Event ReportsPublished on Mar 16, 2015
The coming to power of a Left-leaning Syriza government in Greece is not because people supported their ideology but they wanted to protest against the economic stagnation caused by austerity programme, says Ramon Perez-Maura, Assistant Editor of leading Spanish daily, ABC.
Greece poll: A wake-up call to established parties

The coming to power of a Left-leaning Syriza government in Greece is not because people supported their ideology but they wanted to protest against the economic stagnation caused by austerity programme. It was also a wakeup call aimed at well-established party signifying that voters prefer the traditional and professional parties to be more creative, persuasive and transparent.

This view was put forward by Mr Ramon Perez-Maura, Assistant Editor of a leading Spanish daily, ABC while delivering a talk on "The Rise of Populism in Europe" at Observer Research Foundation in Delhi on February 25.

Mr Ramon Perez-Maura said this change in Greece is the fact that the new government is trying to take politics beyond left- right divide. He said "The provisional success of the demagogues seems to me, above all, an invitation to modernise the classical right and left, and a desirable and possible modernisation".

Highlighting about the drawbacks in the European policies which led to stagnation, Mr. Ramon Perez-Maura said the expansion of EU landed the EU institutions into miseries. He pointed out that 15 years ago, Europe was embracing itself into the most prosperous, competitive and dynamic knowledge economy in the world. These achievements led to the drawing up of a European Constitution that would focus on making the Union more democratic, he said.

However, the crisis resulted in financial instability, credit crunch, unemployment, social tensions and contraction of economy in the member countries of the Union. He said the proposals for European Constitution which was laid down by some of the enterprising Europeans turned into just another Lisbon treaty which suffered from transparency and fairness and denuded its constitutional nature.

Describing the continent’s present state, Mr. Ramon Perez-Maura pointed out that since last five years, the European institutions are involved in resolving the Euro crisis. Most of the efforts were directed toward adopting concrete financial regulation framework, innovating updation of European Central Bank and promoting determined political attitude on the part of the European Council. However, the foundation of common currency has brought a feeling of disaffection especially in southern Europe and has increased the desire of the citizens to participate in the political decision which has heightened the feeling of disaffection in the Union and has given rise to populist activities in Europe.

Chair of the session, Mr. H H S Viswanathan, Distinguished Fellow, ORF, pointed out that populism, defined as a political doctrine that appeals to the interests and conceptions (such as hopes and fears) of the general people, especially contrasting those interests with the interests of the elite, is not just peculiar to Europe but is growing all around the countries.

Mr. Ramon Perez-Maura said the populist parties in Europe such as National Front in France, Five Star Movement and Lega Nord in Italy, Party of Freedom in Netherland and Podemos in Spain share the same demagogical ideology, under the guise of misleading labels which extol freedom and progress. They all have in common their denial of the real world, and their urge to trigger basic instincts to persuade naive voters that politics can change their life for betterment and therefore influence democracy, he said.

In this context, Mr. Ramon Perez-Maura cited an example about the television debates of the politicians who imposes their own ideas on the journalists such as the one practiced by Podemos - extreme left party of Spain which has brought about an odd perversion of the democratic system and a new political arena, questioning the legitimacy of democratic system in the country. He added that the "legitimacy of democracy is not earned in the ballot box, but on television screens".

Cautioning about the modern time, he said that it is not as different as it transpires that demagogues are excellent preachers. And therefore, he added that the need of the time is that the democrats should be more innovative and provocative in their ideas to promote welfare support, education, affordable housing, full employment and public health which will introduce more enterprise spirit, more initiative and more personal responsibility. He said that "now is the time to use this tool and ideas box, ready and free of charge, to take back the initiative in creative speech" and propose alternative Utopias to take the democracy out of danger.

Stating that market forces are not the solution to the problems in Europe, the economics of populism was further explored in the concluding open discussion session. Mr. Ramon Perez-Maura said human intelligence together with reliable institutions framework and judicious reform can address the issues, encourage solidarity and restore democracy in the nation.

(This report is prepared by Richa Sekhani, Research Assistant, Observer Research Foundation, Delhi)

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