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State of Power 2014: The Transnational Institute
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
Originally posted at the Transnational Institute, 21 January 2014
In its third annual ‘State of Power’ report, TNI uses vibrant infographics and penetrating essays to expose and analyse the principal power-brokers that have caused financial, economic, social and ecological crises worldwide.
In my contribution to the ‘State of Power’ report (and in cooperation with Occupy.com), “State of Europe: How the European Round Table of Industrialists Came to Wage Class War on Europe,” I examine the role of a major corporate interest group in shaping the policies of the European Union.
From the introduction:
“Founded in 1983, the European Round Table of Industrialists (ERT) quickly became – and today remains – one of the most influential voices of organized corporate interests in Europe. Not quite a lobby, not quite a think tank, the ERT is an action-oriented group made up of roughly 50 CEOs or Chairmen of Europe’s top industrial corporations who collectively push specific ideologies, pressure political elites, and plan objectives and programs designed to shape the European Union and the ‘common market’.
The past thirty years of the ERT’s existence has revealed it one of the most influential organizations in Europe, widely known to the EU’s political, technocratic, and financial elites, holding regular meetings, dinners, and social events with prime ministers and cabinet officials of EU member states, as well as the leadership of the European Commission itself. In the wake of the European debt crisis of the past several years, the ERT has again been at the forefront of shaping the changes within the EU, promoting austerity and structural reforms as the ‘solution’ to the debt crisis.
As through their three-decade history, the Round Table today continues to promote the ideologies and interests of corporate and financial power at the expense of the interests of labour and the population more widely. This paper aims to examine this highly influential group in order to shed some light on an organization very well known to those who make the important decisions within the EU, yet largely in the shadows to those who have to suffer the consequences of those decisions.”
To read the full essay on the ERT and the European Union, click here.
To review and access all of the reports which contributed to the TNI ‘State of Power’ report, click here.
Global Power Project: The Group of Thirty, Architects of Austerity
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
Originally posted at Occupy.com
The Group of Thirty, a preeminent think tank that brings together dozens of the world’s most influential policy makers, central bankers, financiers and academics, has been the focus of two recent reports for Occupy.com’s Global Power Project. In studying this group, I compiled CVs of the G30’s current and senior members: a total of 34 individuals. The first report looked at the origins of the G30, while the second examined some of the current projects and reports emanating from the group. In this installment, I take a look at some specific members of the G30 and their roles in justifying and implementing austerity measures.
Central Bankers, Markets and Austerity
For the current members of the Group of Thirty who are sitting or recently-sitting central bankers, their roles in the financial and economic turmoil of recent years is well-known and, most especially, their role in bailing out banks, providing long-term subsidies and support mechanisms for financial markets, and forcing governments to implement austerity and “structural reform” policies, notably in the European Union. With both the former European Central Bank (ECB) President Jean-Claude Trichet and current ECB President Mario Draghi serving as members of the G30, austerity measures have become a clearly favored policy of the G30.
In a January 2010 interview with the Wall Street Journal, Jean-Claude Trichet explained that he had been “involved personally in numerous financial crises since the beginning of the 1980s,” in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East and Soviet Union, having been previously the president of the Paris Club – an “informal” grouping that handles debt crisis and restructuring issues on behalf the world’s major creditor nations. In this capacity, Trichet “had to deal with around 55 countries that were in bankruptcy.”
In July of 2010, Trichet wrote in the Financial Times that “now is the time to restore fiscal sustainability,” noting that “consolidation is a must,” which is a different way of saying austerity. In each of E.U. government bailouts – of which the ECB acted as one of the three central institutions responsible for negotiating and providing the deal, alongside the European Commission and the IMF, forming the so-called Troika – austerity measures were always a required ingredient, which subsequently plunged those countries into even deeper economic, social and political crises (Spain and Greece come to mind).
The same was true under the subsequent ECB president and G30 member, Draghi, who has continued to demand austerity measures, structural reforms (notably in dismantling the protections for labor), and extended support to the banking system, even to a greater degree than his predecessor. In a February 2012 interview with the Wall Street Journal, Draghi stated that “the European social model has already gone,” noting that countries of the Eurozone would have “to make labour markets more flexible.” He meant, of course, that they must have worker protections and benefits dismantled to make them more “flexible” to the demands of corporate and financial interests who can more easily and cheaply exploit that labor.
In a 2012 interview with Der Spiegel, Draghi noted that European governments will have to “transfer part of their sovereignty to the European level” and recommended that the European Commission be given the supranational authority to have a direct say in the budgets of E.U. nations, adding that “a lot of governments have yet to realize that they lost their national sovereignty a long time ago.” He further explained, incredibly, that since those governments let their debts pile up they must now rely on “the goodwill of the financial markets.”
Another notable member of the Group of Thirty who has been a powerful figure among the world’s oligarchs of austerity is Jaime Caruana, the General Manager of the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), which serves as the bank for the central banks of the world. Caruana was previously Governor of the Bank of Spain, from 2000 to 2006, during which time Spain experienced its massive housing bubble that led directly to the country’s debt crisis amid the global recession. In 2006, a team of inspectors within the Bank of Spain sent a letter to the Spanish government criticizing then-Governor Caruana for his “passive attitude” toward the massive bubble he was helping to facilitate.
As head of the BIS, Caruana delivered a speech in June of 2011 to the assembled central bankers at an annual general meeting in Basel, Switzerland, in which he gave his full endorsement of the austerity agenda across Europe, noting that “the need for fiscal consolidation [austerity] is even more urgent” than during the previous year. He added, “There is no easy way out, no shortcut, no painless solution – that is, no alternative to the rigorous implementation of comprehensive country packages including strict fiscal consolidation and structural reforms.”
At the 2013 annual general meeting of the BIS, Caruana again warned that attempts by governments “at fiscal consolidation need to be more ambitious,” and warned that if financial markets view a government’s debt as unsustainable, “bond investors can and do punish governments hard and fast.” If governments continue to delay austerity, he said, the markets will have to use “market discipline” to force governments to act, “and then the pain will be large indeed.” In further recommending “structural reforms” to labor and service markets, Caruana noted that “the reforms are critical to attaining and preserving confidence,” by which, of course, he meant the confidence of markets.
The ‘Academic’ of Austerity: Kenneth Rogoff
Kenneth Rogoff is an influential academic economist and a member of the Group of Thirty. Rogoff currently hold a position as professor at Harvard University and as a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. He sits on the Economic Advisory Panel to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, and previously Rogoff spent time as the chief economist of the IMF as well serving as an adviser to the executive board of the Central Bank of Sweden. Rogoff is these days most famous – or infamous – for co-authoring (with Carmen Reinhart) a study published in 2010 that made the case for austerity measures to become the favored policy of nations around the world.
The study, entitled, “Growth in a Time of Debt,” appeared in the American Economic Review in 2010 to great acclaim within high-level circles. One of the main conclusions of the paper held that when a country’s debt-to-GDP ratio hits 90%, “they reach a tipping point after which they’ll start experiencing serious growth slowdowns.” The paper was cited by the U.S. Congress as well as by Olli Rehn, the European Commissioner for Economic and Monetary Affairs and one of Europe’s stalwart defenders of austerity, who has demanded the measures be instituted on multiple countries in the E.U. in return for bailout funds.
A Google Scholar search for the terms “Growth in a Time of Debt” and “Rogoff” turned up approximately 828 results. In 2013, Forbes referred to the paper as “perhaps the most quoted but least read economic publication of recent years.” The paper was also cited in dozens of media outlets around the world, multiple times, especially by influential players in the financial press.
In 2012, Gideon Rachman, writing in the Financial Times, said Rogoff was “much in demand to advise world leaders on how to counter the financial crisis,” and noted that while the economist had been attending the World Economic Forum meetings for a decade, he had become “more in demand than ever” after having “written the definitive history of financial crises over the centuries” alongside Carmen Reinhart. Rogoff was consulted by Barack Obama, “and is known to have spent many hours with George Osborne, Britain’s chancellor,” wrote Rachman, noting that Rogoff advised government’s “to get serious about cutting their deficits, [which] strongly influenced the British government’s decision to make controlling spending its priority.”
The praise became all the more noteworthy in April of 2013 when researchers at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, published a paper accusing Rogoff and Reinhart of “sloppy statistical analysis” while documenting several key mistakes that undermined the conclusions of the original 2010 paper. The report from Amherst exploded across global media, immediately forcing Rogoff and Reinhart on the defensive. The New Yorker noted that “the attack from Amherst has done enormous damage to Reinhart and Rogoff’s credibility, and to the intellectual underpinnings of the austerity policies with which they are associated.”
As New York Times columnist and fellow G30 member Paul Krugman noted, the original 2010 paper by Reinhart and Rogoff “may have had more immediate influence on public debate than any previous paper in the history of economics.” After the Amherst paper, he added, “The revelation that the supposed 90 percent threshold was an artifact of programming mistakes, data omissions, and peculiar statistical techniques suddenly made a remarkable number of prominent people look foolish.” Krugman, who had firmly opposed austerity policies long before Rogoff’s paper, suggested that “the case for austerity was and is one that many powerful people want to believe, leading them to seize on anything that looks like a justification.”
Indeed, many of those “powerful people” happen to be members of the Group of Thirty who are, with the notable exception of Krugman, largely in favor of austerity measures. Krugman himself tends to represent the limits of acceptable dissent within the G30, criticizing policies and policy makers while accepting the fundamental concepts of the global financial and economic system. He commented that he had been a member of the G30 since 1988 and referred to it as a “talk shop” where he gets “a chance to hear what people like Trichet and Draghi have to say in an informal setting,” adding, “while I’ve heard some smart things from people with a role in real-world decisions, I’ve also heard a lot of very foolish things said by alleged wise men.”
Andrew Gavin Marshall is a 26-year old researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada. He is Project Manager of The People’s Book Project, chair of the Geopolitics Division of The Hampton Institute, research director for Occupy.com’s Global Power Project and World of Resistance (WOR) Report, and hosts a weekly podcast show with BoilingFrogsPost.
The Debtor’s War: A Modern Greek Tragedy
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
Early on Thursday, 7 November 2013, Greek riot police stormed the offices of Greece’s main public broadcaster, which had been under a five-month occupation by workers who opposed the government’s decision to shutdown the broadcaster, firing thousands and destroying a major cultural institution. The broadcast seems to have come to an end.
The long and painful Greek tragedy continues, where society and culture are gutted, people impoverished, driven into a deep depression, with growing political and social conflicts, the rise of fascism, detention camps filled with immigrants from Africa and the Middle East, trying to escape the dictators we arm, or the wars we support, with suicide rates spiking, health and well-being deteriorate, services and support vanish, and all the people are left to be punished, humiliated, oppressed and destroyed… These are called “solutions” to an economic crisis, on the road to “economic recovery”… think about that for a moment.
Why is this done? Because some of the world’s largest banks demand it. The same banks that created the global financial crisis, and the European debt crisis, and the global food crisis (which drives tens of millions more people into hunger, and makes the banks richer in the process)., and which launder hundreds of billions of dollars in drug money, profit from arms sales, war and terror. Those banks want the people of Greece (and Spain, and Italy, Portugal, and Ireland, and everywhere, always, across the world) to pay the interest they feel they are owed.
Let me put this simply: a computer screen somewhere, at some big bank, says that some country owes that bank a certain amount of money, and thus, the people of that country must suffer and even die, so that the government can afford to pay back the bank. That’s what government’s are for, right? To serve banks… right?
Greece needs to pay the bank, because the bank and all the bank’s friends (what we call “financial markets”) have decided to punish the country of Greece by betting against the ability of the country to repay its debts, to crash its credit rating, making its ability to borrow and spend increasingly expensive and impossible. Now Greece is basically broke. Greece needs money, so it turns to the EU, the European Central Bank, and the IMF for “assistance.”
They demand that Greece – in return for the loan(s) – impoverish its population, cut all social services and health care, education, anything of benefit to the population – destroy it! – because it’s “too costly.” These are called “austerity measures.” Then, ensure that the newly-impoverished population has all their ‘benefits’ withdrawn, which were promised to them through the ‘social contract’ between the population and the government (essentially, a social agreement between people and the state which legitimizes the state’s ability to rule over them). These things must be destroyed. So things like pensions, social security, labour rights and regulations, protections and safety, industries, resources, services and anything that again benefits the population, must be dismantled and sold for cheap to foreign banks and corporations. All must be dismantled to ensure that the newly-impoverished population and country can be effectively and efficiently exploited by cosmopolitical corporations. These are called “structural reforms,” presumably because they ‘reform’ the very structure of society.
Then, with the combination of impoverishment and exploitation, comes the saintly glow of the all-encompassing human desire and civilizational drive – our goal and purpose as a species on this planet, what our societies are organized by and for – the highest stage of humanity: “economic growth.” Who wouldn’t want “growth”? Well, unless we’re talking about something like a wart, rash, infection, inflammation, or a tumour, everyone wants “growth”, right? Even if it’s at the expense of entire societies and populations of actual individual and living human beings, like any single one of us. Just so long as they suffer for “growth,” all will be well and happy.
