, eleven years ago. On Sunday (November 20th) she announced her candidacy at the next parliamentary elections in Germany, well ahead of her initial intention to wait until January. The election is due to take place in approximately ten months from now, most likely in late September or early October, 2017. The current “political climate“ in Germany seems to be that there is no alternative to her continuing on after the next election. Yet, there is.

Chancellor Merkel (July 2010), here pictured with hands folded in a diamond shape, a
gesture which  has widely been interpreted as her signature hand gesture, or
the signature hand gesture of her "there is no alternative" attitude
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Just three days prior to that, at Thursday's (November 17
th) press conference with US president, Barack Obama, in Berlin, at the occasion of Obama's last state visit to Germany, she had evaded clear answers to questions about her own future beyond 2017 and had urged everyone to wait until the beginning of the election year itself. A couple of minutes later, she also stated „Demokratie lebt vom Wechsel - democracy is kept alive by change“. This was, of course, in reference to the current transition from the incumbent president Obama to president-elect Trump in the U.S., but it could also have been a hint at her own future. Yet, in hindsight, and in line with the decision she announced just a few days later, it turned out not to be, or in other words, to merely be a diplomatic phrase. The current “political climate“ in Germany seems to be that there is no alternative to Merkel (aged 62) continuing on after the next election, thus extending her tenure to over twelve years, and to fifteen years if she would stay on for the entire next four-year term. Thus she would, in late 2019, be overtaking the famous first post-war Chancellor Konrad Adenauer (fourteen years, 1949-1963) and, at the end of the said term, in 2021, be just short of the sixteen years her mentor in the 1990s, Helmut Kohl, was in office (
1982-1998; both Adenauer and Kohl also representing her own party, the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU)).

Yet, within the last couple of months, meetings have taken place of some members of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), the Greens (bourgeois centre-left), and the democratic socialist Left Party (Die Linke), in order to (tentatively) make preparations for a possible alternative centre-left coalition to replace Merkel's Grand Coalition (formed by her own Conservative fraction (made up of the CDU and the - more conservative - Bavarian sister party CSU) and the SPD) a year from now. For this to be possible, the SPD would have to modify its current profile the most, by moving left again, away from current centrist or even centre-right positions on most issues, that the party took to be able to govern together with Merkel; but this seems in the realm of the possible in light of the (by German standards) still rather early pre-election stages we're currently in (usually the main campaigning doesn't really kick off before the end of the winter, so about five months ahead of the election date).

Latest polls (if we can still “trust“ any of them after the failures of the pollsters in the UK and the US this year) suggest that a “Red-Red-Green“ coalition is just short of the 50% mark and thus a majority in parliament; but it could gain more dynamics if, from the coming spring at the latest, it presents itself as a viable left-wing alternative to Merkel's current centre to centre-right policies - as, with the exception of the refugee policy (at least prior to the cynical Turkey "refugee deal"), the Grand Coalition is centre-right to hard right on most other issues. This is true especially with regard to fiscal policy, where the mantra of “fiscal responsibility“ or “fiscal conservatism“ has led to austerity, both domestically (German: „schwarze Null“ ("black zero"), i.e. a balanced budget, a no-debt policy, and no Keynesianism, despite Germany's current interest rate for borrowing being negative (!!)) as well as, much more drastically, outside Germany, in the “Euro crisis“ countries. Greece, which was driven into abject poverty, but similarly Portugal and Ireland, and to some extent Italy, were most affected by German-initiated austerity “measures” to “solve” the “Euro crisis” - i.e. socialize the debt by cutting public goods and services, and privatize the profits of banks and corporations (by “bailing them out”).

