Treatment of Greece exposes the limits of EU project

Posted: July 20, 2015 in Uncategorized

An event of profound importance took place in Brussels during the early hours of Monday last.

The significance of the European summit negotiations extends well beyond the immediate –and devastating- consequences for the people of Greece.

The fall out will not just affect the stability of the Greek government and the political future of Syriza and Alexis Tsipras.

It has a significance for all of us who believe that a better, fairer way is urgently required to undo the damage of decades of neo-liberalism and years of austerity.

Future observers will come to see that fateful night as one of Europe’s turning points – a moment where certain possibilities were closed off despite the democratic mandate urging them into existence.

Contrary to the comments of some, the European Union of solidarity did not die in that small room where Angela Merkel held a gun to the head of the Greek prime minister.

That project –if it ever really existed- died somewhere between the Single European Act in 1986 and Maastricht Treaty in 1992.

Its corpse was exhumed and subjected to a final public humiliation with the absurdly named Stability Treaty in 2012.

But there were those who still continued to believe in the chimera that was Social Europe. Until last weekend, when the limits of the economic project that is the European Union were finally exposed.

It was an ugly display of visceral power at its most brutal.

It had nothing to do with sound economics –as evidenced by the ever accumulating number of economists appalled by the outcome.

This was an act of politics at its very purest.

A demonstration of the blunt fact that no alternatives to the failed policy of bank bailouts and crippling austerity would be tolerated within the Eurozone.

It was motivated by a toxic combination of impulses described by French philosopher Jacques Rancière as a ‘hatred of democracy’ and German philosopher Jurgen Habermas as the ‘lure of technocracy.’

That social Europe’s most ardent believers – from Martin Shultz to Joan Burton- were also Angela Merkel’s most vocal cheerleaders was as revealing as it was damning.

A small, heavily indebted, deeply impoverished peripheral member state of the European Union sought a modest and reasonable way out of a situation not entirely of its own making.

Its predicament was the inevitable outcome of a perfect storm – a badly designed common currency, reckless EU wide financial liberalisation and incompetent domestic economic management.

The human impact of this storm lies concealed behind a stack of statistics – One million people have lost their jobs. 30% of businesses have closed. Salaries have been slashed by 28%, pensions by 45%.

Poverty has increased by 98% and infant mortality by staggering 43%.

Two people take their own lives every single day as rates of depression have increased by almost 300%.

All of this occurred before Syriza were elected – on the watch of Merkel, Dijsselbloem and their Greek Social and Christian democratic counterparts.

It was on the back of this growing social, economic and humanitarian crisis that Syriza swept into office this year.

They pledged to oppose austerity, to end the tyranny of the Troika and to implement an alternative social and economic programme.

Their plan was modest and reasonable. They sought to use the force of argument and evidence to convince their European ‘partners’ of the need for change.

But as former Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis’ lengthy interview with the New Statesman this week reveals there were no negotiations, there was no room for honest compromise.

The message from Wolfgang Schäuble and Jeroen Dijsselbloem was very simple. Do what we say or we will collapse your banking system and turn Greece into a failed state.

Tsipras and Syriza took a gamble. Surely, they thought, the democratic will of the Greek people will be respected in Brussels? A strong mandate from a referendum must strengthen our hand?

The gamble failed. A coalition of the self-proclaiming fiscally prudent –Germany, Finland and the Baltics- and the ever pennant fiscally reckless –Spain, Portugal and Ireland- combined to impose a deal that is both economically illiterate and politically suicidal.

Their plan was not only to impose their failed economic model on Greece irrespective of the cost but to undermine a democratically elected government and punish its people for the audacity of believing that things could be different.

They also wanted to set an example to the rest of us. To warn us of the consequences of having the courage to stand up and say ‘No’.

While Greece and its beleaguered population will suffer first, the repercussions will be felt across the European Union for decades.

Here at home some superficial commentary has suggested that those of us who stood with Syriza and the Greek people will suffer electorally as a result.

This writer has little doubt that fair minded Irish people will see the bullying of Merkel and her Fine Gael and Labour cheerleaders for what it is and react accordingly.

But there is a bigger and more important question to be asked.

What kind of Europe are we living in? Has the ‘lure of technocracy’ and ‘hatred of democracy’ really triumphed? Are we left with the Hobson’s choice of submitting to the self-defeating discipline of a broken single currency or risking the incalculable cost of exit?

The tragedy that is Europe’s’ ongoing battering of the Greeks is not yet over. How it ends will go some way to answering these profoundly important questions about all our futures.

But I for one am unrepentant – if the choice is between supporting the honorable people of Greece and their government or dishonorably lining up behind the bullies of the European Council then I proudly stand with Syriza.


This article was first published in the Sunday Business Post on 19.7.15

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