The Greek Euro crisis is not a game; it is a deadly serious question of who really holds the power in the EU and the eurozone – the people or the institutions. Unfortunately, EU bureaucrats and European heads of state have chosen to close ranks and continue their reckless game of chicken with desperate, depression-weary Greece, making a total mockery of European ‘solidarity’.
Anyone hoping that Greece’s dramatic decision to put the EU’s death-by-rolling-bailout terms to a popular referendum might bring the country’s intransigent creditors to their senses will have been sorely disappointed today. Once the initial shock that a sovereign country dared to stand up to to the EU wore off, it soon became apparent that the EU’s leaders were determined to call Greece’s bluff and double down on their uncompromising position.
We should not be surprised. The very idea of a solitary European democracy acting muscularly in its own self interest is clearly horrifying to the EU elite, who have been so busy constructing their unwanted political and economic union that they are no longer capable of even comprehending dissenting opinions.
Of course, the chancelleries of Europe did the bare minimum in order to make a public show of being conciliatory to Greece – emphasising their supposed fraternal concern for the country and desire to help the Greek economy return to growth. But their actions said differently, and spoke volumes about their real priorities.
The Guardian puts it quite plainly:
The eurozone’s three biggest countries have raised the stakes in next Sunday’s Greek referendum with an orchestrated warning to voters that a no vote would mean exit from the single currency and the return of the drachma.
As the Greek economy suffered on its first day of stringent capital controls, politicians from Germany, France and Italy joined the European commission in insisting that the poll was not about whether Athens could secure more favourable bailout terms but was about continued euro membership.
So much for not meddling in the internal affairs of an EU member state and refraining from seeking to influence the Greek population over the head of their democratically elected government. When push comes to shove, the EU simply cannot help itself – when the people threaten to make the ‘wrong’ choice the impulse to interfere and rig the outcome becomes too great to resist.
At long last, the time has come for the EU’s fiscal bullies – from the parsimonious Angela Merkel to the increasingly dictatorial European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker – to stand down and display some contrition for the appalling way that they have treated Greece, a fellow democracy and eurozone member.
This blog has long made clear that Greece is far from blameless in this long-running crisis. But it is also the case that free people in a free country must have the right to make their own decisions (including grievous mistakes) and determine their own future. For years, EU bureaucrats and europhile politicians have lied to their people, insisting that membership of the European Union and eurozone were somehow compatible with self-determination and national democracy. But of course they are not compatible – the institutions of the EU and the single currency have now taken on a life of their own, prioritising their own interests and self-preservation above the welfare of any one member state.
In fact, pro-Europeans in general have an awful lot to answer for, because it is their blind and unswerving support for the EU’s unaccountable form of government which has so weakened the nation state and empowered the unaccountable forces who pushed Greece into this desperate position. It will be very interesting, in the coming days and weeks, to observe the cognitive dissonance of the pro-European Left as they seek to reconcile their instinctive love of all things EU-related with the brutal way that their beloved organisation treats small countries at their time of maximum need. Similarly, it will be interesting to see how much longer the Left can rail against so-called Austerity Britain when in Greece there is a wrenching example of true austerity.
But if demanding introspection and humility from pro-Europeans is a tall order, we should at least expect to see these virtues demonstrated by the leaders of major economies like Italy, France and Germany. Surely, having vested so much effort in building the European Union and making a success of the single currency, leaders like Angela Merkel would do almost anything to avoid destabilising the euro or calling political and monetary union into question?
Clearly not. For the sake of clawing back a relatively trivial amount of money (albeit a crushing sum to Greece) from one debtor nation, the leaders of the European project are willing to risk everything in a game of brinksmanship with Alexis Tsipras, of all people. They are betting the house because it’s not really about the money at all. It’s about proving once and for all, to any other national leader who might be toying with the idea of asserting their national interest over the will of the collective, that resistance to the EU is futile, and that it will lead to political and economic Armageddon.
Let’s take the inept leaders of the EU and eurogroup at their word, and allow that they really do care about Greece and feel genuine sympathy for the plight of millions of Greeks cast into penury and long-term unemployment. Maybe this is the case. But over and above any concern for the Greek people, Angela Merkel and her allies are determined to send the message that opposing the collective will of the European Union is no longer an option, that national democracy is tolerable only to the extent that it does not interfere with the grand plans of the EU machine.
From this perspective, holding the line and humiliating Greece, even forcing the country out of the euro, is absolutely preferable to any form of compromise or debt relief, because to concede now – especially after having been so publicly rebuffed and humiliated by a small country with such a weak bargaining position – would inevitably lead to a queue of other EU national leaders, each making their own list of demands. David Cameron and the United Kingdom are already stirring up disquiet with their selfish insistence on renegotiating the terms of their membership – if too many other leaders also begin agitating for change, the European Union could tear itself apart.
This would be no bad thing. In fact, were it not for the immense suffering of the Greek people, this whole crisis would be a eurosceptic’s dream come true. At long last, the sheer hubris of imposing a single currency on nineteen disparate countries – and the condescension and hostility meted out to doubters – might be revealed for what it is, and then paid back in a lump. There is no good option for the EU now – any chance of honourable compromise vanished when they let Alexis Tsipras walk away from the negotiating table and fly back home to Athens.
Either Angela Merkel and her accomplices force Greece out of the euro and fatally undermine their own shared currency in the process, or they belatedly see sense and acquiesce to some degree of debt forgiveness (now they are lying and suggesting that this was on the table all along – it was not) in exchange for further economic reform, opening the door for other member states to use the nuclear option of bribery in extremis.
At long last, the sneering, scornful but ever-cautious EU elite have overplayed their hand, and everything that they created – always in secret, never with the consent of the European people – is at risk of falling apart, or at least being permanently weakened and discredited. And for this priceless gift, Greece’s €338 billion national debt is nothing compared to the debt now owed to Greece by all eurosceptics and believers in the democracy of nation states.
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