So what does “growth” mean? It means that the banks and corporations – which worked with government agencies and officials in creating the global economic and financial crises in the first place – now have the ability to reap the benefits of destruction: massive profits, and growing global power. Large corporations have more money than most countries on earth. Their power is protected by the state, their influence unquestioned, their domination of the world’s resources, materials, culture and society is rapidly advancing, and they are – institutionally and ideologically – totalitarian. So what’s not to love, really?
They want it all. Profit and power. Our world is dominated and being re-shaped by a tiny global financial, corporate, political and intellectual elite. And all must suffer so that they can have what anyone in their position would want to have: more, they want it all. And they want you to just shut up and let them take it all. If you have a problem with that, well, that’s what riot police, prisons, and fascism are for.
This is why Greece must suffer. This is why we hear the unholy trinity economic mantra of: “austerity,” “structural reform,” and “economic growth.” The modern Greek Tragedy of ‘The Debtor’s War’ is driven by the tyrannical trio known as the ‘Troika’: the European Commission (of unelected, unaccountable supranational elite technocrats who serve the interests of global corporate and financial power), the European Central Bank (of unelected technocrats and economists who serve the interests of “financial markets” and the big banks), and the IMF (of unelected technocrats and economists who serve global financial and corporate interests). This institutional ‘Troika’ (the EC, ECB, and IMF) demanded the implementation of the ideological ‘Troika’: austerity, structural reform, and economic growth.
Together, institutionally and ideologically, they wreak havoc upon humanity.
Welcome to the most completely INSANE point in human history; the all-or-nothing. Welcome to reality.
Now please, kindly help change it.
Global Power Project: Central Bankers and the Institute of International Finance, Part 3
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
Originally posted at Occupy.com
In Part 1 of the Global Power Project exposé on the Institute of International Finance, I examined the origins and evolution of an organization representing the interests of global banks. In Part 2, I looked at the role played by the IIF and its leadership during the European debt crisis. In this third and final part in the series, I examine the relationship between the IIF and global central bankers.
Since the early 1990s, the IIF has been heavily involved working with central bankers, particularly through the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) in Basel, Switzerland, where private bankers have been granted a powerful position determining their own regulations in international financial markets. The IIF has been central throughout the reform of Basel I and the entire process of both Basel II and Basel III – collectively known as the Basel Accords – which were officially organized through the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision (BCBS), run out of the BIS.
From 1999 to 2004, the Basel Committee organized to impose a new set of global banking regulations, called Basel II. The head of the Basel Committee at the time was William McDonough, then the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and a former Vice Chairman at the First National Bank of Chicago. He was also a founding member of the IIF at the 1982 Ditchley Conference, and remained a member on the board of the IIF from 1984 until 1990.
McDonough later explained: “Without the IIF it would have been far more difficult for regulators, such as the Basel Committee, to fully understand the critical issues that confronted the banks. The meetings with the IIF were an excellent sounding board – we trusted them (the banks) and they trusted us (the regulators).”
At the start of the Basel II process in 1999, the IIF created a special group, the Steering Committee on Regulatory Capital, which was to engage with the Basel Committee on behalf of the global banking industry. The papers put forward by the Steering Committee were ultimately accepted and implemented by the Basel Committee in the final accord, Basel II, essentially allowing the banks to regulate themselves.
The Chair of the Steering Committee, Daniel Bouton, who was also chairman and CEO of the French bank, Société Générale, later commented that, “It was of the utmost importance to try to have a coordinated view of the global banking industry in order to be able to discuss with the Basel Committee the most important questions. In fact, the IIF has been the single platform to forge a consensus between global banks about the key principles. And so it has played a very important part in discussions with the Basel Committee.”
But the relationship between the IIF and central bankers goes beyond the timid attempts at “regulation” on the part of global central banks. In fact, central bankers traverse through the revolving door of financial markets: from the mega-banks into the central banks.
At the mega-banks, the bankers’ job is to maximize profits through financial markets. At central banks, their job is to protect the banks through management of financial markets. It is a relationship of mutual interest, each side in need of the other, and together, with unprecedented power, central bankers and the “too-big-to-fail” mega-banks have become financial institutions that dominate the global economy.
Indeed, the Institute of International Finance has a number of boards which meet regularly that include several central bank chiefs. Notably, there is the IIF’s Group of Trustees of the Principles, with four co-chairs. One of the co-chairs is Agustin Guillermo Carstens, the Governor of the Bank of Mexico, who also sits on the board of directors of the Bank for International Settlements. In addition he is a member of the Steering Committee of the G20 Financial Stability Board (FSB), a group of central bank chiefs and finance ministers from the G20 nations who meet alongside leaders of the BIS, European Central Bank, European Commission, IMF, World Bank and the OECD to determine the world’s response to the recent global financial and economic crises.
The other co-chairs of the IIF’s Group of Trustees include: Christian Noyer, the Governor of the Bank of France (from 2003 to the present) and chairman of the Bank for International Settlements (from 2010 to the present); Zhour Xiaochuan, the Governor of the People’s Bank of China (2002 to the present) and a member of the board of directors of the BIS, as well as chairman of the Chinese Monetary Policy Committee and Vice Chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC); and Toshihiko Fukui, former Governor of the Bank of Japan from 2003 to 2008, current president of the Canon Institute for Global Studies, and a former member of the board of the BIS.
Another notable member of the Group of Trustees is Jaime Caruana, the General Manager of the BIS (from 2009 to the present), former Governor of the Bank of Spain, former member of the Governing Council of the European Central Bank (ECB), former Chairman of the Basel Committee, and current member of the G20 Financial Stability Board (FSB). Caruana is also a member of the Group of Thirty, a major think tank bringing together finance chiefs, central bankers and private bankers.
Also on the list is Jean-Claude Trichet, the former President of the European Central Bank from 2003-2011, current chairman of the Group of Thirty, European Chairman of the Trilateral Commission, Chairman of the board of directors of the European think tank BRUEGEL, member of the board of directors of EADS, former president of the Global Economy Meeting of Central Bank Governors at the BIS, former member of the board at the BIS, and current member on the board of the Peter G. Peterson Institute for International Economics, as well as a member of the Steering Committee of the Bilderberg Group.
Other members of the Group of Trustees include current or former top officials from the Bank of Canada, the Italian Ministry of Economy and Finance, the Bank of Italy, the Spanish Ministry of Finance, the IMF, Bank of France, Bank of Brazil, Bank of Chile, Bank of Iceland, German Finance Ministry, the European Central Bank, the World Bank, Federal Reserve Bank of New York, the Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority (SAMA), South African Ministry of Finance, Nigerian Ministry of Finance, and the Turkish Ministry of Finance, among many others.
The Group of Trustees doesn’t merely consist of so-called “public officials,” but also many private bankers and other prominent global power players including top officials from Deutsche Bank, JPMorgan Chase, Credit Suisse, Commerzbank, Citigroup and others.
Another noteworthy member of the Group of Trustees of the IIF is Paul Volcker, the former Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System from 1979 to 1987, who was previously a chief economist at Chase Manhattan Bank (then under the leadership of David Rockefeller) as well as a former Treasury official and former president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Volcker has since been Chairman of President Obama’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board from 2009 to 2011, a member of the board of directors of the Peterson Institute for International Economics, a member of the Executive Committee of the Trilateral Commission, Chairman Emeritus of the Group of Thirty, and a participant at Bilderberg Meetings.
Not only are central bankers, finance ministers and other “public officials” members of various boards at the IIF, but they also attend regular meetings hosted by the IIF, bringing them into consistent, close contact with the leading figures of the world’s largest financial institutions (aka: their real constituents). With the emerging financial crisis in 2007, the IIF hosted a meeting in Washington, DC, over the course of a weekend that they spent “lavishing central bankers and policymakers with praise, awards and banquets,” and as the Financial Times reported, “a genuine warmth appears to have developed between many senior bankers and policymakers.”
At the 2010 annual meeting of the IIF, in the midst of the exploding European debt crisis, notable invited guest speakers included the Greek Finance Minister as well as Olli Rehn, the European Commissioner for Economic and Monetary Affairs. In his speech, Rehn made clear that his objective, and that of the European Commission, was to enforce austerity measures and “bold structural reforms,” particularly in “labor and product markets.”
At the 2011 annual meeting of the IIF, guest speakers included the German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schauble alongside the Greek Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos, who spoke of the “political and social cost” of the austerity measures in Greece, enforced under the pressure of financial markets, which he claimed were “an important step that will… convince the markets that the Euro Area can indeed protect itself and its member states.”
Also in attendance at the same IIF meeting was Mark Carney, then the Governor of the Bank of Canada, a board member at the BIS, Chairman of the Committee on the Global Financial System at the BIS, incoming Chairman of the Financial Stability Board (FSB), and now also Governor of the Bank of England. While Carney is often praised for being unafraid to confront bankers, he told the annual meeting that “financial institutions and markets should play critical and complimentary roles in supporting long-term economic prosperity,” even while acknowledging that the latest Basel III banking “regulations” (which he was pivotal in forming) would have little effect in making financial markets safer.
At the 2011 meeting, a special tribute was paid to the outgoing president of the European Central Bank, Jean-Claude Trichet, who had done so much to protect financial markets and banks at the expense of the living standards of the EU general population. Special remarks and presentations in honor of Trichet were delivered by Deutsche Bank CEO Josef Ackermann, IIF Managing Director Charles Dallara, Paul Volcker and Mark Carney. Trichet was commended for two “resolutions,” one of which was signed by the finance ministers and central bank governors of the G20 nations, as well as the leaders of the World Bank and IMF (with IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde present at the IIF meeting as well), who praised Trichet for his “steadfast leadership in encouraging the governments of Europe to strengthen economic governance and fiscal discipline in the Euro Area,” as well as for “his leading role among global central bank governors in Basel” at the Bank for International Settlements.
Another “resolution” delivered in honor of Trichet was signed by the board of directors of the IIF who praised him “for his many contributions over the past decades to the stability and soundness of the international financial system and the global economy” – which, if anything, Europe’s crisis in 2011 stood as a profound testament against – and they also thanked Trichet for his “laudable improvements to global financial markets” and for being “a tremendous force behind the development of market-based approaches to debt crisis prevention and resolution.”
It is cause for concern when the world’s biggest bankers sit on the same boards and invite the major regulators, central bank chiefs and finance ministers to their meetings, gathering up awards and praise while keeping those parties firmly entrenched within their sphere of influence. The relationship between private banks and central banks is a complex one that is mired in overlap, mutual interests and mutual benefits: a system in which more profit and power is continually bestowed on ever fewer global banking chiefs and technocrats who are unelected, unaccountable and unapproachable – except, of course, to other members of the Institute of International Finance.
Andrew Gavin Marshall is a 26-year old researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada. He is Project Manager of The People’s Book Project, chair of the Geopolitics Division of The Hampton Institute, research director for Occupy.com’s Global Power Project, and hosts a weekly podcast show with BoilingFrogsPost.
Global Power Project: Connecting Josef Ackermann, the Institute of International Finance and the Euro Debt Crisis
Global Power Project: Connecting Josef Ackermann, the Institute of International Finance and the Euro Debt Crisis
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
Originally posted at Occupy.com
In Part 1 of a Global Power Project exposé on the Institute of International Finance (IIF), I examined the founding the institute as a response by leading world banks to organize and manage their interests in relation to the 1980s debt crisis. When the European debt crisis hit headlines in 2010, the IIF was again on the scene and playing a major part. At the center was the CEO of Deutsche Bank, Josef Ackermann.
Josef Ackermann served as CEO of Deutsche Bank from 2002 to 2012, and over the same period served as Chairman of the IIF. Ackermann was also, and still remains, a member of the Steering Committee of the Bilderberg Group and continues to serve on the IIF’s Group of Trustees, a board which includes a number of prominent central bankers including Christian Noyer, the Governor of the Bank of France and Chairman of the Bank for International Settlements (BIS); Jamie Caruana, the General Manager of the BIS; and Jean-Claude Trichet, who was the president of the European Central Bank from 2003 to 2011.
During the early stages of the financial crisis, Ackermann served as an “unofficial adviser” to German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her then-Finance Minister Peer Steinbrueck. In December of 2009, Ackermann was speaking at a summit in Berlin attended by Chancellor Merkel and several other German cabinet ministers, corporate CEOs and others, where he explained that while the financial crisis had largely been “abated,” many “time bombs” remained — in particular, Greece, which he referred to as the “problem child” of Europe. Ackermann blamed the debt crisis on people having “lived beyond their means for years, if not decades,” warning that pensions and health care systems would “compound the problem” in the future.
The Financial Times has referred to Ackermann as a “reluctant power broker” who “has the ear of Angela Merkel, Europe’s most powerful politician.” Ackermann not only became one of the most influential bankers in the world, but a major political figure as well. As he himself explained: “Financial markets now are very political – political considerations have to play an important role.” In 2011, Ackermann warned that in terms of Europe’s crisis, “I don’t see a quick economic recovery, so we will have a longer time of somewhat lower growth – certainly three to five years.”
