The Stomach For Reform?

In its assessment of the debacle for Chirac/Raffarin in this weekend’s French regional elections the German newspaper S?ddeutsche Zeitung asked one pretty pertinent question:

‘are European societies capable of stomaching unpleasant reforms?’

Certainly the evidence would seem to make it a fairly reasonable question to ask. Sunday’s elections have been billed as a victory for the left, but equally we have only recently witnessed Gerhard Schroeder, seemingly unable to inspire sufficient confidence in his proposed welfare cuts, stepping down as chairman of the Social Democratic Party just before suffering a significant defeat in the Hamburg elections.

And only last Friday workers in Italy took to the streets to protest the latest in a line of pension reforms there.

In the French context Jacques Chirac’s room for manoeuvre is limited because of France’s pledges to bring its public deficit under control. It has agreed to reduce the deficit from 4.1 percent of gross domestic product in 2003 to 3.6 percent this year and to bring it below three percent by 2005.

So it may be that talk of right and left here is a bit misplaced: the vote is against whichever government happens to be in office, fails to achieve economic growth, and finds the messy problem of health and pension reform on its hands.

Some observers seem to want to suggest that the reason for the disatisfaction is the pace of the reforms: voters are ‘frustrated’ since the reforms are not proceeding quickly enough. This wouldn’t be my reading: they are ‘frustrated’ that the reforms are happening at all. They accept the ‘reality’ in the abstract, but don’t like that same reality once its implications are clear. They have been lead to believe that all of this can be achieved relatively painlessly, but in fact it isn’t that easy.

This at least could be the impression gained from the tens of thousands of German pensioners – some of them in wheelchairs, others leaning on walking sticks – who took to the streets yesterday to protest government pension reforms. In fact (in one form or another) Germany has some 20 million pensioners, and they form about a quarter of the population. It should not need underlining, of course, that they constitute a very important consituency among Germany’s active voters.

It’s not that I particularly welcome and relish in the reforms myself. I would rather they weren’t necessary. I think the welfare system we had was fine, brillant even, while it lasted, but it contained one fundamental flaw: it didn’t see the inversion in the pyramid. It didn’t forsee that rising generational cohorts would one day be followed by declining ones, and that this transition would in time start to threaten not only the foundations of the welfare system, but even the process of economic growth itself.

So, to end where I started, let’s go back to the S?ddeutsche Zeitung, and their conclusion that the resounding defeat for the conservatives in the French regional elections is:

yet another example of the European malaise that has already taken hold in Germany, Poland and Italy. All face the same key domestic troubles — a stagnating economy, unemployment and fear of an uncertain future, the paper wrote and added that if one is to believe the opinion surveys in these countries, people there are familiar with these problems and know that the creaking western European welfare state has to be reformed if it is to survive. Governments promising reform are elected, but then to fail to live up to their promises.

This entry was posted in A Fistful Of Euros, Political issues by Edward Hugh. Bookmark the permalink.

About Edward Hugh

Edward 'the bonobo is a Catalan economist of British extraction. After being born, brought-up and educated in the United Kingdom, Edward subsequently settled in Barcelona where he has now lived for over 15 years. As a consequence Edward considers himself to be "Catalan by adoption". He has also to some extent been "adopted by Catalonia", since throughout the current economic crisis he has been a constant voice on TV, radio and in the press arguing in favor of the need for some kind of internal devaluation if Spain wants to stay inside the Euro. By inclination he is a macro economist, but his obsession with trying to understand the economic impact of demographic changes has often taken him far from home, off and away from the more tranquil and placid pastures of the dismal science, into the bracken and thicket of demography, anthropology, biology, sociology and systems theory. All of which has lead him to ask himself whether Thomas Wolfe was not in fact right when he asserted that the fact of the matter is "you can never go home again".

11 thoughts on “The Stomach For Reform?