At the same time, the German government is increasing the military budget, allowing arms exports to autocratic states in the Middle East and elsewhere (most prominently Saudi-Arabia and Oman) and ratifying the notorious transatlantic "free" trade agreements with Canada (CETA) and the US (TTIP), which are opposed by many in the European populace (Berlin saw a demonstration of more than 200 000 against TTIP already in October of 2015). With a centre-left government, a change of direction in this crucial field (national and European economic, fiscal, infrastructure and social policies) can at least be hoped for – a bit “against hope”, of course, as there would be strong resistance to any Keynesianism or any kind of real European "Marshall Plan" by the European and global financial institutions, such as the IMF and some other EU institutions (such as the ECB or the infamously political (neoliberal) European Court of Justice), but still a spark of hope.

Anti-austerity protest in Athens, Greece, on June 21st, 2015,
"ΟΧΙ" στην ΕΞΌΝΤΩΣΗ ("no to annihilation")

Source: Wikimedia Commons

In light of Brexit, the upcoming presidency of the (at least economically (remains to be seen?)) nationalist Donald Trump, the likelihood of a much more illiberal or conservative-nationalist government in France early next year, and generally an increasingly more illiberal political and societal climate in Europe and globally, Merkel has been dubbed as the “new” or “last remaining” leader of the “free world”.


Jonathan Sugarman - a "financial whistleblower"

Jonathan Sugarman worked in the position of risk manager at the Italian UniCredito Bank's branch in Dublin, Ireland (most recently dubbed the "Panama on the Liffey", and one of the major global centres of financial crime). "Due to liquidity breaches", he resigned in 2007, a year before "all Irish banks ran dry", and before the financial crisis fully "broke out". He hasn't been able to find work again since.

Last Tuesday, at a hearing at the European Parliament, on the initiative of the GUE/NGL (European United Left/Nordic Green Left) fraction, he disclosed the collusion of some state Central Banks and financial regulators (in this case the regulators and central banks of Ireland and Italy) as well as members of the Irish government at the time or of later governments (ministers Richard Bruton, Fine Gael, the, now late, Brian Lenihan, Fianna Fail, and Joan Burton, Labour) with private banks in the "white collar", i.e. financial, crimes that so far have been almost completely ignored, let alone investigated or prosecuted, by the authorities of said countries - or any other countries, for that matter. In this case, they are the Italian UniCredito, the German Depfa (Deutsche Pfandbriefbank) and, most notoriously and in the mean time nationalised, the Anglo Irish Bank,  Watch the video (from youtube, below):

"(...) [B]anksters come in all shapes, colours and nationalities. (...) My crime (...) was to comply with Irish law. I walked down to the regulator's office, the Central Bank of Ireland, and said: 'I am breaking the law. I am signing for billions that do not exist.' (...) I have not been able to work for nine years. (...) There is a law, there is a discussion. But there is nothing being done, absolutely nothing in practical terms. (...) Why do people not know [about the criminal activities of certain banks in Ireland and elsewhere]? Because they get threatened, like I did. (...) It tells quite a lot that (...) my first TV interview was for (...) Australian StateTelevision [i.e. no European media covered it!]. The Central Bank of Ireland refused to go on record. (...) The chairman of my bank of Ireland, after (...) a breach of billions, was appointed director of the Central Bank of Ireland [!]. (...) So how much truth are we going to have? The citizens of Ireland have been going through unbelievable austerity for bailing out a bank called Anglo Irish Bank. Most people in Ireland never had anything to do with Anglo-Irish Bank, in the same way as most people in Ireland, and probably Germany, had never heard of Deutsche Pfandbriefbank [Depfa]. (...) It was 'Mickey Mouse banking'. (...) There were no questions asked. (...) The governor of Banca d'Italia [the CentralBank of Italy] at that time was a Mr. Mario Draghi. I'm sure Mr. Draghi can be found and asked. (...) There is no point in making new laws if the ones that exist are not enforced." [all emphasis added by us, PB]

Our prediction is: Mario Draghi, the current President of the European Central Bank, won't be "available for any questions or interviews on the matter". Unfortunately, Sugarman's account will most likely not be covered by any mainstream news, at least not at a prime-time hour, as the main news are currently focusing on Donald Trump's transition in the US, and, most recently, on Angela Merkel's announcement of seeking another term as chancellor in Germany. 


