Over the next few weeks democracy in Euroland is on trial. Most pundits and commentators agree that French electors voted in Mr Hollande to end austerity. Most agree that the massive swing against Pasok and New Democracy in Greece was a swing against austerity policies in the Euro and EU. The problem is, the voters may end up with little changed austerity policies come what may.
Part of the reason is the voters’ own mistake. Many French and Greek voters who want an end to austerity think they can have that without withdrawing from the Euro. I fear that is very difficult if not impossible. Voters in Euroland seem reluctant to accept that the whole architecture of the single currency is founded on austerity all the time the huge imbalances between Germany and the rest persist. If the rich areas refuse to send much money to the poor areas – as they do – the poor areas have to deflate, cut wages and costs severely, until they can compete. This cruel economic logic is not popular, but voters are reluctant to conclude that the currency is at fault.
Part of the reason is the way the Euro area is governned. It has been governed in recent years by a Franco-German alliance. The European Central Bank was part of this agreement, with a German home and constitution, and a French Head. Now it has an Italian Head it has started to have more of a mind and a printing press of its own. That has kept the unstable system afloat, but it has not remedied the defects of the whole system.
The Franco-German alliance put in place a Stability and Growth Pact. The Stability part came from Germany. It was a set of rules to make countries cut back if they have too large a deficit, or if their debt is excessive. The Growth part came from France, and amounted to some modest scale EU spending programmes. In recent years the Pact has delivered neither stability, nor growth to the poorer regions of the Eurozone.
Mr Hollande would be right to demand a rethink. I suspect he will settle for a few extra public spending programmes from the EU as a “Growth package” and a pledge by Mrs Merkel to respect his position and to work with him in their joint interest for the stability of the currency. He will soon be brought into Euro line, by plenty of advice telling him that France being too argumentative, negative or spendthrift will destabilise the banking system and upset the currency system.
In Greece it looks likely it will take time to form a Coalition government out of the fragmented results. The new Coalition may contain some angry MPs who do wish to speak out against the austerity policy forced on them by the loans. They will be told by the bureaucrats that they have to accept the terms of the loans if they wish to carry on paying the large public sector bills. They will probably under protest go along with it, fearing to rupture a precarious and unsatisfactory agreement.
European voters in two Euro countries will discover that they have very little power left to change economic policy all the time their country is in the Euro. Taxes will stay high and public spending will prove difficult to cut in a downturn. The governemnts will pretend to squeeze the deficit down in order to qualify for EU support in the case of Greece, and EU approval in the case of France. Meanwhile, economies will suffer. Expect the informal economies to flourish, as more people decide to take the illegal course of opting out of the world of accurate tax returns and audited performance. Expect more to leave countries that are floundering under the Euro austerity scheme. The governments themselves will carry on failing to hit Euro targets whilst talking tough and pretending to deliver.