In October of 2011, Ackermann delivered a speech in which he said that Europe had “now entered a period of deleveraging” which “will inevitably entail a long period of austerity as governments, households and firms raise their savings.” At an economic forum in December of 2011, Josef Ackermann stated that Europe had to get its debt under control, “even at the cost of national sovereignty,” suggesting that neither “the pressure of financial markets” nor austerity measures “threaten democracy.” The real threat to democracy, according to Ackermann, was the “excessive debt” of European states.
In 2011, France and Germany agreed to negotiate directly with the “private sector” in the next planned Greek bailout agreement. The lead negotiator for the banks was the Institute of International Finance, which was brought in to discuss the potential for the banks to take a slight loss on their holdings of Greek debt. Ackermann was to be one of the lead negotiators for the IIF (also representing Deutsche Bank,a major private holder of Greek debt).
The Institute of International Finance under Ackermann’s chairmanship in turn became directly involved in major European summits, providing key input and suggestions that led to the Greek bailout. In July of 2011, the IIF warned the Eurozone countries that they would have to conclude a bailout agreement for Greece in order to avoid financial markets “spinning out of control.” The IIF delivered these warnings in a report delivered directly to European finance ministers, stating: “It is essential that euro area member states and the IMF act in the coming days to avoid market developments spinning out of control and risk contagion accelerating.”
The IIF undertook talks with Greek political leaders as well as EU officials, the European Central Bank and the IMF, with the organization noting that its managing director Charles Dallara and an IFF team “had extensive meetings with very senior European government officials over several weeks.” The three main IFF officials involved in discussions and negotiations were Charles Dallara (managing director from 1993-2013), Ackermann and Baudouin Prot, the Chairman of BNP Paribas.
According to one report, Ackermann even attended a meeting of the European Council during the EU summit to discuss the Greek bailout. Dallara was reported to have engaged in a conference call with top EU officials, including the Eurogroup chair Jean-Claude Juncker and the European Commissioner for Economic and Monetary Affairs, Olli Rehn. Dallara also reportedly met with European Council President Herman van Rompuy, then-French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel.
Discussions continued over the following months with little resolution. In an October meeting, EU officials reportedly hit a wall, at which point they summoned Dallara as the representative of the banks to the meeting in order “to break the deadlock.” Dallara met with Sarkozy and Merkel and other leading EU officials. While a general agreement was reached with the banks, negotiations over the technicalities continued into 2012, taking place between the Greek government, the EU, IMF and the IIF.
Ackermann explained that the banks were being “extremely generous” and then warned that failure to agree on a new program would open“a new Pandora’s box” for the debt crisis. Ackermann spoke at the World Economic Forum where he said that any agreement would have to force Greece to adhere to “harsh new austerity measures,” including cuts to wages and pensions, as well as making “the labor market more flexible.”
The final agreement had the banks holding Greek debt to take a 50% “loss” of their holdings of that debt, which would be done through a “bond swap” where they were to exchange their current junk status Greek debt for long-term Greek government bonds (debt) with a higher rating. In other words, the much-touted “write off,” or “loss,” for banks holding Greek debt amounted to a fancy financial method of kicking the can down the road.
After leaving his position as Chairman and CEO of Deutsche Bank as well as Chairman of the IIF, Ackermann spoke at the Atlantic Council, a U.S. think tank where he stated that elections in Greece were “not necessary” and “a big mistake.” What was necessary, he said, was “to make the funding of the banking system more certain,” and claimed it would require between 1 and 2 trillion euros. The European Stability Mechanism’s (ESM) ability to provide banks with $1 trillion was, according to Ackermann, “sufficient,” but he added, “we have to do more” and “we should maintain the pressure on the countries to do the necessary structural reforms and the necessary financial reforms to reduce the debt burden.” However, he noted, “if it comes to the worst,” in terms of a potential collapse of the Eurozone, “everything will be done to bail the Eurozone out.”
When Ackermann was asked why Germany did not simply come out and say that it would guarantee bank debts in the Eurozone, he explained that “it would be very difficult to get parliamentary approval for such behavior or attitude. People would not support it at all.” Further, if Germany did publicly state that it would guarantee bailouts for banks, many countries in the Eurozone would then ask, “Well, why then go on with our austerity programs? Why go on with our reforms? We have what we need.” Thus, Germany was not saying so publicly, based on what Ackermann called “political tactical consideration,” adding: “I think to keep the pressure up until the last minute is probably… not a bad political solution.”
Ackermann has never lacked as a source for controversy. He has been referred to as “a global banker and political power broker” by one financial analyst, and Simon Johnson, former Chief Economist at the IMF, referred to him as “one of the most dangerous bank managers” in the world whose advice not just to Germany and Greece but also to Belgium and Switzerland “shaped talks to bail out German lenders [banks], reduce Greece’s debt, leverage the euro-area’s rescue fund and influence regulation.” Ackermann himself stated, “Financial markets have become highly political over the past years… Politics and finance will become even more intertwined in the future. Accordingly, bankers have to think and act more politically as well.” One financial analyst stated: “He’s the most influential banker in the euro zone.” A German economics professor noted, “Deutsche Bank and its CEO are the target of all the people who feel our social or economic system is unfair or wrong.”
In 2011, Ackermann was targeted by an Italian anarchist group that claimed responsibility for sending a letter bomb to the Deutsche Bank CEO, though it was intercepted by police. When confronted by Occupy protesters during a speech he gave in November of 2011, Ackermann touted his “environmental” credentials, explaining that the UN Secretary General had referred to him as a “visionary.”
When Ackermann left Deutsche Bank and the IIF, he did not leave the world of financial and political power. He continued holding positions as a member of the Steering Committee of the Bilderberg Group; Vice Chairman of the Foundation Board of the World Economic Forum; and as a member of the Group of Trustees of the Principles for the Institute of International Finance. On top of that, he became a board member of Investor AB, Siemens AG, and Royal Dutch Shell, as well as being appointed Chairman of Zurich Insurance Group. Ackermann also sits on the international advisory boards of the China Banking Regulatory Commission, the National Bank of Kuwait, and Akbank, Turkey’s largest bank, as well as sitting on the boards of a number of other corporate and financial institutions.
When Ackermann left his position as CEO of Deutsche Bank and Chairman of the IIF, he was replaced at the IIF by Douglas Flint, the chairman of HSBC Holdings, who also sits on the board of the IIF. Flint is a member of the Mayor of Beijing’s International Business Leaders’ Advisory Council, a member of the Mayor of Shanghai’s International Business Leaders’ Advisory Council, a member of the International Advisory Board of the China Europe International Business School, a former director of BP (from 2005-2011), a participant in Bilderberg meetings (including for the years 2011-2013), a member of the European Financial Services Round Table (a group of CEOs and chairmen from Europe’s top banks), a member of the Financial Services Forum, a member of the European Banking Group (a group of over ten top European bank leaders formed to directly lobby the EU on “regulation” of the financial industry), and a member of the International Monetary Conference (IMC), an annual conference of private bankers formed to “compliment” the annual IMF meetings.
Whether through the leadership of Josef Ackermann, or now under the chairmanship of Douglas Flint, the IIF has been and will remain a major global player within the debt crisis and future financial crises, representing the organized interests of the financial markets. It’s no surprise, then, that even the Financial Times noted in 2010 that, three years after the financial crisis began, “the markets (and the bankers) still rule.”
Or as former Deputy Treasury Secretary Roger Altman noted, in 2011, that financial markets had become “a global supra-government” that “oust entrenched regimes… force austerity, banking bail-outs and other major policy changes,” whose “influence dwarfs multilateral institutions such as the International Monetary Fund” as “they have become the most powerful force on earth.”
We need look no further than the Institute of International Finance to see just how “the most powerful force on earth” is organized.
Andrew Gavin Marshall is a 26-year old researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada. He is Project Manager of The People’s Book Project, chair of the Geopolitics Division of The Hampton Institute, research director for Occupy.com’s Global Power Project, and hosts a weekly podcast show with BoilingFrogsPost.
Austerity, Adjustment, and Social Genocide: Political Language and the European Debt Crisis
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
The following is a sample analysis from my upcoming book on the global economic crisis and global resistance movements. Please consider donating to The People’s Book Project to help support the effort to finish this book.
Political language… is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.
– George Orwell, “Politics and the English Language,” 1946
Political language functions through euphemism, by employing soft-sounding or simply meaningless words to describe otherwise monstrous and vicious policies and objectives. In the European debt crisis, political language employed by politicians, economists, technocrats and bankers is designed to make policies which create poverty and exploitation appear to be logical and reasonable. The language employed includes the words and phrases: fiscal austerity/consolidation, structural adjustment/reform, labour flexibility, competitiveness, and growth. To understand political language, one must translate it. This requires four steps: first, you look at the rhetoric itself as inherently meaningless; second, you examine the policies that are taken; third, you look at the effects of the policies. Finally, if the effects do not match the rhetoric, yet the same policies are pursued time and time again, one must translate the effects as the true meaning of the rhetoric. Thus, the rhetoric has meaning, but not at face value.
The debt crisis followed the 2007-2009 financial crisis, erupting first with Greece, then Ireland, Portugal, Italy and Spain, and threatens even to spread elsewhere. Of those mentioned, only Italy has not received a bailout. Though whether “bailed out” or not, Europe’s people are being forced to undergo “austerity measures,” a political-economic euphemism for cutting social spending, welfare, social services, public sector jobs, and increased taxes. The aim, they are told, is to get their “fiscal house in order.” The people protest, and go out into the streets. The state responds by meeting the people with riot police, batons, tear gas, pepper spray, and rubber bullets. This is called “restoring order.”
The effects of austerity are to increase poverty, unemployment, and misery. People are fired from the public sector, welfare and social benefits are reduced or lost, retirement ages are increased to keep people in the work force and off the pension system, which is also cut. Cuts to health care and education take a social and physical toll; as poverty increases the need for better health care, that very system is dismantled when it is needed most. Taxes are increased, and wages are decreased. People are deeper in debt, and destined for destitution. The objective, we are told, is to reduce public spending so that the government can reduce its deficit (the yearly debt).
In Europe, austerity has been the siren call of all the agencies, organizations, and individuals who represent the interests of elite financial control. In March 2010, the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) suggested Europe undertake a program of austerity lasting for no less than six years from 2011 to 2017, which the Financial Times referred to as “highly sensible.” In April of 2010, the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) – the central bank to the world’s central banks – called for European nations to begin implementing austerity measures. In June of 2010, the G20 finance ministers agreed: it was time to enter the age of austerity! German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the European midwife of austerity, set an example for the EU by imposing austerity measures at home in Germany. The G20 leaders met and agreed that the time for stimulus had come to an end, and the time for austerity poverty was at hand. This was of course endorsed by the unelected technocratic president of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso. The unelected president of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, also agreed, explaining in his unrelenting economic wisdom that austerity “has no real effect on economic growth.” Jean-Claude Trichet, president of the European Central Bank (ECB), also hopped on the austerity train, writing in the Financial Times that, “now is the time to restore fiscal sustainability.” Jaime Caruana, General Manager of the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) stated in June of 2011 that the need for austerity was “more urgent” than ever, while BIS chairman, Christian Noyer, also the governor of the Bank of France (and board member of the ECB), stated that apart from austerity, “there’s no solution possible” for Greece.
In April of 2011, the two president of the EU – Barroso and Van Rompuy – felt it was necessary to clarify (just in case people were getting the wrong idea), that: “Some people fear this work is about dismantling the welfare states and social protection… Not at all … It is to save these fundamental aspects of the European model… We want to make sure that our economies are competitive enough to create jobs and to sustain the welfare of all our citizens and that’s what our work is about.” However, the following year, the new European Central Bank president, Mario Draghi (former governor of the Bank of Italy), stated in an interview with the Wall Street Journal that, “there was no alternative to fiscal consolidation,” meaning austerity, and that Europe’s social contract was “obsolete” and the social model was “already gone.” However, Draghi explained, it was now necessary to promote “growth,” adding, “and that’s why structural reforms are so important.”
Thus, “austerity packages” will then prepare the state and economy for the next phase, which, we are told, would make the country “competitive” and create “growth.” This is how the country would pay off its total debt, which deficits merely add to. This process is called “structural adjustment” (or “structural reform”) and it requires “competitiveness” to facilitate “growth.”
As we can loosely translate “austerity” into poverty, we may translate “structural adjustment” into exploitation. After all, nothing goes better with poverty than exploitation! How does “structural adjustment” become exploitation? Well through competitiveness and growth, of course! Structural adjustment means that the state liberalizes the economy, so everything is deregulated, all state-owned assets are privatized, like roads, hospitals, airports, rivers, water systems, minerals, resources, state-owned companies, services, etc. This, as the story goes, will encourage “investment” in the country when it “needs it most.” This idea suggests that foreign banks and corporations will enter the “market” and purchase all these wonderful things, explaining that they work better when they are “competitive” in the “free market,” and then with their new investments, they will create new industries, employ local people, revive the economy, and with the “trickle down” from the most productive and profitable, all of society will rise in living standards and opportunity.