The end of “the West as we know it”? The post-factual age and the “continuation of capitalism by other means”

As Germany celebrates the twenty-sixth anniversary of its unification tomorrow, i.e. the date when East Germany, at least “technically”, was being incorporated into “the West”, by joining the EU (then EC) and Nato, this “West” (if it has ever existed as such a monolithic bloc) might not be a valid concept anymore soon.

Donald Trump, the most prominent of the "post-factual" political actors. He was spot-on when he described the attitude of his followers: "I have the most loyal people. (...) I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn't lose any voters" (January 23rd, 2016)

Critics of “the West” and the neo-imperialist globalization it has, no doubt, been promoting over the last decades, might find this a development to be welcomed, and see this as a chance to argue for a more emancipatory, anti-colonial “post-Western” world order, yet, unfortunately, judging by recent and the current elections, events and political climate, the “alternatives” that are more likely to be popular among the broader populace, at least in most of Europe and the US, are not emancipatory, but regressive.

Disregarding any such more idealistic visions of an independent, “equal”, “fair”, “post-Western” “global” or at least overarching governance, realistically, the alternatives of governance within our political systems are, sadly, confined to “more of the same” or “regression”. Whereas the former (the “established” political classes) have, to put it mildly, on the whole failed to come up with answers to the (old and new) challenges of an increasingly unbounded world (dis)order, the latter (the (old) new regressives) have challenged them on this; not by delivering real alternatives, but by reverting back to less complex, yet more regressive, pseudo-“solutions”. In doing so, they have, as mentioned above, also managed to contrive a post-factual “ideology”, each according to the situation of their own country. What Friedrich Nietzsche has called „Die Umwertung aller Werte“ (the ”transvaluation of (all) values“)1 when speaking of the advent of nihilism replacing religion in the early modern era, could nowadays, in our post-postmodern (?) era be described as the “transvaluation of (all) facts”, a process where facts are increasingly being replaced by stereotypical counterfactuals, or to put it more bluntly, lies.

"Vote Leave" Poster in Omagh, Northern Ireland. The "fact" stated on this poster was later debunked as untrue. Firstly, the amount is closer to  £35 million.1 Secondly, the claim that EU money can, after Brexit, instead be spent on Britain's NHS just like that, is "misleading".2

In other words, one of the developments is the tendency that almost amalgamous, unitary, centrist governments or parties (normalcy in Austria and increasingly in Germany) are in power, without the above visions or ambitions, i.e. the normalization of grand coalitions comprising those, i.e. the “established“, parties, and the increasing absence of a real political culture of opposing, polarizing positions. The other one is that we are set, as early as 2017, to experience the advent into (official, not only hegemonic) power of (even more extreme) right-wing, proto-fascist or openly fascist governments, who are increasingly dominating the political sphere in the post-factual era, not only in smaller, but in major Western countries. They have already taken over in some Western or other countries, e.g. in Hungary, Poland and the Philippines. All of these regressive to fascist governments target different groups, according to the (perceived) “threat” they pose to the “values” of the respective country. In the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte, has publicly likened himself to Hitler in his ambition to “happily slaughter” the “three million criminals” (referring to drug dealers and addicts) in his country. This is what he promotes as the very simple “solution” to the “drug problem” there. Poland's ruling Conservative PiS party of Prime Minister 
Beata Szydło is pushing for the country's already very restrictive abortion law to be toughened even more, which would mean a near-total ban on any termination of a pregnancy, i.e. the abolition of women's right to abortion, citing its Catholic family values as being incompatible with these basic rights of women. In Hungary a referendum is held today, officially about EU refugee quotas, but in which de facto the ultra-nationalist government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban is seeking the approval by the electorate of its racist and xenophobic ideology, basically echoing the positions of the even more right-wing neo-nazi opposition party “Jobbik”; if it is valid and ends with a “Nem” (“no”) majority, is likely to increase Hungary's regression towards “splendid isolation”, which has been going on for more than half a decade now.2

But to be clear, the rise of post-factual pseudo-alternatives, again, is not a phenonemon of countries perceived as peripheral or “too small to matter” - and that's the backbone behind the “the end of the West as we know it” thesis. The post-factual political actors have taken over hegemony in many (or even most of the) major countries of the West. To wit, the majority of the electorate in the United Kingdom has, in what was probably the most momentous political decision, at least in Europe, this year, opted to leave the European Union, yet many of the politicians in favour of Brexit (Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson and others) blurted out their (seemingly anti-systemic) message without delivering a clearly formulated plan for a future outside of the EU.


