Greece's Syriza party has put its foot down to demand an end to the troika's agenda, and now Spain's Podemos party has risen even more quickly than Syriza to join them. This is what democracy looks like -- even the rigid, unaccountable structure of the eurozone will not be able to stop it from spreading.
Citizens of the eurozone countries didn't know when they formed the monetary union that they were not only losing their sovereign and democratic rights to control their most important macroeconomic policies. They had also ceded this power to people with an anti-social-Europe agenda. Now Greece is trying to get some of that democracy back.
On Wednesday the European Central Bank announced it would no longer accept Greek government bonds and government-guaranteed debt as collateral. But Syriza's leadership are playing it smart. They responded to the ECB's assault without animosity or denunciations. They want the world to know who is the aggressor here and who is being reasonable.
Every day brings more headlines in the European debt drama: "Greece elects anti-austerity government." "Greek Finance Minister says he won't negotiate with the 'Troika.'" "Anti-austerity movements gain ground across Europe." What's behind these stories? What does the future hold? Are there any implications for the U.S.? Here's an overview of the situation as it currently stands.
For all the media frenzy, the complacency of economists, the trumpets announcing a new era, Europe does not want to understand the basic situation it is in. Finance cannot bail Europe out. Only a profound transformation of a regime it cannot sustain will rescue it. Will we need Italy to collapse or another major banking crisis to wake Brussels up?
There is a common misconception that the euro area is a monetary union without a political union. But this reflects a deep misunderstanding of what monetary union means. Monetary union is possible only because of the substantial integration already achieved among European Union countries -- and sharing a single currency deepens that integration. If European monetary union has proved more resilient than many thought, it is only because those who doubted it misjudged this political dimension.
If you have any spare cash laying around and need of a vacation, Chevy Chase would probably recommend that you go to Europe. The euro currency has dipped to a nine-year low against the dollar. That is good for tourists going to Europe, but is not good for European economic prospects in the long term. Why?
If the Republican Party takes full control of the U.S. Congress in the midterm election, policy gridlock is likely to worsen, risking a rerun of the damaging fiscal battles that led last year to a government shutdown and almost to a technical debt default. More broadly, the gridlock will prevent the passage of important structural reforms that the U.S. needs to boost growth.
There was a bit of good news from Europe last week. Two of the nations that desperately need some respite from austerity essentially told German Chancellor Merkel to stuff it. France, under pressure from Germany and the European Union to meet the E.U.'s straightjacket requirement of deficits of no more than three percent of GDP (whether or not depression looms) informed the E.U. that they will not hit this target until 2017. The government of President Francois Hollande, under fire for failing to ignite a recovery, now plans economic stimulus measures -- and the target be damned. Under E.U. rules, France can be fined up to 0.2 percent of its GDP. The French seem to be saying, 'So sue us!'
The U.S. economy is growing slowly and Europe's hardly at all. The stock market lurch last week is a belated acknowledgement that our two economies share a common affliction, and Europe suffers more seriously. The affliction is austerity. And yet the main remedy being promoted by the U.S. government and its European allies is a trade and investment deal known as T-TIP, which stands for the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. According to the deal's sponsors, T-TIP would help stimulate recovery by removing barriers to trade and promoting regulatory convergence and hence investment. The proposed deal is not popular in the U.S. Congress, which has to approve negotiating authority. The administration, say well-placed sources, hopes to cram through the necessary approval during the lame duck session of Congress after the November 4 election. That still will not assure approval, because the deal is also increasingly unpopular in Europe.