Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Leftist Victory In Styria

...and the end of the Haider era.

In the Southeastern Austrian province of Styria (Austria has a federal system very much like Germany), conservatives lost the election for the first time in 50 years. The results, in percentages and regional assembly seats:

  • SPÖ (Social Democrats): 41.72% (+9.40), 25 seats (+6)
  • ÖVP (conservatives): 38.66% (-8.63%), 24 seats (-3)
  • KPÖ (communists): 6.32% (+5.29%), 4 seats (+4)
  • Grüne (Greens): 4.68% (-0.93%), 3 seats (+/-0)
  • FPÖ (ex liberal, populist far-right): 4.59% (-7.82%), 0 seats (-4/-7 before spit, see BZÖ)
  • LH (list of breakaway ÖVP member): 2.04% (LH+ÖVP: -6.59%)
  • BZÖ (FPÖ breakaways): 1.72% (BZÖ+FPÖ: -6.10%)

Just as in Germany, the hard left managed to take away the votes of the desperates - but it is more notewrothy, because the communists weren't in the Styrian regional assembly since 1970. The Austrian Communists have troubles in the federal party, a tainted recent history (guarding the black money of the East German SED), some extreme anti-EU members, and some undying Stalinists, but the Styrian communists are a separate breed. They have a strong base in Graz (20.75% in the last city assembly elections) and a popular leader in the person of one Ernest Kaltenegger, who made it custom for party officials to publish their personal finances every year and donate most (yes, over 50%) of their income.

These elections also signal the final end of that ever-self-reinventing far-right demagogue, Jörg Haider. Earlier this year, his big stunt was to abadon and decapitate his party, found a new one (the BZÖ) with loyal members, and take over the FPÖ's place in the federal government. But apparently, this was too obviously brazen for the faithful - indeed the fact that only in his home province Carinthia did the majority of party members follow him was an indication. Also, Haider's attempt to spin the change as the abadonment of the hard far-right was quickly ruined by one BZÖ guy who called WWII deserters murderers and called for fairness for 'the victims of the post-war Nazi witch hunt', and then another who denied the existence of gas chambers...

Leftist parties won, but given the seat distribution and the tepid centrism of the SPÖ, it looks likely that Styria will continue to have a Grand Coalition, only with 5 SPÖ and 4 ÖVP ministers instead of 3:5 (+1 FPÖ) and an SPÖ head.

Finally, I wonder how this will influence the issue of the Semmering-Basistunnel, a rail tunnel under a much-frequented pass (Vienna's gateway to the South) at the border with Lower Austria province. That one was blocked by the SPÖ member head of Lower Austria for a decade, who claimed environmental damage. However, for that he repeatedly changed the province's laws, fudged laws that the constitutional court repeatedly quashed; and in the meantime, he allowed the construction of a highway along the same route, with magnitudes higher environmental damage both during and after construction - I leave it to the dear leader to guess his real motives...

Directive From Hell Resurrected

The Bolkestein Directive (I wrote about it) is not dead.

As the StopBolkestein organizers just emailed, an amended version is about to hit the European Parliament later this month. So it's worth to rephrase my rejection (which I think is a bit more in-depth than the petition). Below is a slightly modified and translated version of what I wrote to two of my MEPs.

First: on education.
Private schools, especially if they are given the freedom to make their own curriculum [worst-case example from Britain] get into the scope of the directive. But this is inspired by the economics view of education, that is, education as only the training of future skilled workers. With appropiate protections for poorer regions or communities, a supply-demand solution for this may appear sensible. The education of culture (global, European, national, minority) may not need comprehensive standards.

However, in a democracy, it would be important for voters, all voters to know the world and society in general to a sufficiently high level to make qualified decisions. Be them referendums, parliamentary votes - or daily decisions as consumers buying something. For this, education needs to be comprehensive and curriculum needs to have standards, if not at EU or global level, at least at country or state level. Individual countries' marketisation of education would erode that, creating an EU-wide single market between such countries would make the destruction permanent.

Second: healthcare.
The fear of opponents in the West (here too) is social dumping. However, hiring of doctors and nurses in the West in large numbers would be a problem for the poorer new EU members, too: a shortage of medical staff - and, one can suspect, a decrease of the average competency of staff.

This problem, doctors moving where they are better paid and some regions having worse healthcare, already exists at country level. Even the national healthcare privatisation plans I'm aware of [and reject] call for some State role in mitigating it. However, the problem would be of much higher magnitude at EU level, and completely without instruments to compensate it.

Third and last: labor rights and oversight.
Bolkestein proponents can counter more superficial (= unfortunately most) critics by pointing out that for foreign workers too, the Draft Directive grants the workers' rights of the host country; and that its scope is only services and countries already liberalised nationally. But, if you think about it more, these defenses are worth little:
  1. As far as I know, there is no word about renationalisation - marketisation is a one-way street.
  2. The employer can always exert indirect pressure on the employee - if residing in a different country, thus he can undermine labor rights.
  3. Hence the most alarming point in the Draft Directive, the one nebulously entrusting the authorities of the employer's country of registration with oversight, remains very much on-topic: since conducting checks in another country has its practical problems, this prescription leads at least to lapses, at most a complete loss of overseeing the activities of service companies.
  4. A common market and different national labor rights means a competition between countries - a competition leading to the lowest common denominator.
  5. Hence my most general argument: no common market before common, and high-level, labor rights.
In the last two you find neoliberalism described in a nutshell.

Like its father, modern US libertarianism, it focuses on advancing a narrowly defined version of economic freedom, achieving which only means the extensive freedom of a few, and the replacement of opressive laws with economic duress as the means of coercion of the many. What's new about neoliberalism is, instead of just hating the State, it prefers to use every possible authoritarian power to achieve its goals. Use the State to dismantle the (social) State. (And its difference from neoconservativism is not in any details, just the focus on economic isssues rather than military-police powers.)