But first, other “structural adjustment” measures must be simultaneously employed. One of the most important ones is called “labour flexibility.” This means that if you have protected wages, hours, benefits, pensions… well, now you don’t! If you are a member of a union, or engage in collective bargaining (which has at its disposal the threat of a strike), soon you won’t. This is done because, as the story goes, wages must be decreased to increase the competitiveness of the labour force. Simply put, if less money goes into labour during the process of production, what is ultimately being produced will be cheaper on “the market,” and thus, will become more attractive to potential buyers. Thus, with lower wages comes greater profits. ECB president Mario Draghi himself emphasized that the “structural reforms” which Europe needs are, “the product and services market reform,” and then “the labour market reform which takes different shapes in different countries.” He added that the point was “to make labour markets more flexible and also fairer than they are today.” Isn’t that nice? He wants to make labour markets “fairer.” What this means is that, since some countries have protections for various workers, this is unfair to the workers who have no protections, because, as Draghi explained, “in these countries there is a dual labour market: highly flexible for the young part of the population… [and] highly inflexible for the protected part of the population.” Thus, “labour markets at the present time are unfair in such a setting because they put all the weight of flexibility on the young part of the population.” So to make the labour markets “fair,” everyone should be equally exploitable, and thus, equally flexible.
Labour flexibility will then help “specialize” your country in producing one or a few select goods, which you can produce better, cheaper, and more of than anywhere else. Then your economy will have success and the lives of all will prosper and grow… just not their wages. That is left to the “trickle down” from those whose wages are increased, the corporate, banking, and government executives and managers. That is because they take all the risk (remember, you are not risking anything when you passively accept your wages and standards of living to be rapidly decreased), and thus, they should get all of the reward. And because their rewards are so huge, large scraps will fall off of their table and onto the floor, which the wage-slaves below can fight over. By the laws of what I can only assume is “magic,” this will eventually lift the downtrodden from a life of poverty and labour and all will enjoy the fruits of being in a modern, technological, democratic-Capitalist paradise! Or so the fable goes.
The actual, predictable, and proven results of “structural adjustment” aimed at achieving “growth” through “competitiveness” is exploitation. The privatization of the economy allows foreign banks and corporations to come in and buy the entire economy, resources, commodities, infrastructure and wealth. Because the country is always in crisis when it does this, everything is sold very cheaply, pennies on the dollar kind of cheap. That is because the corporations and banks are doing the government and people a favour by investing in a country which is a large risk. The money the state gets from these sales is recorded as “revenue,” and helps reduce the yearly debt (deficit). The result for the people, however, is that mass layoffs take place, commodity prices increase, service costs increase, and thus, poverty increases. But privatization has benefits, remember; it encourages “competitiveness.” If everything was privatized, everyone would compete with each other to produce the best goods for the lowest costs, and everyone can subsequently prosper together in a society of abundance.
What actually takes place is that multinational corporations and banks, which already own most of the world’s resources, now own yours, too. This is not competitive, because they are ultimately all cartels, and collude together in exploiting vast resources and goods from around the world. They do compete in the sense of seeing which one can exploit, produce, and control more than the other. But at the bottom of this system, everyone else gets poorer. This is called “competitiveness,” but what it actually means is control. So if the economy needs to become more competitive, what is really being said is that it needs to come under more control, and of course, in private corporate and financial hands.
State owned industries are simply closed down, employees fired, and the product or resource which that industry was responsible for producing is then imported from another country/corporation. A corporation takes over that domestic good/resource and then extracts/produces it for itself. But this requires labour. It’s a good thing that the labour force has had its back broken through austerity and adjustment, because now there are no protected jobs, wages, hours, unions, or workers’ rights in general. Thus, the population is free to be exploited for long hours and minimal wages. This makes what they are producing to be cheaper, and thus, more “competitive.” This can become extremely profitable for corporations and banks which took all the risk in this entire process (remember: you don’t count; you had very little to begin with, so you lost very little. They have a lot, and thus, a lot more to lose. That’s what risk means). If workers attempt to form unions or organize and demand higher wages, the corporation can simply threaten to close down the plant, and move the jobs to somewhere else with a more “flexible” labour force. Or, the corporation could simply hire local immigrant populations (or ship in others) and pay them less for more hours, and leave you without any jobs. This is called “labour flexibility.” Labour flexibility translates as cheap labour: to bring everyone down to an equally low level of worker standards, and thus, to encourage “utilization,” which means exploitation.
In the ‘Third World,’ this has been best achieved through what are called “Export Processing Zones (EPZs),” a term used to describe a designated area outside of state control in which corporations may establish factories to freely exploit labour as they choose. Commodities are shipped in, goods are produced in the EPZs, from where they are then exported abroad, free of pesky national taxation and regulation. Ultimately, EPZs are mini corporate colonies. In late May of 2012, it was reported that Germany was looking for “alternatives” to its exclusive focus on austerity, and subsequently came up with a six-point plan for “growth.” One of the most notable points from Berlin was to establish “special economic zones to be created in crisis-plagued countries at the periphery of the euro zone,” as “foreign investors could be attracted to those zones through tax incentives and looser regulations.” Essentially, they are EPZs for the eurozone. The plan also calls for establishing trusts which would organize the sell-off of state assets in massive privatization schemes. Further, what is needed, according to Berlin, was to establish a “dual education system, which combines a standardized practical education at a vocational school with an apprenticeship in the same field at a company in order to combat high youth unemployment.” In other words, no more academic or intellectual education for youth, but rather “vocational” or labour-oriented education, to not allow the expectations of the youth to rise too far, and to simply prepare them for a life of ‘work’ by attaining the necessary vocational skills. And of course, the plan for “growth” from Germany also includes more efforts at establishing “labour flexibility,” which would include “a loosening of provisions that make it difficult to fire permanent employees and to create employment relationships with lower tax burdens and social security contributions.” In other words: make it easy to fire workers, have lower wages, and eliminate benefits.
Economists and politicians often talk about the need to “utilize labour flexibility to increase competitiveness and achieve growth.” What they are really saying is that they need to exploit cheap labour to increase control and achieve profits and power. Lucas Papademos was installed (unelected) as the “Technocratic” prime minister of Greece in November of 2011, in order to “help” Greece undertake the mandatory “reforms.” Papademos was the perfect candidate for the job: he was an economist educated in the U.S., served on the board of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, was chief economist at the Bank of Greece, he became Governor of the bank in 1994, where he oversaw the conversion of Greece into the euro, and in 2002, he joined the European Central Bank board, where he became a Vice President under Jean-Claude Trichet.
In a 2005 interview with the Financial Times while he was Vice President at the European Central Bank (ECB), Lucas Papademos said that European “growth” potential was looking good, but added: “There is a risk that, unless there are changes in policies – more reforms in labour and product markets – as well as in the behaviour of private economic agents, this [growth] range may have to be revised downwards.” He explained: “the main way that potential growth could increase is through policies that boost productivity growth and raise labour utilization by increasing the average hours worked and the participation rate in the labour market and by making this market more flexible and adaptable.” In May of 2010, Bank of England governor Mervyn King stated that the eurozone needed “structural reforms, changes in wages and prices in the countries that need to regain competitiveness.” Former ECB president Jean-Claude Trichet had also emphasized that what was needed was a program of fiscal austerity, “accompanied by structural reforms to promote long-term growth.” In other words, what was needed was impoverishment, accompanied by exploitation to promote long-term profits.
The European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF), the Euro-area bailout fund, was headed by a man named Klaus Regling. In an article he wrote for The Banker, Regling emphasized that funds from the EFSF would come with conditions, including of course, austerity measures, but also, “structural reforms, such as modernizing public administrations, improving labour market performance and enhancing the tax systems, with the aim of increasing a country’s competitiveness and growth potential.” In other words, the conditions imposed on countries receiving a bailout would amount to an impoverishment program (“austerity”), combined with increased exploitation (“structural reforms”), through privatization of state industries and assets (“modernizing public administration”), creating a cheap labour force (“improving labour market performance”), extracting all remaining domestic wealth (“enhancing the tax systems”), designed to increase control (“competitiveness”) and profits (“growth”).
Mario Draghi, as president of the ECB, called for a “growth pact” (or a “profit pact”) for Europe, to go alongside the “fiscal pact” (or “poverty pact”). This received quick endorsements from France’s new president Francois Hollande, Angela Merkel, and José Manuel Barroso. Merkel was sure to emphasize, however, that growth would be “in the form of structural reforms.”
The combination of “fiscal austerity” and “structural adjustment” are generally referred to as a “comprehensive structural adjustment program” or a “restructuring of the economy.” This language is important to understand because “restructuring” as a word is used to describe two processes: one, is that it is what is needed to prevent a country from defaulting on its debt and to return the country to a period of growth; and, on the other hand, “restructuring” is used to describe what takes place after a country defaults. The words in both situations are the same, and so are the policies, though in a default they are inflicted more severely. The very process we are told we must undergo to prevent a default, is the very same process that we undergo after a default. Thus, the combination of fiscal austerity and structural adjustment is, in actuality, a slow and painful default.
This combination of austerity and adjustment amounts to a program and effect of social devastation. Thus, the words “structural adjustment program,” “restructuring,” and “default” in actuality translate into social genocide. These three terms provide further insight into their use: the class system is what is being restructured, as middle classes are wiped out and pushed into poverty, the poor are made destitute, and the elite become concentrated and in total control; the political and economic system is being adjusted to fit this restructuring; and the promise that people everywhere were told, that their leaders and society exists to serve their interests, is what is being defaulted on. The state does not default; it is the ‘social contract’ that is defaulted. Just as Mario Draghi told the Wall Street Journal, “the European social model has already gone… Fiscal consolidation is unavoidable in the present set up, and it buys time needed for the structural reforms.” Thus, social genocide.
As George Orwell wrote in his 1946 essay, “political language has to consist largely of euphemism,
question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness.” But there remains intent and meaning behind the words that are used. When we translate the political language of the European debt crisis, it reveals a monstrous agenda of impoverishment and exploitation. Thus, we also see the necessity of political language for those who use it: one cannot argue openly for programs of impoverishment and exploitation for obvious reasons, so words like “fiscal consolidation” and “structural reform” are used, because they are vague and obscure.
Ultimately, one can get away with saying, “we need a comprehensive austerity package augmented by structural reforms, such as labour flexibility, designed to increase competitiveness and facilitate growth,” as opposed to: “We need to rapidly impoverish our populations, whom we will then exploit to the fullest, such as by creating a cheap labour force, which would increase elite control and generate private profits.” Such honesty and bluntness would lead to revolt, so, political language is used instead. In Europe, political language is part of a ‘power dialectic’ which supports policies and agendas that aim to take more for those who already have the most, and to take from all the rest; to impoverish, exploit and oppress; to plunder, profit and punish.
Andrew Gavin Marshall is an independent researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada, writing on a number of social, political, economic, and historical issues. He is also Project Manager of The People’s Book Project. He also hosts a weekly podcast show, “Empire, Power, and People,” on BoilingFrogsPost.com.
Please donate to The People’s Book Project to help this book be finished by the end of summer:
Super Mario Monti and the Dictatorship of Austerity in Italy
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
The following is Part 2 of a two-part excerpt on ‘Italy in Crisis.’ These excerpts are rough-draft, unedited samples of a chapter on the European debt crisis to be featured in my upcoming book (as yet ‘Untitled’), to be done by the end of the summer. The book covers the following: the origins, evolution, and effects of the global economic crisis; the acceleration of international imperialism; the elite global social engineering project of constructing a system of ‘global governance’; emerging resistance and revolutionary movements (and elite attempts to co-opt, control, or crush them), including the Arab Spring, European anti-austerity protests, the Spanish Indignados, the Chilean student movement, the Occupy movement, the Quebec ‘Maple Spring’, and the Mexican student movement, among others. This sample allows you to see the research that is going into this book, and if you would like to see the book come to completion, please consider making a generous donation to The People’s Book Project. With a fundraising goal of $2,500 the Project has raised $810, and just $1,690 to go!
In Part 1 of this series (The Decline of the Roman Democracy and Rise of the ‘Super Mario’ Technocracy), I examined the Technocratic coup in Italy, which removed the democratically-elected Berlusconi and replaced him with an unelected technocrat, Mario Monti, an economist, Bilderberg member, former European Chairman of the Trilateral Commission, former European Commissioner for Competition, and a former adviser to Goldman Sachs International, was also on the board of the Coca-Cola Company, and founded the European think tank, Bruegel. Mario Monti was installed by the European elites with one purpose: punish the population of Italy through ‘fiscal austerity’ and ‘structural adjustment.’
The Technocracy of Austerity
Monti wasted no time in punishing the people of Italy for the crimes and excesses of Europe and the world’s elite. On December 2, 2011, Monti announced a 30 billion euro ($40.3 billion) package of austerity measures, which included “raising taxes and increasing the pension age.” Monti described the measures as “painful, but necessary.” He told a press conference that, “We have had to share the sacrifices, but we have made great efforts to share them fairly.” Monti, who is both Prime Minister and Economy Minister, said he had renounced his own salaries from those positions. Considering that he was – until taking those positions – an adviser to Coca-Cola and Goldman Sachs, among other prominent jobs, those salaries likely would not make much of a difference to Monti’s bank account, anyway. The Deputy Economy Minister Vittorio Grilli (who is still on the board of the Monti-founded think tank Bruegel), said that, “the package should ensure that Italy meet its target of a balanced budget by 2013.” The Welfare Minister Elsa Fornero broke down into tears as she announced an end to inflation indexing on many pension bands, which would essentially amount to “an effective income cut for many retired people.” Unions spoke out against the cuts, stating that they would “hit poorer workers and pensioners disproportionately hard.” Deputy Economy Minister Grilli said that 12-13 billion euros of the package would come from spending cuts, and the rest of the 30 billion euro package would come from tax increases. The minimum age for pensioners (that is, the retirement age) was set to be raised for both men and women to 66 by 2018, as well as providing “incentives” to keep people in the workforce until the age of 70.