Austrian presidential elections: The end of the world as we know it? The establishment in shock after the biggest landslide in the country's post-war history

Austria's post-war political system of perpetual compromise and Grand Coalitions is crumbling down as polarization and right-wing populism is increasingly dominating the discourse in the Alpine Republic. The established government coalition parties, the Social Democrats (SPÖ) of Chancellor Werner Faymann, and the conservative People's Party (ÖVP), have suffered disastrous defeats.  

On the eve of the 71st anniversary of the liberation of Italy from fascism (April 25th, 1945), north of its borders a neo-fascist candidate, Norbert Hofer (FPÖ), has come out on top in the first round of Austrian presidential elections with more than a third (35%) of all votes, winning more than the candidates of both “established“ parties together. An independent-Green-centrist candidate, Alexander van der Bellen, came a distant second at just over 21%. A run-off ballot will be held between the two of them in four weeks, on May 22nd.
Presidential candidate Norbert Hofer (right) with Freedom Party leader Heinz-Christian Strache, at the
notorious "Akademikerball", an annual festive meeting of far right-wing politicians and sympathizers at
Vienna's Imperial Palace. Source: ORF (Österreichischer Rundfunk, Austrian State Broadcaster)

The government coalition parties' candidates have only come in third and fourth, respectively, barely reaching double digit percentages (although in a way, they had already anticipated this, by not nominating their party leaders or charismatic personalities, but merely second- or third-rate party stooges), with an (at least rhetorically) "anti-establishment" candidate (Hofer) winning big and an independent candidate (van der Bellen) coming in second.

In what is the best election result on the federal level ever (35%) for the extreme right-wing Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ), the party won the first round of the presidential elections by a margin of more than 10%, with Alexander van der Bellen, a professor of economics, officially an independent candidate, but supported by the Green Party, coming in second at around 22%, thus being the candidate who will face off against Hofer in the run-off in four weeks. Although the anti-FPÖ polarization of the left-leaning voters will certainly lead to a closer race then, it is doubtful if van der Bellen can rally all of them and also especially the centrist (i.e. Christian Conservative ÖVP) voters behind him, including those of Irmgard Griss, a former judge and also independent candidate, but more right of centre than Mr van der Bellen. She garnered mostly bourgeois, rural voters, but also from Vienna's inner city as well as the rich suburbs, and came in a close third, with just under 19% of the votes, thus narrowly missing out on the participation in the run-off. Demoted to also-rans were the 
 the Social Democrat Rudolf Hundstorfer (11,3%) and the People's Party's Andreas Khol (11,1%). Richard Lugner, a(n) (in)famous Viennese construction engineer, socialite, and self-declared "Kasper" ("joker" or "court jester"), also presenting himself as “anti-establishment“, got 2,3%.

Norbert Hofer, an aviation technician, was launched as a candidate who previously was not widely known in the political sphere of Austria outside of his native state („Land“) of Burgenland, and was initially seen as a pro forma candidate even by his own party. Now he set up everyone, against all predictions and polls reaping the “grapes of wrath“ directed against the said “political establishment“ in a country that has had a penchant for right-wing populist positions for decades.


Germany: Weimarization or “new normalcy“ in Europe? Elections in times of the refugee crisis

Three similarities (or one generalization) can be established from the results of all three state elections ("Landtagswahlen") taking place in Germany last night. The second and third one are reminiscent of the pre-Nazi era in Germany, the Weimar Republic (1919-1932).

