Austerity must go hand in hand with growth

Labour Party

It would be a grave error to allow the excitement of Francois Hollande’s historic victory on Sunday to overshadow the results of the Greek general election. It was, of course, Greece’s sovereign debt crisis which sparked the ensuing crisis in the Eurozone. Moreover, the Greek people never accepted the consequent austerity measures. Whatever your view of those who demonstrated on the streets of Athens, it was always clear they had widespread support.

The short premiership of Eurozone appointee Lucas Papademos did nothing to assuage the opposition to austerity. Now, given the chance to once again elect their government, the Greeks have said no to austerity. Having come second in the inconclusive poll on Sunday, the far-left Syriza Party are incredibly in talks to form a coalition. If they are not successful the baton will pass to the leader of Greece’s socialist party, PASOK, former Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos.

Both the Greek and French result aptly demonstrate that austerity on its own without plans for growth, while never popular, is now losing whatever credibility it had for solving Europe’s economic problems. Put simply, the people will no longer put up with recession, unemployment and public expenditure cuts seemingly for no gain.

Now that two general election results have delivered this verdict along with local elections in Italy, another country under a Eurozone appointee, it is surely time to re-evaluate the austerity strategy. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Monday it was of “utmost importance” that the programmes of austerity and economic reform as a condition of the €174 billion Greek bail-out package “continue to be implemented”. She also made clear that “The process is a difficult one, but, despite that, it should go on.”

Likewise the European Commission would do well to think again as they seem to be taking a pro-Merkel line. A spokeswoman said it was up to the Greek political parties to “work in an atmosphere of responsibility” and continue implementing structural and economic reforms.

The only realistic way out the austerity deadlock with the people on one side and powerful financial vested interests, not to mention the leading lights of the Eurozone, on the other is to seek a middle way. Just as Labour Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls has always said, austerity must go hand in hand with measures for growth. Austerity alone causes huge suffering – unemployment and poverty coupled with the absence of hope. The people of Europe need to believe there is a future and a relatively strong one at that. Angela Merkel’s regime is providing the exact opposite and the people are making their views known.

While I would never claim the British local election results were wholly based on opposition to austerity measures, they clearly showed that our electorate prefer Labour to the current coalition. On the basis of those results Labour would form a government. We are seeing the Tory-led coalition sinking deeper into the mire as Cameron and Clegg try to revive their flagging fortunes. We should, perhaps, add the UK to the list of those countries who have had enough of austerity and want to feel hope for their future.

Some excellent new Women MEPs

Labour Party

In the run-up to the 2009 European Parliament elections, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s selections as female candidates for his People of Liberty party caused a significant stir for their lack of political experience.  Now that the European elections are over, I have been looking at fellow women MEPs who are new to the European Parliament. 

Berlusconi’s list included Angela Sozio, a former contestant in the Italian version of Big Brother; Barbara Matera, a former Miss Italy contestant and TV actress; Camilla Ferranti, an Italian soap star; and Eleonora Gaggioli, also a TV actress.  Berlusconi said “I want young faces, new faces, to renew the image of Italy and the PdL in Europe.”  Maybe that’s why he appointed Mara Carfagna, the former topless model who has been Italy’s Minister for Equal Opportunities since May 2008 despite being an avowed anti-feminist and opposing Gay Pride marches

One of the former models and actresses on the People of Liberty list, Barbara Matera (27, Il Popolo della Libertà, EPP) won a seat in the European Parliament. She is joined by Licia Ronzulli (34, Il Popolo della Libertà, EPP), another MEP whose previous experience in politics is unclear, but who was named by Barbara Montereale (who has testified as to Berlusiconi’s alleged use of escorts), as having frequented Berlusconi’s infamous Villa Certosa, and Lara Comi (26, Il Popolo della Libertà, EPP) whose political career has also seen a remarkably rapid rise.

It would appear that Mr. Berlusconi is not choosing these female candidates for their knowledge of and commitment to politics.  His selection of women parliamentarians accurately matches his choice of women companions outside his marriage.  Although I am sure these young women are fine, upstanding citizens, by no stretch of the imagination are they suited for high political office. 

There are, of course, many highly qualified, excellent young female MEPs. marietje-Schaake-763964[1]

Marietje Schaake 31 is a Dutch Liberal who has substantial experience as an adviser and consultant on issues of diversity, integration and Muslims in the West.  She has written several papers on these topics.  She has completed internships at the US House of Representatives (under the Lantos Fellowship) and the Office of the Prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in the Hague.  She has also been awarded the Barney Karbank Memorial Prize in 2007 for outstanding leadership on human rights.


I am particularly pleased to see women like my fellow Socialist Eider Gardiazábal Rubial elected.  She is the youngest Spanish MEP and was previously the Secretary of Education, Administration and Finance of the National Executive JSE-EgazRamón Rubial.  She was also Secretary General of Socialist Youth of Bilbao, and has been a Councillor in the City of Bilbao since 2004 with responsibility for budget, economy and finance. In 2002 she was elected Secretary of the Executive Equality PSE-EE office for which she was re-elected in 2005 and continues today.  She studied at high school in France and holds a French and Spanish bachelor’s degree in Economics with a specialisation in management accounting.

The youngest MEP in the Parliament, Emilie Turunen, 25, is from Denmark’s Socialistisk Folkeparti(SF), part of the Greens/EFA.  She was previously head of SF’s youth organisaimages[2]tion, was a coordinator for Denmark’s Social Forum, Restart Denmark in 2006, and has campaigned against trafficking of women after working in a child crisis centre in Cambodia with DanChurchAid.

It is quite simply disgraceful for the likes of Berlusconi to put forward women who have neither the experience or qualifications to be successful in politics.  It undermines all women when some, even a very few, female colleagues are not up to the job.  Maybe this is what Berlusconi really has in mind.  I am, however, absolutely certain that Marietje, Eider, Emilie and all the other bright young women who have come into the European Parliament with the right kind of background will win through and make an outstanding contribution.  Good luck to all of you.

The Political Divide over Press Freedom

Labour Party


Few issues have divided the European Parliament in the way that Silvio Berlusconi has managed to do.  I am talking specifically about his iron grip on the Italian media, though there are, of course other issues – ultra right wing views, corruption and young women from escort agencies – to name but a few. 

While not as gripping as the original debate, the sequel to my original post  shows just how much media pluralism is a left-right issue.  This is not really surprising when you consider that it is the right who concentrate media in their own hands, Rupert Murdoch being a good example to go along side Mr Berlusconi.  I could also cite the Rothermere family, hardly a bastion of progressive thought.  The Guardian/Observer are, unfortunately, hardly in the same league.

I did not, therefore, find it surprising that when we came to approve this week’s agenda for the plenary session of the European Parliament here in Strasbourg, the EPP raised objections to the resolution reported in my post.

They objected first of all to the title of the resolution which had already been changed to include “in the European Union” so that it didn’t refer exclusively to Italy.  The EPP, of course, wanted to take out the reference to Italy all together, prior to their other amendment which was to postpone the whole debate.  However, the EPP lost their chance to take Italy out, largely I think because the majority in the House realise just how poisonous Berlusconi actually is.  Having lost this vote, the EPP then withdrew their call to postpone the vote on the resolution itself.