The austerity package was passed by an undemocratic decree which Monti named the “Save Italy” decree, and while the union leaders denounced the package, the main business lobby in Italy, Confindustria, praised the package as vital “for the salvation of Italy and the euro.” As Elsa Fornero, the Minister for Welfare, began crying as she announced the austerity measures, she explained, “We know we are asking for sacrifices, but we hope they will be understood in the name of growth and to avoid collective impoverishment.” Of course, austerity is just that: “collective impoverishment.”
In response to the austerity package, Italy’s three largest labour unions began a week of strikes on December 12, with port, highway, and haulage workers stopping work for three hours on the 12th, while metalworkers, including employees of Fiat, put down their tools for eight hours. Printing press operators stopped working for a full shift, and most newspapers were expected to not publish the following day. Public transport strikes took place on December 15-16, and bank employees were set to stop work in the afternoon of December 16, while the public administration closed down for the entire day of December 19. Susanna Camusso, the head of the largest and most militant labour federation, CGIL, said, “We’re not giving up on the idea that the austerity package must be changed… It hurts workers, pensions and the country as a whole.” Mario Monti held a last-minute meeting with the union leaders to unsuccessfully attempt to stop the strikes that were set to begin the following day.
CGIL leader Camusso said that as a result of the austerity measures, “We see every risk of a social explosion.” CGIL, which represents six million members, half of whom are pensioners, stated that, “We are flexible in the face of the emergency but we are not willing to accept everything… You can’t ride roughshod over people.” With only 57% of Italians working, raising the retirement age, as dictated by the austerity package, would amount to “closing the door on the young unemployed,” warned Camusso, adding that Monti had done nothing for “young people and women who can’t find work, and when they do it is badly paid.”
In late December, the Italian Senate passed a vote of confidence on Mario Monti’s government when they approved the new austerity package. Monti commented: “Today this chamber concludes a rapid, responsible, complex job… on a decree that was passed in extreme emergency and that enables Italy to hold its head high as it faces the very serious European crisis.”
Prior to the European Summit held at the end of January 2012, Mario Monti was holding meetings with Angela Merkel, Nicolas Sarkozy, British Prime Minister David Cameron, and European Council President Herman Van Rompuy. Italy, wrote the Economist, “it seems fair to say, is back at the top table after being quietly shoved off under the leadership of Silvio Berlusconi.” Monti emphasized to Merkel, Sarkozy, and other leaders that the EU needs to not simply “enforce fiscal discipline,” but to stimulate growth. This would mean, according to Monti, “not only finding ways to lower interest rates, but encouraging liberalisation wherever possible.” Monti even suggested that Germany should “liberalize” (meaning: privatize) some of its services. Monti, in an interview with the Economist, stated that, “It is rather unusual for Italy to be at the forefront of pro-market initiatives,” but that he planned to undertake a major liberalization of Italy, saying: “I am convinced that it is also in Italy’s national interest.” Acknowledging that his government is “unelected,” Monti told the Economist that, “there was in Italy a hidden demand for a boring government which would try to tell the truth in non-political jargon.” Monti warned, however, that, “Austerity is not enough, even for budgetary discipline, if economic activity does not pick up a decent rate of growth… A lowering in interest rates does not depend only on Italy’s efforts but also, and essentially, on Europe’s ability to confront the crisis in a more decisive way.” Monti stated that Italy’s domestic political situation is getting problematic for the EU, with a growing appeal to ‘Euroscepticism,’ warning: “What I see now, week after week, in parliament is a widening of the spread of this attitude… The degree of impatience-cum-hostility to the EU, to Germany and to the ECB is mounting.”
Monti warned Merkel and other EU leaders that Italian sacrifices alone would not get Italy out of crisis, that Italy needed some form of outside support, without which, he warned: “a protest against Europe will develop in Italy, also against Germany, which is viewed as the ringleader of E.U. intolerance, and against the European Central Bank… I cannot have success with my policies if the E.U.’s policies don’t change.” In particular, he was referring to the need to bring down Italy’s interest rates, something that could likely only be achieved through the ECB purchasing large amounts of Italian bonds, which would increase “market confidence” in Italy and bring down interest rates. Otherwise, Monti lamented, the popular discontent of the people with the economic situation could push Italy to “flee into the arms of populists.” Spoken like a true unelected technocrat. Imagine that, a government which dares to serve the interests of the people over whom it rules! Not in the ‘New Europe.’
In late January, Philip Stephens, writing for the Financial Times, stated that, “Italy is back,” and that while Merkel “sits at the top of Europe’s power list,” and Sarkozy “can lay claim to be the continent’s most energetic leader,” it is Mario Monti who “is its most interesting.” Stephens declared that, “Mr. Monti’s fate may turn out to be Europe’s.” Barack Obama’s White House announced that in a future meeting between Obama and Monti, the two leaders would discuss “the comprehensive steps the Italian government is taking to restore market confidence and reinvigorate growth through structural reform, as well as the prospect of an expansion of Europe’s financial firewall.” Stephens translated this as: “Mr. Obama is behind Mr. Monti all the way – including when he puts pressure on Ms. Merkel.” Lamenting the Italy of Berlusconi, who was “shunned by his European Union peers,” though always embraced as a friend by Russia’s Putin, Stephens wrote that Monti, “a serious-minded academic with a serious plan, is different in every dimension.” He also noted that there was “a second Italian at the top table,” meaning Mario Draghi, the new President of the European Central Bank, “the other Mario,” who in terms of economic orthodoxy, “styles himself an honorary German.” Stephens wrote that Monti is so important because “it is in Italy that the euro’s long-term prospects will be decided,” as Italy is the euro-area’s third largest economy (after Germany and France), and if Italy “cannot chart a credible economic course, the euro does not have a future as a pan-European project.” While praising Monti’s austerity package, Stephens said that, “the real test will come in liberalizing the economy,” which “will not be easy,” but “the choices are unavoidable.”
Mario Monti, upon unveiling his “liberalization” plans in late January, stated: “Italy’s economy has been slowed down for decades by three constraints: insufficient competition; an inadequate infrastructure; and complicated administrative procedures.” Thus, Monti passed a decree opening the occupation of taxi drivers up to “competition,” prompting taxi drivers to block central streets in Rome. As liberalization brings in higher petrol prices (which were previously under more control), truck drivers and agricultural workers set up barricades in Sicily. One Italian paper (owned by the Berlusconi family) headlined: “Half of Italy is ready to wage war on the government.” Once decrees are issued, they go into effect immediately, but require parliamentary approval within two months. Monti’s liberalization decrees of January (following the austerity decrees of December) also targeted the gas and electricity markets, as well as the insurance sector and public services. Next in Monti’s target: the labour market. One analyst at Roubini Global Economics told the Financial Times: “Although structural reforms are necessary to boost long-term growth, they will take several years to bear fruit and, in a period of economic contraction and government retrenchment, will have an adverse effect on short-term output, deepening the recession which will last through 2013.”
In his first interview since resigning as Prime Minister, Berlusconi told the Financial Times in early February that he was “stepping aside” from frontline Italian politics and had no intention of running for prime minister again. Berlusconi gave his “strongest endorsement to date of the technocratic government led by Mario Monto,” specifically in “its intention to implement labour market reforms opposed by trade unions.” Berlusconi declared: “I have now stepped aside, even in my party.” He explained that he resigned the previous November because he had been attacked “by an obsessive campaign by the national and foreign media that blamed me personally and the government for the high spread of Italian state bonds and the crisis on the stock market.” Thus, he contended: “After having evaluated the causes of the crisis, which did not rest in Italy but in Europe and the euro, I believed that if I had stayed in government I would have damaged Italy as we would have had more terrible media campaigns… With a sense of responsibility, though having a majority in both houses of parliament… I stepped aside and with elegance.” One can always rely upon a politician to sing their own praises, especially if they are undeserving. He did suggest, however, that he would consider running for parliament, quipping: “I still have strong popular backing, almost twice as much as my colleagues Merkel and Sarkozy… In opinion polls, I personally have 36 per cent support. If I walk out in the street I stop the traffic. I am a public danger and I cannot go out to do the shopping.” Berlusconi concluded:
The hope is that this government, which is supported for the first time by the whole of parliament, will have the chance to propose great structural reforms, starting from the state’s institutional architecture, without which we cannot think of having a modern and truly free and democratic country.
Martin Wolf, perhaps the most influential financial columnist in the world, writing for the Financial Times in January of 2012, asked if the two Marios – nicknamed by the media as the “Super-Marios” – will be able to “save the eurozone?” Wolf wrote that they “bring sophisticated pragmatism to the table,” and hoped that they would “shift policy in a more productive direction.” Wolf referred to the ECB’s new long-term refinancing operation announced in December of 2011, which is essentially a bank bailout with a three-year yield at the ECB’s average interest rate (which stands at 1% currently). When the ECB began this new program, roughly 523 banks took 489 billion euros, described by Wolf as “a bold and cunning move by Mr. Draghi and probably the most he could get away with right now.” Wolf also referred to Monti’s willingness to argue that the creditor countries “do more to lower his country’s borrowing costs,” or interest rates, warning in the Financial Times against a “powerful backlash” among voters in the EU periphery states. Wolf wrote that, “Mr. Monti is in a strong position to make this argument,” as Monti “is a well-respected official with staunchly pro-European views and a strong sympathy for German attitudes to competition and fiscal and monetary stability.” Wolf explained that, “Draghi and Monti are addressing two interlinked fragilities: the vulnerability of the banking system and the unsustainable terms on which weaker countries can now borrow.” While praising the “Super-Marios,” Martin Wolf said that they alone could not save the eurozone, whose problems run very deep, and where even the ‘solutions’ to the crises felt by various EU states can make larger, structural reforms even more challenging. As Wolf correctly noted: “In Italy’s case, for example, the combination of high interest rates and vulnerable banks with fiscal austerity is likely to lead to a lengthy and deep recession and so to a rise in cyclical fiscal deficits [debt incurred during and because of the economic crisis at the time] as the structural deficit falls [the debt acquired by spending more than what is brought in through revenue].” Naturally, though, this simply means that the overall debt will increase. Wolf wrote, ultimately, that if “break-up [of the euro] is ruled out, one must choose reforms, however painful.” This is because, according to Wolf, “the costs of failure are so large that the possibility of domestic and eurozone reform must be kept alive.” On this, the “Super-Marios” can be leaders.
When the credit ratings agency Standard & Poor’s downgraded Italy’s debt in January by two notches to BBB, “with a warning of more to come,” Mario Monti stated that he “agrees with almost everything in S&P’s analysis,” and “jokes that he could almost have written it himself.” He told the Financial Times that, “If I ever dictated anything, it must have been what S&P had to say about domestic Italian economic policy,” and then laughed. As a result of the downgrade, Italy had the lowest credit rating of any eurozone country which did not receive a bailout, apart from Cyprus. Why was Monti so pleased with the downgrade? He quoted the report to the interviewer from the Financial Times, going through the risk factors associated with Italy, but adding: “Nevertheless, we have not changed our political risk score for Italy. We believe that the weakening policy environment at European level is to a certain degree offset by a strong domestic Italian capacity.” In other words: “Mr. Monti’s 60 days in office have been enough to convince the agency that his government is on a path of reform that could return the country to growth and shrink its debt levels, but that European Union mismanagement of the eurozone debt crisis is dragging down struggling countries, including Italy.” Mr. Monti stated, “I think I’m the only one in Europe not to have criticized the rating agencies.”
In discussing how his government came into existence, as in, not through democratic means, Monti told the Financial Times that he agreed that he could be helping to bring a “revolution,” referring to the number and extent of measures he intended to pass before democratic elections take place. He explained that if Italy’s borrowing costs (interest rates) fall, “the political parties will not dare stop the experiment [in technocracy] before it has to stop… And in my view the political parties will not dare go back to the acrimonious, superficial and tough confrontation that animated parliament. The image and style of public debate has changed.” He added: “If and when success comes, you will find us not really taking credit… My ambition is that Italy becomes a boring country, in relative terms. It is really in the hands of Europe.”
In February of 2012, Mario Monti gave an interview with PBS Newshour in which he continued to heap praise upon austerity measures, saying that because Greece’s debt had been so high, “it would have been hard – let’s face realities – to have a soft landing from those excesses of deficit without a recession.” He added, “I think there is a valid point if we say that Europe needed to be put under a safe place as regards the public finances of each member state.” Monti thanked “German and other pressures” for pushing countries in that direction of austerity. And now, he claimed, “the time has come to focus more energies on how collectively we can achieve more growth in Europe.” Growth, of course, simply means growth of profits for big banks and multinational corporations.
