Fascism Is On The March In Europe-- Elections Tomorrow In Austria And Italy
Tomorrow Italy votes on a package of complex referendums that are extremely difficult for voters without post-graduate degrees to understand. But rejection could be another devastating blow the EU. The BBC tried sorting out what it means and why it's important. The reforms Prime Minister Matteo Renzi is trying to impose on his fractious country are tied up in the referendum and he says he'll step down if they lose-- the 3rd domino after Brexit and Trump in "he onward march of the right-wing (neo-fascist) populists. Italy's been there before-- and it worked out badly for them. Unfortunately by making the referendum about himself, Renzi has put the country in unnecessary danger with plenty of voters looking at the referendum as nothing but an opportunity to punish a government they have beefs with.
Renzi has had strong support from global leaders... The concern is that if Renzi goes, Italy's politicians will squabble, the country's fragile economy will suffer, borrowing costs will spike and once again Europe will be facing a crisis in the eurozone.Obama has been very supportive of Renzi's referendum and made a big deal about a recent trip to DC which played well in Italian media back home. Trump's not on the same side-- to put it mildly. Meanwhile European socialists met in Prague today to figure out how to deal with the rise of neo-fascism-- they call it populism-- in the western democracies. Jeremy Corbyn had his hands full, admitting "that populists have been successfully identifying many of the problems faced by people across the country, but their solution-- to attack minorities-- was not the answer... It's clear that there is a problem of the alarming rise and acceleration of the populist right all across this continent. Be it UKIP in my country, Donald Trump and the language he used in the presidential election in the United States, or what's happening in Hungary with Jobbik or Marine Le Pen in France, with her National Front. Politics has been shaken across the world. We know why the populist right is gaining ground and it's increasingly hard to get our message heard. It's up to us to give a real political alternative."
Waiting in the wings are anti-establishment parties like the Five Star movement which is promising that if it eventually wins power, it will offer a referendum on retaining the euro. The very idea of another vote sends shivers down the spines of Europe's leaders.
Five Star's leader, the former comedian Beppe Grillo, has spoken of an "era going up in flames." It is a similar sentiment to that expressed by Nigel Farage, UKIP's former leader, who declared after Mr Trump's victory that the "democratic revolution" is only just beginning.
If polls retain any credibility after this year of political shocks then a No vote is expected on Sunday. The financial markets, caught out by both Brexit and Trump, have already factored in a Renzi defeat.
There is no doubt that Italy needs reforming. The tangle of bureaucracy and judicial delays snares investment projects, reforms get diluted or blocked in the two houses of parliament and the Senate, with its 315 members, needs shrinking.
But there are legitimate concerns that Renzi's plan will lead to a centralising of power. The winning party will gain a premium of seats, ensuring an absolute majority. Five Star campaigners argue that the "reforms serve to give more power to those who are already in power."
...The risk is that a No vote and a Renzi resignation would tip Italy into an early election. And that might give the Five Star movement and the anti-establishment Northern League an opportunity of success at the polls.
The prospect of two Eurosceptic parties gaining ground in the eurozone's third-biggest economy might well rattle the markets.
Government ministers will tell you that unemployment is inching down, that the deficit is falling and that labour markets have become more flexible. But the economy is 12% smaller than when the financial crisis began in 2008.
Italy's banks remain weak. The problem of non-performing loans has not been sorted out and the country's debt-to-GDP ratio, at 133%, is second only to Greece's.
The Italian vote is not about Europe or the EU but it will be interpreted as an indicator of the strength of the anti-establishment winds blowing through Europe in the aftermath of Mr Trump's unexpected victory.
The European left-- much like the old and clueless out-of-touch Democrats in DC-- is grappling to effectively frame an alternative explanation for the problems they face and come up with solutions, that include increasing social justice and inclusion. Corbyn should sound familiar on this side of the Atlantic:
"The gap between rich and poor is widening. Living standards are stagnating or falling. People feel left behind by the forces unleashed by globalisation. They feel powerless in the face of deregulated corporate power.Polls show that tomorrow's presidential vote in Austria could well go to the neo-fascist candidate Norbert Hofer, an anti-immigrant gun nut, said it be backed surreptitiously by Putin. Polls show him leading Alexander Van der Bellen, the Green Party-backed independent by double digits. The two mainstream parties were eliminated in the first round. His Freedom Party (FPÖ) was founded by Nazi SS officers in 1956.
"We have to deal with those issues and we have to deal with them quickly and seriously.
"The populist right do identify many of the problems but their toxic solution is actually a dead end. It's about attacking minorities rather than facing the real issues that many communities face.
"So, unless progressive parties across Europe are prepared to break from the political establishment of the past, which has sought to manage the change of globalisation, then we are going to have problems."
Mr Corbyn went on: "We have to offer a different economic message. It's about convincing the long-term unemployed that the reason there is no work for them is not because of migrants, it's because of an economic programme of deindustrialisation and insecurity.
"We have to make clear that our public services are being run down because of austerity and often very predatory privatisation.
"We cannot and must not abandon socialist principles, because many tell us that is the only way to achieve power.
"We have to put forward a very clear economic message-- one of social justice and inclusion."
[A] win for Mr Hofer would also be a blow to Europe’s political mainstream. It would mark a grim milestone: the continent’s first democratically elected far-right head of state since 1945. It would also present a headache. In the past its neighbours isolated and upbraided Austria for its flirtations with nationalist extremism: like when in 1986 it elected as president Kurt Waldheim, whose wartime Wehrmacht unit had been involved in war crimes; and when, on the formation of the 2000 coalition, other EU member states imposed sanctions. Now, with authoritarian populists on the march in much of the continent (take Viktor Orbán across the border in Hungary), it would be harder to single the country out.
Europe would also be subject to such an election result’s global significance. Mr Hofer may represent an old party, but his political style is somewhat new and part of a bigger trend. Like Donald Trump in America, the Party for Freedom in the Netherlands and Marine Le Pen in France, the FPÖ leadership has sanded off the most overtly racist edges of traditional far-right politics and blended flag-waving, anti-migrant social policies, a redistributionist economic credo and the language and style of anti-establishment insurgence. So notwithstanding the distinctive aspects of Austria’s election, it is the latest test of this formula’s ability to create electoral upsets; perhaps even another omen of a strong showing by Ms Le Pen next spring. These phenomena may have their differences but they are also intertwined: each populist success in one country emboldening, enlightening and maybe even detoxifying counterparts in others. Once Austria was ostracised. Now others are Austrianising.
UPDATE: Good News From Österreich
Despite polls showing neo-fascist Norbert Hofer 10 points ahead, savvy Austrian voters elected independent Green-backed Alexander Van der Bellen president today. There is general rejoicing all over Europe as this is seen to be a set-back for the Putin-backed neo-Nazi revival that has been gaining strength everywhere across the continent (not to mention Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania). Estimates show Van der Bellen besting the Nazi 53-46%. During the campaign, Van der Bellen's comment on Trump's victory was that "his campaign style, the sexist attacks were unacceptable. As regards content he has raised concerns-- let's give him several months."