In Europe voters have chosen growth
over austerity and this has implications for the U.S. economy and sustainable
development. The Greek and French electorate’s rejection of austerity
will have a dramatic effect on European spending, including investments in
sustainability. These changes can also be expected to reverberate across the Atlantic.
Hollande’s presidential victory has derailed Nicholas Sarkozy’s austerity
policies and in Greece,
the parties supporting the international rescue package
have lost control of parliament. In both countries, voters
decisively said no to austerity and yes to growth.
France and Greece Choose Growth over Austerity
appear to be doing a 180 on austerity. Hollande has been critical of the
austerity policies central to European bailout deals. He promises to ease
austerity measures and increase taxation on the wealthy. Hollande
has pledged to renegotiate the European fiscal pact that was signed
in December 2011 and he wants to issue common European bonds to finance growth
through investment in sectors like renewable energy.
in renewable energy is only one of several commitments that have pleased France’s Green
Party (which received 2 percent of the French vote). During the campaign, Hollande
promised to diversify France’s energy, including promises to cut the
country’s nuclear dependence in half by 2025. He also vowed to increase renewable
energy and respect France’s
international engagements to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. This will
reach and perhaps even surpass its EU-backed sustainability goals of 20 percent
by 2020. Greenpeace France
notes that the newly elected President of France has called for the EU to
increase its GHG emissions target to 30 percent by 2020.
Prior to the election, France’s right
leaning Sarkozy government was criticized for doing little for the environment.
In an October, 2011 article published in the French daily Le Monde, MPs from
the “ecological” wing of the Socialist party derided the center-right’s
environmental record. They chided the “environmental passivity of the right”
saying that after 10 years of leadership, “France
invests nine times less than Germany
and five times less than China
in clean energy.” They further drew attention to the fact that there are
no French businesses among the top 10 producers of wind turbines or
photovoltaic panels. They also pointed out that in terms of wind production per
inhabitant, France was in
thirteenth place in Europe and the country had
no offshore wind developments.
The fate of Greece is much
less certain. The results of Greek parliamentary elections are
inconclusive, fueling fear that Greece will become
the first developed nation to default on its debt.
If a coalition government cannot
be formed, Greece
will go back to the voters some time in June, but this will be too late for the
bailout package being offered by the EU. If Greek political leaders cannot form
a government, the country will default on its debt and cease to be part of the
EU. This will have a calamitous impact on the economy of the entire continent
and the wider world. Whatever the future holds, it is now clear that Greeks have
All of this intrigue takes place
just ahead of the Rio+20 conference, which will
take place on June 20 – 22, 2012. This is the fourth major summit on
sustainable development since 1972. The summit brings together at least 100
global leaders and 50,000 participants from around the world, including
corporate executives and representatives of various social movements.
Participants will focus on growth, and address specific concerns as they relate
to oceans, food, energy, biodiversity and climate. The summit aims to find ways
to support sustainable development.
U.N. Secretary General Bank Ki
Moon wants to bring sustainable energy to even the most remote corners of the
planet and 3,000 scientists will present a new science for Planet Earth at Rio 20 known as the State of the Planet
However, some of Europe’s
key players will not be attending the Rio Conference. German Chancellor Angela
Merkel will not attend nor will British Prime Minister David Cameron. Despite
rearranging the summit’s dates so they would not coincide with Queen Elizabeth
II’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations, Cameron announced he will not be attending Rio. US President Barack Obama is also likely to stay on
the campaign trail rather than go to Rio.
Whatever happens in Rio, the
elections in Europe have changed the political
map and this has implications for the forthcoming American election.
Sustainable Development in
Austerity in Europe
was not good for the growth of sustainability or the American economy and
social unrest born of economic hardship compounded the problem. The
end of austerity is good news for advocates of sustainable
development and those who want to see more growth in the American economy.
government investment to stimulate growth will benefit the American economy. It
may also make it easier for the Obama administration to increase its commitment
to sustainable development. As should be obvious to all with even a passing
interest in American politics, when it comes to sustainable development, the
Democrats are the only game in town.
Republican presidential candidate
Mitt Romney has an economic strategy that has austerity at its heart. Events
in Europe may encourage Americans to question the Republican vision for America.
According to the European narrative, spending cuts further slow the economy and
actually increase debt. This puts Republicans squarely at odds with the
new economics sweeping across Europe.
As stated by Richard
Eskow, a senior fellow at the liberal Campaign for America’s
Future, this should bode well for the Democrats:
“This should be the Democrats’
moment, a time to make political gains in the most honorable way possible: by
fighting for what’s right. Today’s radical Republicans want to destroy
government and slash the very spending that’s needed to rescue the economy. The
GOP is even rejecting the common sense spending on roads and bridges embraced
by past Republicans from Dwight D. Eisenhower to George W. Bush. As austerity
measures eviscerate Europe’s economy and
undermine the political popularity of its leadership, this should be the
Democrats’ finest hour. Unfortunately, too many Democratic leaders have
preferred to echo the austerity rhetoric of their Republican opponents — and of
Europe’s embattled leaders. The president’s
last debt deal with John Boehner was a milder version of European austerity,
and it slowed our country’s tentative growth. And yet he’s reportedly pushing
for another “Grand Bargain,” leaving him with a muddled economic message, and
Americans in a prolonged state of fear.”
There is reason to believe that
Americans may support government spending at least until there is stronger
growth and more jobs. Americans may very well follow the French and the Greeks
who have chosen to abandon austerity in favor of growth.
The near term fate of
sustainable development hinges on governments adopting a policy of growth
rather than a policy focused on austerity.