  1. I see many posts saying the Spain vote was a great display of democracy and the people speaking. Do you in the “eu” truly feel that an attack against commuters that kills 201 and maims 1000s and changes the outcome of an election 3 days after is really a “display of democracy”
    Why so easily frame these attacks in madrid or baghdad in your little minds as attacks against the US? these are attacks against people who want to live like you, almost.
    You cast the Spain vote as a democratic vote? With that in mind you believe that it then was, and is, democratic for a islamo-fascist group of cowards to influence a “democratic” election with death?
    Both ETA AND the islamo-fascist cowards are behind these attacks. This are people who have come to live among you, people who have come to your land to accept your generosity and welfare dollars and lack of oppression that they faced from their “brethren” in their homeland. They are living among you like dirty flies at a picnic, simply waiting to apply their brand of Islamo-fascisim to your society. You fools on the left in Spain coddle and embrace these murdering coward monkeys as if they were part “of your struggle against modernity”.
    Si, Do blame the spaniards, there is no other focus to take. 1 week prior to the elections Aznar was slated to win, 1 week before elections 1/2 ton of explosives were found in a van with ETA members on the way into madrid city. They were stopped. Bombs explode on the trains and of course ETA is suspect immediately. Can you imagine in this “politically correct” environment that the Spanish govt comes right out and says “it was muslims, or it was al queda”? the left would cry foul racism before that news blurb even ended.
    I can tell you I feel the “eu” is quite quickly turning itself into a modern shithole along the very same lines that destroyed her beginning in the 1930’s. the patterns are entirely similar.
    There is a sense of real world reality in the “eu” that is viewed through a very tainted and un-focused lense.
    It is indeed a shame that spain’s vote shows to the world that your hatred of the US and bush is greater than any love you had for the dead.
    They disgrace the memory of those murdered by permitting a group of bearded cowards who came to the country to seek welfare monies and freedom to effect the outcome of the election.
    Look at Kosovo for a moment- in March ’04 22 people were killed, MORE THAN HAD BEEN KILLED IN one DAY in BAHGDAD the same day. The first responses were for the US and the UK to begin to send additional troops in.
    What is the NEED to have US troops there on EU soil ? What is the reason behind the “eu” need to have US troops on her soil? Greece hires a US security firm to oversea the Olympics, and calls for a US fleet to remain offshore. Why cannot the nations of the “eu” get anything done without US help? What has either the “eu” or the disgraced UN (wait for oil scam to be published manana) done within Kosovo that has been successful?
    This is hypocrisy that baffles the average american.
    There will not be one more drop of US blood lost for anyone in the EU. It would be a wonderful thing to see every damn one of our troops to immediately leave the fetid and tainted “eu” soil. You do not even deserve even the wind of our collective flatulence let alone the lives of our young men and woman. You are pathetic pieces of human misery who are helpless with even your own simple struggles.
    We in the US have shed too much blood for you damn fools over the last century.
    Keep this in mind “eu” nutcases- The 9-11 cowards lived, planned, and carried out the attacks from the cozy base in europe. What is it about life in europe that makes those who come seeking your generosity and welfare spend a few years among you and then want to go out and kill all things western? Have you welcomed and charmed these newcomers to your society so much that they then lose their minds? Do you explain the sordid conditions of your cities and economies as being the fault of the jews and the US? Is it THAT which then turns them into virgin seekers so readily?
    I really have to laugh at you pathetic assholes- the US re-built Germany and Japan, among others, and created the constitutions and democracies that exist there today. Don’t offer you child-like explanation that you have taken care of that “thank you for assisting us” BS already. It’s been just 50 short years and just look at you jackasses.
    We go into Iraq to topple the savage saddam and you then demonize our president, you demonize the people of the US as American fools, you say we are bullys for attempting the same thing for the iraqis as we did for those who suffered under the GERMANY bred cowardness and their leader hitler’s cowardness.
    Think about that for just one second you flea brained fucks. All the US is doing in iraq is simply the same attempt at fixing YOUR country which YOU fucking broke. I won’t forget the other dozens of countries you butchered and broke and the US fixed. Don’t apply your “eu” brand of selective memory to reality either.
    So in short it is best to simply offer a majority of the tainted minds in the EU a hearty FUCK YOU. Your on your own for the duration of your pitiful existence. Without the phony restraints placed upon us by the disgraced un and the embattle/hasn’t even got off the ground “eu” we in the US can now take our gloves off and beat the virgin seeking cowards into the ground. Perhaps the US may leave a few troops in europe to prevent the re-introduction of the ottoman empire, but I hope not as the US (who make up a far greater proportion of people from around the world who live, work and govern among us as Americans, and a far greater intellectual diversity) would like to see how the new “eu” performs and succeeds… with ANYTHING.
    Prove to somebody, anywhere on this planet, that you have the capacity to succeed in one damn venture of yours. France’s navy (I use the same ships in my bath tub) trains alongside the great chinese dictatorship yesterday- a democratic “eu” country threatening a democratic Tawain vote of independence along side the butchers of Tiannemin.
    The next step is for germany to sell the the nuke reactor that german PEOPLE do not want to China, and the france will re-arm china. France and germany- who the will clean up that mess? you desperate fools.
    The bright minds left europe over the last 3 centuries. leaving nothing but a bunch of nanny state welfare laden minds who can not see any brightness to the world even on a sunny day.
    So in short it is best to simply offer a majority of the tainted minds in the EU a hearty FUCK YOU.