The first one: In all three elections, the incumbents, more due to their own charisma, less due to their party affiliations, came out as winners, sometimes even with significant gains.
 It became pretty clear early on in the evening, that Chancellor Merkel's party, CDU, has failed to re-gain state governments in two states of Southwestern Germany, Baden-Württemberg (10,7 million) and Rhineland-Palatinate (4 million), and has just barely managed to keep one in the Northeastern state of Saxony-Anhalt (2,2 million inhabitants).

Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) with Winfried Kretschmann (Green Party), since 2011
Minister-President of Baden-Württemberg, the third largest German state ("Land") by population and one of three states where parliamentary elections were held yesterday, Sunday (March 13th)

The Chancellor's Christian Democratic Union suffered a disastrous result in its former stronghold Baden-Württemberg, where it had constantly governed for more than 40 years, until 2011, with almost a third of the seats lost, and for the first time, also the position as first party, which the Greens (normally and elsewhere a party of around 5-10% of votes) won, edging out the CDU's measly 27% with a result of 30 %. Many see this mainly due to the personality of of Minister-President Winfried Kretschmann, in contrast to the weak candidate of the CDU, Guido Wolf. In Rhineland-Palatinate, the CDU also failed, with Julia Klöckner, who is seen by many as one of the most hopeful possible successors of Ms. Merkel as party leader or even chancellor, losing to incumbent Marie Luise ("Malu") Dreyer of the Social Democratic Party (SPD). And in the Northeastern state of Saxony-Anhalt, the CDU's Rainer Haseloff is set to remain in power, although with a reduced majority and a new coalition.

And this is the second parallel: New coalitions will have to be formed. In all three states, the most likely outcome is a „Grand Coalition“ of the two biggest parties or even a three-party-coalition. This is becoming the "new normalcy", after decades of post-war Germany, when either a centre-right (CDU with the FDP (i.e. Liberal Democrats)) or a centre-left coalition (SPD with either the FDP, the Greens or (in East Germany) with "Die Linke" (the socialist "Left Party")) was almost always possible; now it's almost never and almost nowhere possible anymore across Germany. This “new normalcy“ is that there are now five parties in all of these (and now in most state) parliaments (as was also the case in the federal parliament (Bundestag) between 1990 and 2013, with a Grand Coalition CDU-SPD governing from 2005 to 2009 and again since 2013). Thus, the governing coalitions failed to gain the majorities that they won five years ago in all of the three states. A Green-CDU “Grand“ coalition is likely in Baden-Württemberg, a SPD-CDU coalition in Rhineland-Palatinate (they would be holding 60% and 75% of the seats, respectively) and a CDU-SPD-Green (“black traffic light“) coalition in Saxony-Anhalt (in this Eastern state, even those three parties together would barely have a majority (46 to the opposition 41). This “new normalcy“ reminds us of the situation in the Weimar Republic (1919-1932), a time of instability due to constant changes of governments and coalitions, with a multitude of parties, increasing radicalization, and the disaster of the coming into power of the fascist Nazi regime in 1933.


The logo of the far-right "Alternative for Germany", originally founded as
a neoliberal 
anti-Euro, Eurosceptic party in mid-2013, but having taken a clearly far-right
last summer (July 2015) at the beginning of the refugee crisis.

Which is linked directly to the third parallel:


On this day, 73 years ago: The end of the Weiße Rose ("White Rose") resistance group in Munich

The end of the Weiße Rose ("White Rose") - in memoriam Sophie (1921-1943) and Hans ‪Scholl (1918-1943), Kurt ‪‎Huber (1893-1943), Alexander Schmorell (1917-1943), Willi Graf (1918-1943) and Christoph Probst‬ (1919-1943): on this day, 73 years ago, Sophie and Hans Scholl and Christoph Probst were executed in ‪‎Munich‬

Top left to bottom right: Kurt Huber, Alexander Schmorell, Willi Graf, Hans Scholl, Sophie Scholl