Super Mario’s ‘Structural Adjustment’: The Meaning of “Growth”
When Europe’s political and financial elite discuss “growth” in the current context as an added “solution” on top of austerity, what they really mean is to implement major structural changes: to liberalize the economy, privatize all assets, state subsidies, services, industries, and resources. This will allow corporations and banks to come in and purchase all of these assets and industries, and since this process takes place in the midst of a deep crisis, they are able to take control of all the assets for very cheap prices. This is called “foreign direct investment.”
The major corporations of Europe, of North America, and elsewhere, will be able to control directly a much larger share of the economy. Their purchases provide short-term funds for the state, thus increasing short-term revenue. However, since state industries are privatized and sold for pennies on the dollar, they are actually losing long-term revenue, but that isn’t mentioned. Markets respond to the short-term, not the long-term, and of course, we want to have our world and its social, political, and economic stability determined by forces that theoretically do not look more than a couple months ahead. The process of liberalization and privatization is also sold on the prospect of “creating jobs,” because the theory goes that corporations will enter the market with the ability to invest and thus, create jobs for workers. The reality is that the corporations buy up the industries, and generally shut them down to relocate elsewhere for cheaper labour. This means mass firings. This also means that unions and labour rights in general have to be dismantled and people have to be kept in line, under control.
Austerity measures are aimed at redistributing wealth from the mass of society to the very top percentiles, which is achieved through increased taxation, mass firing of public sector workers, cuts to social spending, health care, welfare, education and other areas. This, quite predictably, creates a massive social crisis. Many austerity packages – such as Monti’s in Italy – also include efforts to undermine labour and unions. This prepares the work force for the period and programs of “growth,” in which workers will be forced to submit to exploitative working conditions with no collective bargaining rights, or else the industries will simply fire them all, close up shop, and go elsewhere. This is why we hear all the Eurocrats and politicians in Europe and elsewhere explain that austerity and growth are not mutually exclusive, that they can and should co-exist together. Indeed, from the view of the ‘effects’ of these policies, a joint program of “austerity” and “growth” makes perfect sense: commit social genocide (through fiscal austerity), and exploit, plunder, and profit from the spoils of economic war (growth through structural adjustments).
In the ‘Third World’ over the past three decades, these policies were imposed by the IMF, World Bank, Western imperial powers, and Western banks and corporations. With the primary engine being the International Monetary Fund (IMF), countries in Latin America, Africa, and Asia, which were in the midst of a major debt crisis in the 1980s, were forced to sign what were called ‘Structural Adjustment Programs’ (SAPs) with the IMF and World Bank if they wanted to get any loans or aid from Western banks or institutions. The SAPs would be a set of conditions that the countries would have to adhere to if they were to get a loan, and the conditions included a mix of ‘fiscal austerity’ and ‘structural adjustment’: devalue the currency to make it cheaper to invest in the country (but which creates inflation and increases the costs of food, fuel, and other commodities, hurting the poor and middle classes); cut social spending to reduce the deficit (but which saw the destruction of education, health care, welfare and social programs, as well as mass firings from the public sector); trade liberalization, to allow for foreign countries and corporations to more easily invest in the country, and thus, bring in revenue (which meant dismantling all tariffs, trade barriers, price controls, state subsidies, and resulted in the easy exploitation and cheap purchase of the country’s wealth by foreign corporations and banks); and privatization, meant to encourage investment and allow for the market to make state-owned industries and asset more “efficient” (but which resulted in mass firings, closing of entire industries, mass corruption, and total control of the economy being handed to foreign banks and corporations).
The result of SAPs – the combination of “austerity” and “growth” – over three decades has been devastating: poverty has rapidly accelerated and expanded; wealth becomes heavily polarized, with a tiny minority owning the economy, and everyone else with next to nothing; the small elite become increasingly dependent upon and integrated with a global elite (based primarily in the West), and disassociated from their fellow citizens; mortality rates go up as health care and social services are dismantled or made incredibly expensive at a time of deepening poverty in which more people need the services more than ever before; social unrest and repression become rampant, as the people rise up against ‘Structural Adjustment,’ the state resorts to increasingly authoritarian and brutal measures to control or crush resistance to the programs and to protect the dominance of the tiny minority, locally and internationally.
This, essentially, is the fate of Europe and the rest of the industrialized world. Europe, simply being the most integrated region of the world (a trend which is accelerating everywhere in the world), is experiencing the brunt of this crisis before the rest of the industrialized nations of the world. So when politicians and financial elites say that Europe needs “growth” in conjunction with austerity, and this will lead to “recovery”, remember what “growth” means: exploitation, plundering, and profits. When you remember this, suddenly everything the politicians and pundits have been saying for years, suddenly makes sense.
When asked if he felt that there was a danger of “a backlash” in Italy against what people “may see as E.U. imposed changes to their way of life that are very, very painful,” Monti replied that, “there was such a risk of backlash,” but he explained: “I try to avoid that backlash by always presenting the necessary sacrifices that Italians have to go through not as an imposition from Brussels or Germany or the European Central Bank, but rather as a necessary step that Italians have to undertaking — to undertake also at the suggestion of Europe, but basically for their own interests, for the interests of ourselves and of future generations of Italians. This is precisely meant to avoid backlashes.” Interesting statement: saying that austerity is for the interests of Italians and “future generations” is done not to speak truth, but “to avoid backlashes” against the E.U. Monti emphasized that, “it is very, very important” to ensure that the single currency, “which was meant to be the culminating point of the European construction,” does not become, “through psychological negative effects, a factor of disintegration of Europe.”
In an interview with the Wall Street Journal in early February, Mario Monti publicly outlined his strategy for “growth” in Europe, which he proposed privately to other European governments the previous month, pushing Europe beyond austerity and suggesting “tougher European rules aimed at prying open member states’ national industries,” of course to “encourage economic growth and competition in the euro zone.” Monti explained that if this is not done, “Europe will not be a nice place to live in five years from now if we haven’t solved the problem of how to grow… We have to say what growth will look like in a fiscally compacted union.” His proposal “would speed up the process by which European authorities sanction nations that violate the tenets of the EU’s single market.” For Monti and other technocrats like himself, this “growth” does not include government spending. Since Italy is supposed to knock off 30 billion euros ($39.8 billion) – 2% of its GDP – from its public debt “every year for decades,” this means, explained Monti, that “any thought of budget-stimulated growth ideas will have to go away.” Instead, Monti suggested that the European Union “should back single markets more forcefully to support economic growth,” which instead of having Berlin sign off on the EU spending its way to prosperity, would mean “to push Germany to liberalize its own economy,” which, claimed Monti, “would have a trickle-down effect.”
Monti was undertaking various programs of “liberalization” in Italy, such as liberalizing major professions and sectors, such as pharmacies, taxis, and notaries. To handle Italy’s “unemployment” issue, which is significant to say the least, Monti was seeking to “introduce new measures aimed at making it easier for companies to hire and fire workers,” which, he said, “will increase the overall flexibility of the labor market,” meaning that it will allow for cheaper and more easily-exploited labour by corporations. Monti even stated that the changes he was making in the labour market were aimed at “reducing the segmentation of Italy’s labor market between those who are protected, sometimes hyper-protected, and those, particularly the young, who can’t really get into the labor market.” So, instead of having various work forces that are “protected” (or “hyper-protected” in Monti’s words), it would be better to simply bring everyone down to the same level to allow for “flexibility,” or in other words, easy exploitative capacity. For “Super Mario,” no protection is better than any protection when it comes to workers. Imagine if there were politicians who thought the same thing about bankers.
While Europe agreed to a ‘Fiscal Compact’ to ensure austerity, Monti felt that the EU should add to this a growth pact, and felt that the supranational and undemocratic European Union should have “an efficient mechanism to swiftly sanction countries that don’t open up their economies to competition,” meaning exploitation and plundering. Thus, the previous month, Monti submitted a proposal “aimed at giving the European Commission – the EU’s governing body – greater power over sanctioning member states.” This proposal, which had not been reported prior to this interview, “could speed up the process by years, by making it easier for the commission to impose rulings rather than having to take member states to court, as it often does now.” When asked what this has to do with growth, Monti replied: “A lot, because if you give more teeth to the commission to remove national obstacles to the functioning of the single market, we’ll create a large level playing field, which the business community always insists is a key component of growth.” Well that answers that: it will lead to “growth” because the business community says so. Thank you, Prime Minister.
Monti acknowledged that this creates obvious concerns, especially with countries like the U.K. and France which would likely oppose the proposal for fear of its encroachment on their sovereignty, and the existence of a “democratic deficit” which will continue “as member states gradually hand over more of their fiscal and economic policies to the central oversight of European institutions.” But for this, Monti has a solution: “Much of the reconciliation between more centralized governance and the scope for democracy will be resolved through an even stronger role of the European Parliament,” which is, in effect, utterly useless.
The Most Important Man in Europe?
In late February, Time Magazine published an article reporting on an interview they conducted with Monti in which they referred to him as “the most important man in Europe.” The article described Monti as “the tough taskmaster Italy so desperately needs,” though he “has the aura of a gentlemanly grandfather.” Time reported that Monti was “fixing a deadlocked democracy,” no doubt by ruling as an unelected technocrat, “and charging forward with greater European integration,” in a “wholesale overhaul of Italian society.” Monti told Time, “I believe that reforms will not really take hold if they do not gradually come into the culture of the people.” Time declared that for the problem of Italy’s partisan politics, “the solution was Monti.” Monti said that the request to rule came “at such a severe time of crisis for Italy that I could not refuse.” Thus, declared Time Magazine: “Today he reigns over Rome like a new Caesar.” In effect, “the democratic process has been suspended to allow an unelected technocrat to implement policies that elected politicians could not.” Monti himself refers to this as a “temporary mutual disarmament” of the left and right, a technocratic euphemism for “dictatorship of austerity.”
The publication praised Monti’s austerity package in December, his liberalization program in January, and his new plan to overhaul the labour market; then lamented that Monti is taking on “entrenched interest groups,” such as taxi drivers (no joke, the article referred to taxi drivers as “entrenched interest groups”), who staged strikes in Rome and other Italian cities, and pharmacists who were threatening to do the same thing, or truckers that blocked roadways in protest of a fuel-tax hike. The president of a national taxi union stated, “In Italy, the economy was more based on rules that used to be applied to create wealth for the general public… I don’t understand why suddenly the only solution is to get rid of the rules.” He added: “Monti has always lived in the salons… He really doesn’t know the problems of ordinary people.” To this, Monti replied, “Maybe they’re right,” but he felt this was an advantage: “Italy has piled up huge public debt because the successive governments were too close to the life of ordinary citizens, too willing to please the requests of everybody, thereby acting against the interests of future generations.” Monti earned a reputation – and the nickname “Super Mario” – back when he was an EU Commissioner, where he came into conflict with some major global corporations, such as blocking a merger between GE and Honeywell, which prompted the then-CEO of GE, Jack Welch, to refer to Monti as “cold-blooded.” Monti acknowledged that as he is more successful in pushing “reforms,” the effects of those reforms would put pressure on the political parties to abandon him, and make it more difficult for him to continue his programs before he leaves office in 2013. “The point,” explained Monti, “is how to keep this pressure even once the most visible elements of emergency hopefully are over.” This would largely be left to accelerating the process of European integration: “I think there is a genuine wish on the part of the E.U. and Germany and France to again play an active game with Italy for a relaunch of European integration… I think we will be seeing an acceleration of the good news.” Apparently, accelerating the integration and institutionalization of an undemocratic, technocratic, supranational structure is “good news.”
When Mario Monti went to visit Wall Street on the seventh floor of the New York Stock Exchange (to visit his actual ‘constituents’), he received a long, standing ovation when he entered the room with an audience of 200 people. Charlie Himmelberg, a managing director at Goldman Sachs, commented that, “It’s been impressive how quickly the sentiment has changed on Italy.” Blaise Antin, the head of sovereign research at TCW said, “It is a good thing Monti visits investors… But plenty will ultimately depend on the Italian parliament” in the tough choices ahead. Monti told the crowd of Wall Street financiers that, “What’s important is that this improved governance of the euro zone is almost there and the euro zone crisis is almost overcome, I believe.” Monti later reflected at a new conference in New York that he was “warmly greeted by the financial community” on Wall Street. No doubt.
Super Mario Wages War on Workers
After making the rounds in interviews, state visits, meeting Obama, and visiting his constituents at Wall Street, Mario Monti went back to Italy in late February to push forward on his “labour reforms” to undermine and destroy unions and workers’ rights. By March, the effects were being felt among Italians. Monti went to great pains to denounce what he described as Italy’s “two-tier labour market,” dividing generations and leaving the young out to dry. The New York Times wasted no time in supporting Monti’s calls to dismantle this system. Framing the discourse around the generational divide, in which “older workers came of age with guaranteed jobs and ironclad contracts granting generous pensions and full benefits,” the younger Italians, “the best-educated in the country’s history… are lucky to find temporary work, which offers few benefits or stability.” Thus, one of Monti’s “solutions” was to “make it easier for companies to hire and fire.”
