In the Focus of Protests

ATHENS/LJUBLJANA/BERLIN | | sloweniengriechenland

ATHENS/LJUBLJANA/BERLIN (Own report) - The German austerity dictate is meeting growing resistance within the EU. Following the mass protests in Spain and the most recent hundreds of thousands demonstrating in Greece, further activities have been announced, which are explicitly aimed at the so-called EU Growth and Stability Pact. A new development can be observed particularly in Greece. The Greek crisis is the result of a structural imbalance in the Eurozone, which has degraded Greece to a sales market for German products. Therefore Berlin is, to a growing extent, becoming the focus of the protests. According to the German-Greek Chambers of Industry and Commerce, the popular opinion that "the Germans are living at the expense of the Greeks" is widespread. Structurally, Portugal and other countries are suffering from the same problem as Greece. According to German media, there is a danger that Berlin's new public austerity demands could foment "anti-German sentiments from Greece to Portugal." Just recently, a Spanish political advisor warned that if Berlin continues with its dictates, the EU will soon have a reputation similar to that of the IMF, to be an instrument for imposing compulsory economic measures.

Mass Demonstrations

The growing resistance to German hegemonic policy is embedded in the reinvigorated social protests in numerous European countries. The protests in Spain are currently drawing most attention, with their hundreds of thousands participating in protest camps, and far more than 100,000 taking to the streets on May 15 alone. Numerous demonstrations have since followed in many European capitals, for example at the Place de la Bastille in Paris, in Brussels, London, Rome, Prague and in Berlin. Strong protests have again been reported also in Greece, where on May 25 alone, approx. 50,000 people demonstrated at Athens' Syntagma Square. Last weekend the number of demonstrators had risen to 100,000 and according to some reports even to several hundred thousands. More protests have already been announced, for example, a demonstration against the so-called EU Growth and Stability Pact on June 19 in Spain.

Rejected

The example of Slovenia, where last weekend a referendum was held on three draft laws, including a retirement reform bill, demonstrates that not only does resistance to this social overkill enjoy widespread support, it occasionally achieves political results. According to this bill, the retirement age is to be raised - from currently 61 (women) and 63 (men) - to 65. Both Berlin and Brussels sought to influence the results. Jean-Claude Junker, current president of the Council of the European Union, called the step "unavoidable" and European Council President Herman Van Rompuy went to Slovenia two days before the referendum in support of the "yes" camp. Berlin also openly intervened in Slovenian decision-making. The Slovenians had taken note of what the German chancellor had said earlier about people "not going on retirement earlier (...) than in Germany in countries such as Greece, Spain, Portugal."[1] The German government also made known in Slovenia that it considers a higher retirement age a "sensible step towards sustainable financing of social insurance."[2] Yet Slovenia's population has resisted Berlin's blatant interference: in their referendum, nearly three-fourths have rejected the retirement reform.

At Greeks' Expense

In Greece, in particular, social protests are linked to explicit expressions of hostility towards the German hegemonic policy. Over the past few years, it was Germany, more than any other country, which had profited from trade with Greece. In fact, up until the introduction of the Euro, Athens had maintained a positive trade balance with Germany. Only after adopting the Euro, which robbed Greece of its option of a monetary devaluation, and thereby the protection of its enterprises vis à vis the more powerful German competition, was this relationship fundamentally transformed. The press openly declares that in the Eurozone, with its "structural imbalance" there are states, such as Greece and Portugal today "that are hardly (...) more than sales markets for the export-oriented and high-performance member states of Northwestern Europe."[3] In fact, the German trade balance surplus in commerce with Greece had already risen to more than 6 billion Euros in 2008. The Greek public is well aware of these facts, which has transformed their expenditures into German profits. The administrative director of the German-Greek Chamber of Industry and Commerce in Athens admits: "Kostas Normal Consumer, in the meantime, is convinced that the Germans are living at the expense of the Greeks."[4]

Anti-German Sentiments

Greek resentment toward the German austerity dictate is growing, since Berlin and Brussels have forced Greece to privatize a large part of its state properties - particularly to the advantage of German companies.[5] Over the past few days, t-shirts distributed by employees of the OTE telephone company bearing a swastika and slogans against German hegemony, have been making headlines. The German company Deutsche Telekom owns a large portion of OTE, and Athens has now offered to sell even more. German media have begun to warn that Berlin's new, too obvious austerity demands are apt to "foment anti-German sentiments from Greece to Portugal."[6] Some Greek commentators are referring to the German chancellor as a "neo-colonial despot."[7] A reversal of this trend is nowhere in sight.

Collaboration and Resistance

Only recently, a Spanish political advisor warned that if Berlin continues with its dictates, the EU will soon have a reputation similar to that of the IMF: to be an instrument for imposing compulsory economic measures.[8] But even more dangerous for Berlin is that particularly in Greece, the popular anger is no longer directed solely at the EU, but to a growing degree at Germany. In the long run, the hegemonic power will have difficulty avoiding this development in areas under its control. Anger in many Latin American countries is similarly directed at the United States, which, until now, has been able to maintain its exclusive predominance in large areas of its "backyard" with the help of cooperative circles in the Latin American elite. The current crisis will show whether widespread popular criticism of Germany, alongside cooperative domestic elites in the countries of the periphery will lead to the development of parallel structures in Europe.

[1] see also Rebellion of the Elites
[2] Premier Pahor denkt nach verlorenem Referendum an Neuwahlen; derstandard.at 06.06.2011
[3], [4] Die Feinjustierung der Daumenschrauben; Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 06.06.2011. See also From the Crisis, Into the Crisis
[5] see also Alles muss raus!
[6] Die Mär von den faulen Südländern; www.taz.de 19.05.2011
[7] Die Feinjustierung der Daumenschrauben; Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 06.06.2011
[8] see also see also Rebellion of the Elites