The Scholl siblings, who grew up in the towns of ‪‎Ludwigsburg‬ and later Ulm‬, both in Württemberg‬, Southwestern‪ Germany‬, in the 1920s, started studying in Munich in the early 1940s. As a result of their increasing renunciation of the ‪‎Nazi‬ regime and the war it had started, they founded a resistance group under the name of "Weiße Rose" (White Rose) and secretly wrote critical leaflets. The first one was printed in the summer of 1942. Their leaflets were distributed not only in Munich, but also Cologne‬Stuttgart‬ and ‪‎Vienna‬, with a circulation of 6000 to 9000.

Memorial for the Weiße Rose at Munich University, where the Scholl siblings
and Willi Graf had studied and where they were arrested on February 18, 1943 
Sophie and Hans distributed the sixth edition of their anti-Nazi leaflets, harshly criticizing the death of almost half a million soldiers and civilians at the battle and humanitarian disaster of Stalingrad‬ in late 1942 and early 1943, at the university of Munich on the morning of February 18th, 1943, when they were caught and apprehended by the janitor and mechanic of the university, ‪NSDAP‬ and ‪‎SA‬ member Jakob Schmid, and brought to the dean of the university.


These dates in 1934: The February fighters - defeated in anti-fascist struggle in Austria

On this weekend, the weekend of February 12th, we honour those who, eighty-two years ago, were the first to bravely and openly resist a fascist government in ‪‎Europe‬ militarily - the workers of Austria‬February 12th to 15th 1934 marked the end of the First Republic and of "Red‪ Vienna‬" and the establishment of open fascism‬ in Austria.

The Karl-Marx-Hof in Vienna (Döbling district), one of the workers'
public housing estates, where the anti-fascist fighting took place in February 1934.
Source: user: bwag, 
© Bwag/Commons (Wikimedia Commons)

In Austria, the First Republic, which had been founded after the end of the
‪ Habsburg‬ Monarchy in 1919, was increasingly dismantled by the ruling Christian Social Party (which was backed by the Italian fascists), from early 1933. On March 4th of that year, Austrian Chancellor Engelbert‪ Dollfuß‬ of the CSP dissolved the parliament, officially due to "insurmountable differences" between the parliamentary parties in debates over how to react to a strike of the train workers. An attempt to convene again on March 15 was then forcefully shut down by the police. From then on, Dollfuß governed de facto dictatorially and without checks, by constitutional "emergency laws". Fascist paramilitary forces, most prominently the "Heimwehr", Home Guard, increasingly took to the streets to fight against the striking workers and the defenders of the Republic, whose defence forces, the forces of the Socialist Worker's Party of Austria, were the "Republikanischer Schutzbund", Republican Protection League. Although they were not officially the state executive, the actions of the fascist Heimwehr were approved and backed by the Dollfuß government, which used them to crush any strikes and other republican, i.e. Socialist or Social Democratic resistance. During 1933, major Socialist figures and leaders were arrested and the state of the working class in Austria became disastrous in early 1934.
Fighting also took place at the Schlingerhof
in Vienna (Floridsdorf district), where a large cache of weapons was based.

Source: user:Extrawurst, Wikimedia Commons

On February 11th of that year, the Interior Ministry announced that a nationwide raid, officially to search for weapons hidden in the homes of Socialist leaders and workers, would take place the next day. Upon hearing that, the Schutzbund commander of Linz, Upper Austria, Richard Bernaschek, decided to take up arms against the police and Heimwehr forces. This was the outbreak of fierce fighting. Artillery, and in one case even the air force, was used to crush the workers, who rose up in their homes, the famous large blocks called "Gemeindebauten", public workers' housing complexes (pictured are the famous Karl-Marx-Hof and the Schlingerhof) on the outskirts of Vienna (which had been built by the Socialist city councils of Vienna between 1918 and the early 1930s ("Red Vienna")), and in some smaller towns, most of them in the industrialized regions of Upper Austria and Styria.