  2. Pato,

    AFOE does not yet have an editorial policy for comment deleting but your post may prompt us to develop one. Should you wish to engage in any kind of discussion with the people writing or commenting on this site, please refrain from the kind of language used in your above comment.

    As for more discussion about the issue *you* want to rant about, try the comments to the entry called “Our deaf, Schizophrenic Uncle S.” available here:

  3. If i can bring some perspective from Belgium here. The current government (disclosure: i work for one of the parties of the coalition, in parlement that is, not the government) is rather weary to implement reforms, and i predict that the parties in essence blocking those reforms – the socialists – will not be punished for it. This “conservatism” is extending beyond refoms of pensions or the social security system. Take public transport. Belgium – read: the socialist ministers responsable for public transport and state entreprises – is against the liberalization of railroads (or in any case want them postponed). Belgium – read: the socialist part of the coalition – is calling for resistance against the European directive on services. Will they be punished for it in the elections? Very doubtfull. It will be a big surprise if the socialists will loose the regional elections in june. They will probably win, even in government, partly because of their resistance against reforms. So i think you are right: voters don’t want reforms and the socialists in Belgium understand that. But in the long term this is a losing position, maybe not for them, but for Europe, and for Belgium.

  4. “So in short it is best to simply offer a majority of the tainted minds in the EU a hearty FUCK YOU.”

    This on its own would have been a lot shorter and to the point. Thank you for your observations, we will take them into account. And thanks for taking the time, although I couldn’t really say we were worth the effort.

    But as someone once said: better criticised than ignored.

    “But in the long term this is a losing position”

    This, I fear, Ivan is the real point: no win-win here, only lose-lose.

  5. The most interesting aspect to Pato’s comments is that he is not alone in how he assesses Europe. Emotional, perhaps, but not alone.

    The rift is getting wider and wider between Europe and America.

    And that is a good thing. It frees up America from responsibilities it really doesn’t need.

    And it frees up America to take unilateral action whenever it deems it’s necessary.

  6. The only apology needed would be for those souls who cannot extend the brain power to attempt an answer or two to the questions posted above.
    Let’s try to overlook the harsh words and provide thought upon a few of the simple questions put forth to those in the “eu”.

  7. “The rift is getting wider and wider between Europe and America. And that is a good thing.”

    No, it’s not a good thing. Certainly not for European liberals — the Vaclav Havel’s of this world who have invested every ounce of their intellectual capital in promoting Euro-Atlantic values (the civilization formerly known as “The West.”) And not good for America, either, I don’t think, as it seems to me the only logical outcome is straight isolationism.

  8. So in short it is best to simply offer a majority of the tainted minds in the EU a hearty FUCK YOU.


    Let’s try to overlook the harsh words and provide thought upon a few of the simple questions put forth to those in the “eu”.

    I see that your level of discourse hasn’t improved since Eurabia. Try harder, will you?

  9. my discourse may improve when just one of you clowns has the ability to provide any point by point reply to the basis of my post or even just one the questions and statements posed therein.

  10. my discourse may improve when just one of you clowns has the ability to provide any point by point reply to the basis of my post or even just one the questions and statements posed therein.

    Talking about the innate and ineradicable evil of all Europeans isn’t something you can rationally debate. Like all prejudices, it’s best condemned, its proponents isolated from the realm of civilized discourse.

Comments are closed.