Very typical of the neoliberal economic discourse, is to draw conclusions based upon these facts alone: older workers have benefits, younger workers have few opportunities; thus, older workers are destroying future generations with their “entitlements.” Solution: dismantle entitlements and benefits so all can work on an “equal playing field.” The discourse divides workers and people against each other, meanwhile, there is no mention of the fact that the reason why the youth have so few job opportunities has more to do with the lack of state and business investment, the deregulation and privatization of industries over the 1990s (while Mario Draghi was head of the Treasury), the effects of the euro (creating an economic hierarchy between the Northern nations of the EU and the Southern states), or the very obvious fact that Italy is in a severe crisis because its corrupt government colluded with global banks and suffered under the institutions and rules of the E.U., which promote elite interests and undermine democracy and self-determination. No, mentioning the massive – and elite-driven – causes for the crisis Italy faces, and the unemployment issues which are symptomatic of that crisis, is too inconvenient for the New York Times. Instead, it is simply easier and more acceptable in the popular discourse to pit workers against each other, in an effort to undermine them all, collectively.
An economist at Bocconi University, of which Mario Monti was president until he became Prime Minister of Italy, supported this discourse for Italy, arguing: “Reforming contracts, unemployment benefits and salary levels would permit labor productivity to rise, which would in turn permit the country to grow… It’s a central theme for improving a country like Italy.” Undertaking all of these labour “reforms,” in actuality, would allow for youth to enter the job market to a certain degree, as it would mean that other “hyper-protected” workers no longer have protection, and all of Italy’s workforce is left vulnerable to exploitation. Thus, youth could be hired as extremely cheap labour, since for them, some work – even horrible work with little pay – is better than nothing at all. If workers who had protections attempt to organize and salvage various labour rights, companies can simply fire them and hire cheap, young workers with no benefits as replacements. This is called “youth opportunity.” This is how sweatshops became so popular in the ‘developing’ world over the past several decades, which were also brought about through fiscal austerity and structural adjustment: undermine labour/worker rights for easy exploitation, and if they attempt to organize, strike, or obtain rights, foreign corporations can fire them all and hire cheaper labour, close their factories and outsource elsewhere, or ship in cheaper immigrant labour forces. This has the effect of bringing the standards and conditions of the entire work force, and indeed, the global labour market, down to a more easily exploitative position: equality of exploitation (what economists and bankers call “labour flexibility”).
Monti declared: “We have to get away from a dual labor market where some are overly protected, while others totally lack protection and benefits when unemployed.” Thus, he said, “equity and growth” would be the “watchwords” of his government. Since “growth” means profits, plunder, and exploitation, “equity” is a logical addition to this: equity in exploitation. The New York Times, reporting on a 33-year old graduate without job opportunities, said she would “welcome” such changes, as she, “like so many in her generation, feels thwarted, overly reliant on her parents and uncertain of her future.” Amazingly, in the same article, it was acknowledged that the two-tier labour system was not created by “entitlements,” but rather as a result of policies the government undertook nearly a decade previous (in facilitating Italy’s entry into the euro-zone), in which the state made it easier for Italian corporations “to hire younger workers on a range of temporary contracts and internships,” while many of the early-retirement benefits for older workers were put in place during the mass privatizations (undertaken by Mario Draghi), in order to facilitate the reduction of staff “and cutting costs in the period before Italy joined the euro zone.” The article then went on to blame the unions, claiming that “younger Italians have come to see them as part of the problem.”
One must actually pause in appreciation of the intellectual gymnastics displayed by the New York Times in publishing an article which quietly acknowledges that the causes of Italy’s two-tiered labour and employment issues were the result of demands and policies put in place in order to join the single-currency, yet still concluded that the main problem was “overly-protected workers,” and thus, that the solutions lie in undermining labour and workers’ rights. The article even acknowledged that the government’s policies of making it easy for Italian corporations to exploit youth labour were designed “to make the market more flexible,” yet does not question the logic in Monti’s program of solving the crisis brought on by this “flexibility” by implementing measures to make it “more flexible.” The Monti-logic, which the New York Times readily endorses, is to look at policies that didn’t work (in terms of what people were ‘told’ they were meant to achieve), and then to advance and accelerate those same policies in the hopes that it will have the opposite effect as to that which it has always had before. Einstein once said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over again, expecting different results. If we actually apply that definition, almost the entire discipline of economics – and most especially neoliberal economics – is absolutely insane. Either that, or they simply use coded rhetoric which sounds like one thing, means another, and is done so to promote a global social, political, and economic agenda which would otherwise be impossible to publicly justify: preserving and accumulating for a tiny minority, and exploiting and punishing the vast majority.
Right on cue, the effects of the economic crisis over the previous year, exacerbated by Monti’s labour reforms and austerity package, was being felt across Italy. In Naples, one of Europe’s poorest cities, by late March it was reported that child labour has returned, as “thousands of children are leaving school to help their families make ends meet,” an increasing trend in the country, in which children work in the black market or “are recruited for sinister purposes by the mafia.” The most common job for child workers is as a “shop assistant,” earning less than a euro an hour. This trend had been developing in Italy over a number of years, as one local government report in the Campania region revealed that between 2005 and 2009, more than 54,000 children left school to join the work force, with 38% of them under the age of 13. The deputy mayor of Naples, located in the Campania region, commented: “Of course, we were the poorest region in Italy. But we haven’t seen a situation like this since the end of the Second World War… At age 10, these kids are already working 12 hours a day, which is a clear breach of their right to development.” The succession of financial reforms put in place by the Italian government since 2008 introduced drastic cuts, and in June of 2010, the Campania region had to end its minimum welfare program, “plunging more than 130,000 families into poverty.” Children from poor families face three options: struggle to stay in school, drop out to work in the black economy, or “join the ranks of the Camorra, the Neopolitan mafia.” Since the beginning of the crisis, support for youth and their families has been cut by 87%, and roughly 20,000 educators in the Campania region had not been paid for two years. Perhaps this is what Mario Monti means by “labour flexibility.”
In late March, reported the Economist, as Mario Monti was engaged in talks with employers and unions, trying to get them to accept labour-market reforms, “when it became clear that unanimity was impossible, Mr. Monti declared the talks over and said his government would press ahead regardless.” It is quite appropriate, one must acknowledge, that for a government which was created through undemocratic means, it should only continue to act and rule undemocratically as well. Such is the path Mario Monti has taken with Italy. On March 16, the Italian parliament’s three largest parties endorsed Monti’s reforms, on the warning from President Napolitano that, “failure to agree would have serious consequences.” The main problem for Monti came from the largest union federation, the CGIL, an historic ally of the Democratic Party (PD), which had endorsed Monti and his austerity packages, leading one senior leader in the PD to suggest that the party leader, Pier Luigi Bersani, “could face a backbench revolt or a party split.”
The Wall Street Journal naturally congratulated Monti, in an article entitled, “Monti pulls a Thatcher,” for showing “political courage” in walking away from negotiations with Italy’s labour unions, announcing that he was “going to move ahead with reforming the country’s notorious employment laws – with or without union consent.” Italy had stringent rules regarding the ability of employers to fire workers, what the Wall Street Journal referred to as a “job-for-life scheme,” which Monti’s reforms will replace with a “generous system of guaranteed severance when employees are dismissed” for what are called, “economic reasons.” The Journal heaped praise upon Monti, as “standing up to Italy’s labor unions takes courage, and not only of the political sort,” noting how there was an economist ten years prior who was shot and killed “for his role in designing a previous attempt at labor reform.” Monti had been ruling by decree since December, but announced in late March that the labour reform proposals would be voted through the National Assembly. The WSJ wrote that as a former economics professor, Mario Monti “has a rare opportunity to educate Italians on the consequences of opposing reform,” to which the Journal suggested, they need only to look at Greece: “If that doesn’t scare them sober, then nothing will help.”
Within a week, Monti allowed for a very slight change to his labour reform bill, which would give judges “greater leeway in determining whether companies were justified in laying off a worker.” The Wall Street Journal then referred to this, in an article entitled, “Surrender, Italian Style,” as a “cave-in to the left side of his political coalition,” and noted that, “Monti was brought in as Prime Minister to retrieve his country from the edge of a Greek abyss,” and that this “labor bill is a surrender to those who are bringing” that abyss to Italy. For the WSJ, any capitulation – no matter how minor (and this particular one was very minor) – to unions and labour, is deemed an absolute “surrender” or “cave-in.” Monti defended himself in a letter to the Wall Street Journal in which he explained that this “surrender” was still a move in the right direction of reform, as it “introduces a more predictable [i.e., controllable] and speedier [i.e., systematic] procedure to handle dismissals for economic or other objective reasons.” He elaborated: “First, a fast, compulsory, out-of-court settlement procedure at local level; then, if conciliation fails, the worker can take the case to a judge as happens in other countries.” In “extreme cases” where the “economic or other reason” for firing the worker is deemed “manifestly inexistent,” the judge then has the ability to decide “for reinstatement instead of compensation.” When the “economic dismissal” is “not justified” in other cases (i.e., not an “extreme case”), compensation will be given with a cap at 24 months of wages. Monti said that it was a “complex reform” and deserves “serious analysis rather than snap judgments.” He then wrote: “I would suggest that perhaps the fact that it has been attacked by both the main employers association and the metalworkers union, part of the leading trade union confederation [CGIL], indicates that we have got the balance right.” This reform, claimed Monti, “will make the Italian labor market more flexible” which “lays the foundation for increase productivity, economic growth and employment.”
In mid-April, Italy’s major unions took to the streets of Rome in protest against Mario Monti’s pension-system reforms put in place in January, “saying it traps hundreds of thousands of workers in a legal limbo without retirement pay.” The reform that raised the retirement age affects those who are already retired. Bloomberg gave the example of Maria Dinelli, who had an early-retirement deal in 2008, in which her former employer provided benefits until her pension was to begin in 2015. Under Monti’s reforms, her pension won’t begin until 2017, upon which she commented, “I’ll be without a salary or pension for two full years before the retirement age, and will have to put money aside… You were told you had guarantees, then you lose it all because a new government takes power and changes the rules.” Tens of thousands of Italians took to the streets of Rome on April 13 as the Italian Labor Ministry said the night before that, “there are 65,000 Italians who may be left without support between when they leave work and when their pension kick in as the higher retirement age delays their payout,” while unions say the amount of people affected is five times that size, at roughly 300,000, prompting one union leader to state, “If these figures were correct,” referring to the Labor Ministry numbers, “then we’d have to say that the thousands of workers who’ve turned to the union for help are not real and just ghosts.” A labor law professor in Rome estimated the number may actually be as high as 450,000.
Monti referred to this plan as “cutting edge.” Well, it certainly ‘cuts.’ Meanwhile, Italians are facing increased taxes and record-high gasoline prices, thus producing a “slump in consumer demand” which pushed Italy into a deeper recession. Nicola Marinelli of Glendevon King Asset Management in London stated: “An overhaul of the pension system was unavoidable because the old scheme was too generous compared to the country’s possibilities and the European standards… That said, the protest of these workers may be a harbinger of future social tensions. I don’t think the younger workers have really realized they will have starvation-level pensions.” Just another “cutting edge” facet of Monti’s reforms. Interestingly, though perhaps not surprisingly, Monti’s reforms had not yet included “a heavy hand with the richest taxpayers,” prompting a labor law professor to opine, “I think it’s about time for those who have more to contribute to the needs of the country.” But such is not the nature of austerity.
In fact, in April it was reported that the political class in Italy, the “army of politicians and senior officials” who support Monti and his reforms in Parliament, “are clinging to fat salaries that far outstrip those of their peers abroad.” Monti had issued a decree which aimed to “prevent public servants earning more than U.S. President Barack Obama,” many of whom “earn considerably more.” Italy’s wealthy, however, not simply the top politicians and bureaucrats alone, “are hardly carrying their share of the burden.” One economist noted: “There has not been an equal distribution of sacrifices… In proportion to their salaries, higher incomes are paying less.” Italy has roughly 1,000 lawmakers across the nation, who earn more than their counterparts in the United States, with a base salary of 11,283 euros per month, while the lowest-earning households in Italy, “hurt most by rising fuel, property and sales taxes,” live “on less than 8,000 euros per year, or 667 euros per month, after taxes.” Between 2006 and 2010, Italy’s poorest families already lost almost 12 percent of their real income, according to data from the Bank of Italy. Unlike the political class, most Italian families are “traditionally thrifty,” however, under austerity in 2011, “households saved only 12 percent of their gross income, the lowest level since 1995.” That is the nature of austerity: when you need to save more than ever before, the ability to do so becomes harder than ever before. In March, a Moroccan worker in Italy set himself on fire in protest, and an Italian businessman did the same. Polls in Italy have shown that the people are “increasingly dissatisfied with the parties and politicians that led the country for the past two decades,” as more than 40% of respondents said that they wouldn’t vote for any of them if there were an election today.
