Adrian Hamilton: Resentment could be the death of the eurozone

World View


It's not the financial markets that are going to break the eurozone, it is politics. Look around at the Greek elections, the Irish referendum vote, and even the Dutch budgetary discussions, never mind the French presidential election, and what do you see? A course towards fiscal integration and financial austerity that is breaking the national politics apart. Even in Germany, it is not clear that Chancellor Merkel has democratic support for the fiscal compact she has pressured her eurozone's partners to sign up to.

It is simple enough to see the political scene in terms of the markets demanding one thing and the electorates resisting. That may have been the story to date, with governments trying to push harsh measures on the back of the fear of what the markets will do if they fail to act. But it's become a lot more complicated and uncertain than that.

One thing that – perversely – has changed the landscape has been the success of the European Central Bank in staving off the worst of the crisis by buying up the commercial debt of the banks as if there were no tomorrow. That has eased the pressures in the bond market and prevented a number of banks from going bust, with potentially disastrous consequences. But it has also taken the edge off the immediate sense of crisis.

And as the government threats of impending doom have seemed less urgent, so the lack of democratic legitimacy for their actions has grown more apparent. Both Italy and Greece installed technocratic governments which, while breathing competence, have failed to sell the measures to an electorate increasingly concerned with their "fairness".

The rising sense of resentment at inequalities is now a major factor in virtually every European country. It demands a political response and it is just not getting it, either from the technocrats or the politicians who have signed up to agreements behind the closed doors of summitry.

The Greek elections next month will almost certainly see sweeping gains from the groups outside the traditional main parties. The same could well happen in the first round of the French presidentials this Sunday. It may yet happen in the Irish referendum on 31 May. In the end the Irish government hopes, as the French President and other European leaders do, that fear will provide the final spur to obedience, as it has in the past. Many in Ireland expect a second bailout and are nervous that the money will not be forthcoming if they fail to toe the German disciplinary line.

But that again is becoming problematic. The resentment that dare not voice its name in Europe now is Germany. For half a century the European project has tottered along on the basis that Germany would provide the money, but the French and others would lead the politics.

That has now broken down. Germany, emerging from the strain of unification and enjoying economic success despite the economic travails of the West, is seizing political leadership as well. Its voters will not give up their savings to the previously profligate unless they can write the terms.

It would be quite wrong to urge the Irish electorate, or the French one, to vote against their governments in the interests of securing democracy in Europe. But an Irish, French or Greek vote that would scuttle the compact would be the best thing for the future of Europe.

It might bring all sorts of financial problems in the short term, but over the long term it would force Europe's leadership to address the issue of democratic legitimacy which is slipping so fast from their hands.

The alternative will be years of increasing instability as the voters of country after country reject their political establishments with who knows what results.

Whatever happened to India's dreams of leading a non-aligned world?

The extraordinary thing about India's launch of a long-range intercontinental ballistic missile yesterday was not the failure of western capitals to squeak, never mind bark. It was the complete equanimity with which the Indians themselves greeted it.

In their mind this was not an act of belligerence, but a distraction from domestic troubles – a natural step in their evolution towards superpower status and a seat at the highest tables of the UN. Well, maybe it was. But it's a depressing thought that this country, which once set itself to be the leader of the unaligned and non-militaristic world, would now seek influence by building bigger and better bombs.

The Chinese are not going to be cowed by the thought that India can reach their cities with nuclear bombs. They have too great a military superiority by now to worry. Nor is it clear just what India would do with a seat at the high table given its floundering foreign policy since it dropped its non-aligned pretensions and welcomed the US charm offensive begun by President Bill Clinton.

But the really sad thing about the launch is that it, and the West's failure to voice objections, represents one more obstacle to achieving a nuclear-free world.

India is not (unlike Iran) a member of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty nor does anyone seem to see it in their interests to try to get it to become one.

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