The Spanish elections in December provided proof, if anyone needed it, that the fight over the economic and social future of Europe is far from over.
For the first time in three decades, each of two major parties that had ruled Spain since its incomplete transition to democracy was unable to form a governing coalition. The incumbent right-wing Popular Party (PP)--with roots in Francisco Franco's fascist dictatorship--remained the largest party in the parliament but saw its representation shrink by a third. The center-left Socialist Workers Party (PSOE), which had lost its majority to the PP in 2011 due to its support for austerity, fared even worse. Their defecting voters went mostly to Podemos, a new left party, less than two years old, which grew out of the mass protests against austerity. Podemos surprised pollsters and most of the media by winning 20.7 percent of the vote, just 1.3 points behind the PSOE. The PP won 28.7 percent, and a new party called Ciudadanos (Citizens), which some have called "the Podemos of the right," got 13.9 percent.
The political upheaval that broke up the two-party system in Spain is part of an ongoing process that has toppled more than 20 European governments since the world recession of 2009. GDP for the 19 countries of the eurozone is estimated to have grown by 1.5 percent in 2015; some may have thought that such feeble economic recovery and the capitulation of the Greek government to European demands last July marked the beginning of a solution to Europe's economic malaise. This would still leave a host of other problems, both real and exaggerated: the migration crisis, terrorism, the UK's proposed referendum on EU membership. But, the economic problem is at the core of most of the others, and it can make them considerably more difficult to resolve. The influx of even a million immigrants into a European population of more than 503 million would not be as politically volatile if the region were not also facing long-term mass unemployment and economic insecurity.
The economic problem faces two major obstacles to its resolution: first, the loss of national economic sovereignty and democracy, which would allow, and in some cases force, governments to change course in the face of long-term economic failure, and second, the false narratives through which the European economy is generally presented to the public, and thereby widely misunderstood.
This op-ed was originally published by Boston Review. Read the rest here.
Mark Weisbrot is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C., and the president of Just Foreign Policy. He is also the author of the new book "Failed: What the 'Experts' Got Wrong About the Global Economy" (2015, Oxford University Press).