Italy Under Austerity
The Wall Street Journal reported in early April that figures from the Italian Treasury revealed that Monti’s austerity measures were “stunting activity in the euro-zone’s third-largest economy,” and while “recent tax increases are helping Italy cut its fiscal shortfall,” they are also “pushing economic activity to contract even faster.” Industry Minister Corrado Passera stated: “With austerity one doesn’t grow.” The majority of tax increases are on the income of workers, though they also include taxes on consumption (such as Value Added Taxes – VAT) and on property assets. As Italy’s GDP contracted by 1% in the first quarter of 2012, yields on Italian government bonds rose, making it more expensive for Italy to borrow. Former prime minister Berlusconi commented: “The cure that the European Union has prescribed for our country is the one that has already caused a disaster in Greece and is beginning to do so again in Spain,” though he continued to throw his support behind the technocratic government. One businessman in Italy warned that, “Consumers have insurmountable obstacles ahead of them, with higher income-tax rates from March, higher property taxes as of June and a value-added tax increase in September.”
By late April, unemployment in Italy had reached nearly 10%, according to “official” statistics (meaning, it’s actually much higher), and in Sardinia, one in two young people were out of work. The construction industry in Italy has been hard hit, leading to one industry businessman killing himself, adding to a wave of “austerity suicides” across Italy, reaching 25 by April for the year of 2012.
In May of 2012, the Italian anarchist group which had claimed responsibility for shooting a nuclear engineering firm chief threatened to target Mario Monti. The group, referring to itself as the Olga Nucleus of the Informal Anarchist Federation – International Revolutionary Front, sent a statement to a newspaper in southern Italy, warning that “Monti was among seven remaining targets after Roberto Adinolfi, chief executive of Ansaldo Nucleare, was shot in the leg last week.” The statement read: “We say to Monti that he is one of the seven remaining and that the people have no interest in staying in Europe, saving the banks and helping to balance the accounts of a state that squandered money for its own interests.” The statement explained that any suicide connected to tax difficulties brought about by the austerity measures would be punished as a “state murder.” This referred to a series of suicides in Italy by businessmen and others, “despairing at the collapse of their livelihoods because of the crisis.” It was the same anarchist group that in the previous year, claimed responsibility for sending letter bombs to several banks, including to Josef Ackermann, the CEO of Deutsche Bank, while the director-general of Equitalia in Italy lost a finger opening one of the letter bombs in December. One of the members of the group, facing prosecution in court, “called for armed revolution… when asked about the Adinolfi shooting.”
Mario Monti had been pushing himself into European politics as a “mediator” between Germany and the weaker euro-zone economies, to seemingly “broaden” decision-making in Europe beyond the Franco-German axis. In the first few weeks of May, Monti’s technocratic administration had been “courting Berlin on two fronts,” trying to draw the parliaments of both countries closer together, and in term of ideology, they had been “trying to convince German officials – in both private meetings and public speeches – that the compromise solution to stoking growth in Europe’s weaker economies is investment in big public projects, such as transportation, Internet networks or electricity grids, while maintaining fiscal discipline.” Some spending, claimed Monti, should be “exempted” from fiscal austerity, something which Germany had long opposed. But with the French elections in early May getting rid of Nicolas Sarkozy and bringing in the Socialist President Francois Hollande, who favoured a strategy of spending on growth, Monti was seeking to find a common ground between Germany and France, but in a way that ultimately was supportive of the European Union, specifically. Nicholas Spiro, who heads a London-based sovereign debt consultancy, stated, “If there’s one European leader whose policies can appeal to both Chancellor Merkel and President-elect Hollande, it’s Monti.” The refined “growth” program promoted by Monti would be based on “creating bonds to fund European Union infrastructure projects and boosting the firepower of the European Investment Bank to fund public investments.” Thus, it would be based upon European spending, not individual nations spending, and so the debt would be pan-European, and controlled by the EU.
In late April, Mario Monti announced that he would be making more cuts to spending by the end of the year, “and appointed an expert from the private sector as a special commissioner to oversee the spending review.” The cuts, amounting to some 4.2 billion euros (or $5.6 billion), “would allow him to avoid proceeding with a plan to raise the national sales tax to 23 percent in October from 21 percent, a move that could hurt consumer spending and slow a return to growth,” reported the New York Times. Monti stated, “Today we are faced with the necessity of making up for the time lost… And not in years, but in months.” The new special commissioner from the private sector to review the process was Enrico Bondi, known as “Mr. Fix-it” for having successfully restructured the bankrupt Parmalat group. The change in austerity measures followed intense pressure from the business community in Italy to push the burden from increased taxation to more government spending cuts.
In mid-May, yields on Italian debt jumped up to nearly 6%, as evidence emerged that Italy was sliding into an even deeper recession, brought on by Monti’s austerity measures and ‘structural adjustments.’ The government in Italy was openly discussing using troops to protect various targets after a wave of violent actions, claimed by various anarchist groups, such as the shooting of the nuclear industry executive, as well as petrol bombs being thrown at tax offices in early May. An Italian banker warned that unless the European Central Bank was converted into a lender of last resort, Italy faces “massive devaluation, three to five years of hyperinflation, and unbearable unemployment.” Moody’s ratings agency downgraded 26 Italian banks in May, evoking the anger of the Italian Banking Association, which called the downgrade, “irresponsible, incomprehensible, and unjustifiable,” and said it was “an attack on Italy, its companies, its families and its citizens.”
Italy held a series of local elections in early May, in which the Italian comedian, Beppe Grillo, who is also leading a political party, the Five Star Movement, which “rode a wave of protest against austerity politics” and suggested, “We will see you in parliament.” Grillo had been increasingly critical of Monti’s tax hikes, and in one local election forced a run-off with the Democratic Party (PD), and managed to “trounce” Silvio Berlusconi’s Freedom People party in all the local elections, while the right-wing Northern League party, which has also criticized Monti’s reforms, “was humiliated at the polls.” The major Italian newspaper, Corriere della Sera, said, following the elections, “As of yesterday, it seems Monti is now more alone.”
In mid-June, police in Italy, Switzerland and Germany arrested 10 people suspected of involvement in “leftwing terrorist activity” in Italy and elsewhere over the previous three years, connected to one of two organizations, the Informal Anarchist Federation (FAI) and the International Revolutionary Front (FRI). A general in Italy’s semi-militarized Carabinieri police force said that, “the two groups were in contact with the Greek anarchist movement.” The individuals who were arrested, however, were not suspected of being involved in the major act associated with the groups, the shooting of Roberto Adinolfi in Italy, though the General claimed, “The origin is the same.” The arrests did, however, include suspected involvement in the failed letter bomb sent to former Deutsche Bank CEO Josef Ackermann.
In mid-June, as the G20 meeting unfolded in Mexico, Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti said that the euro area needs a “road map with concrete interventions to make the euro more stably credible,” as well as a “pro-growth plan,” stating, “the two things are strictly complementary.” Even though Monti had imposed his brutal austerity measures upon the people of Italy, the bond rates for the country remained high, prompting Monti to comment, “There must be something wrong if a country that complies still has such high interest rates.” Monti noted that through the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF), the European bail out fund, Italy had supplied loans to Greece, Ireland and Portugal amounting to 31.5 billion euros, commenting, “Italy has not until now asked for loans… She has made a lot of them and every day that passes, is in fact subsidizing others with the high interest rates she pays in the market.”
In late June, following the G20 summit, Mario Monti announced a “growth decree” for Italy, which included “discount loans for corporate R&D [Research & Development], tax credits for businesses that hire employees with advanced degrees, and reduced headcount at select government ministries.” Also in late June, Italy, Germany, France and Spain agreed to a “growth pact” for Europe with the total value of 130 billion euros ($163 billion), noting that, “austerity alone will not be enough to pull the euro zone out of its deep crisis.” The total sum represents 1% of the European Union’s GDP. Also envisioned are “project bonds” which would be financed through the EU’s budget, and issued “for private-sector infrastructure projects,” or in other words, corporate subsidies.
At the end of June, it was reported that Italy’s economic crisis was deepening, due in large part to the austerity measures, but also as a result of the increasingly high yields (interest rates) on Italian bonds, as Italy had to pay the highest interest rates since December in a 5.24 billion euro auction of 5 and 10 year government bonds (meaning that the country pays high interest rates to the financial institutions which purchased these bonds until they expire in a 5-or-10 year term). The ten-year bonds sold at an average rate of 6.19 percent, while the five-year bonds were at an average rate of 5.84 percent. This, the Financial Times warned, “is the latest sign of a deepening double-dip recession in Italy and will add urgency to prime minister Mario Monti’s demands for short-term measures” to reduce interest rates (such as the ECB purchasing bonds on the market). An Italian business lobby, however, went on to praise the “huge steps, unthinkable only a year ago,” which were implemented by Monti’s technocratic government, though adding, “the process is far from being completed.”
In late June, a bickering Italian parliament passed Monti’s labour reform package, just ahead of the EU summit. Angela Merkel said that Italy had “taken the road towards solid public finances, growth, jobs and competitiveness.” The reform of the labour market has been a major demand of the European Commission and the European Central Bank, and thus, Brussels praised the passing of the reforms, and even the IMF chimed in to cheer on Monti. The reform package was passed in parliament as protests led by the labour unions, took place outside, with police helicopters overhead and demonstrators clashing with security forces blocking the way to the parliament building.
At the EU summit at the end of June, Italy and Spain forced leaders to remain at the summit overnight, forcing an agreement to restructure Spain’s 100 billion euro bank recapitalization plan (the Spanish bailout), allowing funds to be injected directly into banks in Spain, “meaning Madrid can sweep the burden of the bailouts off its sovereign books.” Though this, in turn, requires the “creation of a single banking supervisor to be run by the European Central Bank,” likely as a precursor to a European banking union. Italy also received concessions, though less than Spain received, yet was the main driving force behind the revised rules for the eurozone bailout fund – the EFSF (and later the ESM) – which would have it purchasing sovereign bonds in order to lower the borrowing costs, as it would increase confidence in Italian bonds and thus, lower the interest rates, Monti’s key demand in the previous months. The countries that have their bonds purchased by the bailout fund “will no longer be subject to Greek-style monitoring programmes,” but instead, “they would simply have to maintain their EU debt and deficit commitments.” Monti declared, “It is a double satisfaction for Italy.” For Angela Merkel, who had for months refused to support any short-term rescue measures, “the deal was a significant concession.” Though, of course, every concession comes with a condition: “a German-led group of northern creditor countries will gain more control over all of the eurozone banks through the new single supervisor,” the mechanism through which to establish the banking union.
Upon this news, Spanish and Italian government bond yields fell sharply, with a Deutsche Bank economist commenting, “There was so little expectation and since there was a breakthrough at least on bank recapitalizations, the markets salute that.” The German media reported that, “Italy and Spain broke the will of the iron chancellor by out-negotiating her in the early hours of Friday morning,” on June 29. Der Spiegel reported that, “Monti emerged from the late-night negotiations as a clear victor.” Merkel had to concede to Monti, and Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, specifically on the issue of “demands” for the bailouts, as Merkel has been the reigning Queen of austerity. Faced up to Monti, however, the permanent European bailout fund – the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) – can loan to countries “which fulfill the budgetary rules laid down by the European Commission… without agreeing to tough additional austerity measures.” Thus, strict oversight by the troika – the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the IMF – would no longer apply.
Monti’s uprising at the summit began at 7:00 p.m. on Thursday evening, when European Council President Herman Van Rompuy wanted to conclude the first working session and announce the growth pact to the press. Monti, furious, asked Van Rompuy where he was going, and then refused to agree to the growth pact until resolving the issue of establishing “concrete measures to fight the high interest rates on Italian government bonds.” Spanish Prime Minister Rajoy supported Monti, adding that he could not support the growth pact either until such an issue had been resolved. Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt asked if the attendees “were now all hostages,” and Van Rompuy remained seated. After midnight, representatives from the ten non-euro EU countries left for their hotel rooms, while the 17 eurozone countries “remained in their seats and began a decisive round of negotiations.” After a few hours, Monti and Rajoy convinced Merkel “that countries would in the future be able to receive funds from the ESM without having to submit to troika oversight.” Thus, “only the European Commission’s annual targets will have to be met.” The session ended at 4:20 a.m. on Friday morning, with European Commission President Barroso and Council President Van Rompuy announcing it at a press conference.
This is not to say that austerity and structural adjustment would not be pursued, but simply that the ‘Troika’ (the EC, ECB, and IMF) monitoring and imposition of austerity would cede in favour of general targets set by the European Commission. Those targets, however, would still demand fiscal austerity and structural adjustment, but would not be subject to the same oversight or schedule with which the demands must be met. Ultimately, it was a deal that was not aimed at reducing the imposition and effects of austerity, but rather, was designed to institutionalize more effectively the domination of the European Commission itself (an unelected technocratic institution), as opposed to a more ad-hoc Troika system of oversight.
In the Italy of Mario Monti – and in the European Union at large – austerity is poverty, growth is plundering, labour reform is exploitation, and democracy… is Technocracy. Welcome to Italy, welcome to the new Europe in the age of austerity.
Andrew Gavin Marshall is an independent researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada, writing on a number of social, political, economic, and historical issues. He is also Project Manager of The People’s Book Project. He also hosts a weekly podcast show, “Empire, Power, and People,” on BoilingFrogsPost.com.
Please donate to The People’s Book Project to help this book be finished by the end of summer:
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