Austerity Causes Anti-HSR Protest in Italy
Romans protested French President François Hollande’s visit to Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta yesterday to show their opposition to a proposed high speed rail line linking France and Italy:
The protests were timed to coincide with a meeting between French President Francois Hollande and Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta in Rome. The two leaders were discussing the completion of the trainline, as well as other political and economic issues….
Opponents argue it is a waste of money at a time of recession and would have a disastrous impact on the environment.
The rail line would almost halve the time of a journey between Paris and Milan from seven hours to four.
The project was launched in 2001; it has suffered delays and is now set for completion in 2025 or 2026.
A project like this should not be at all controversial. Europe has built infrastructure through the Alps to connect countries for decades.
But it has become controversial not because of the HSR line itself, but because of austerity. Budget cuts create a downward spiral for a society, where projects get pitted against each other. People fight over scraps while the rich get everything else.
Up until a few years ago, when austerity mania gripped the Western world, governments and the public did not see different projects as competing with each other. One could create jobs, fund schools, build local transit, and build intercity transit. Europe had appeared to achieve consensus on this point, whereas in America such consensus was more uneven and depended on which state you were in.
But starting around 2009, governments began to impose austerity. This was done not because of recession but because the rich demanded their own wealth be protected from higher taxes, and their ideological allies in power in North America and Europe obliged them. As people watch funding evaporate, suddenly things one once took for granted are now uncertain and at risk. People start defending tenaciously what they do have and become ultra-suspicious of new projects and new funding. Something like HSR becomes an easy target for people panicked because their government is now attacking their pensions.
I’m not sure that austerity is the only story here. The protestors could well be people from Piedmont who just don’t want a train in their backyard. But even those attitudes are influenced by austerity, since there are fewer dollars available to pay for mitigation.
We see a very similar situation unfolding in Britain. I have planned to write more about this, but the coalition government’s plan to build HS2 is under threat thanks largely to austerity. Transit advocates who are worried about funding for improving existing passenger rail lines are turning against the high speed rail plan because austerity means they have to fight tenaciously for what they have.
The only way out of this mess is to reject austerity completely. No budget cuts for domestic spending. All transit infrastructure needs to be funded, from a rural bus route to an intercity bullet train and everything in between. Transit advocates need to be supporting each other’s needs, rather than trying to undermine other proposals.
Austerity is a rigged game designed to ensure everyone who isn’t rich loses. The only winning move is not to play. Fund it all. We’ve got the money.