French press review 19 February 2013
Austerity is the key word this morning.
Communist L'Humanité is unhappy at government plans to announce further public spending cuts. The communist daily's main headline laments "The straw that will break the camel's back," pointing out that even government ministers are beginning to wonder at the wisdom of continuing to wear the budgetary strait-jacket.
In the same paper, the secretary general of the CGT trade union accuses the current government of doing exactly what it criticised the Sarkozy regime for doing, basically taking decisions which have major repercussions on spending power, without first involving the unions to see if other solutions could be found.
Le Monde looks to Italy, where austerity looks almost certain to put an end to the political career of poor old Mario Monti. He inherited a country on the brink, with a debt burden of 2,000 billion euros, or 127 per cent of GDP, a situation which looked, for a while, as if it might bring down not just the Italian house of cards, but the entire European monetary system.
Well, Mario managed to stop the rot. But his methods . . . a spot of austerity here, another cut there . . . have not made the man many friends among Italian voters. He's almost certain to be blown away in next weekend's elections, and most of the blowing will be done by middle class voters who've had more than they can take of financial hardship.
But who will they choose instead?
There's the former communist, former economic development minister, Pier Luigi Bersani, who is attempting to walk the fine line between Monti's unpopular budgetary rigour and some kind of recognition of voter concerns. Bersani has been losing ground in the opinion polls, as people come to associate him, more and more, with a continuation of the Mario Monti regime.
Then there's the comedian Beppe Grillo, who wants an Italy with the courage to stand up to Europe, and who is determined to stop the American plot for world domination. He might sound mad, but he's very popular.
Which brings me to Silvio Berlusconi, described by Le Monde as "the worst case scenario", "a step backwards", in short, a disaster for Italy and Europe.
Silvio has, as in each of his previous five electoral campaigns, promised free beer, cheaper pasta, an end to hard times and Italian domination of world football. You'd imagine people would have woken up to him by now. This is the guy, after all, who once promised to build a bridge between Sicily and the mainland, despite having no idea about where to find the pharaonic amounts of money such a project would require.
This time, he's promising to do away with a very unpopular housing tax, and even to repay last year's contributions.
Since people tend to get the politicians they deserve, Italy may well get, and regret, Silvio the Sixth. And it would serve them right, except that we'll all drown if the European boat finally sinks.