It’s Up to Europe’s Leaders Now
Like so many others, I long ago got used to being pilloried as “anti-European” for daring to say that the “Europe” we were urged to sign up to was no such thing, but was a particular arrangement cooked up by the powerful and foisted on the people of that often benighted continent without bothering either to consult them or to take count of their wishes.
As the Greek crisis unfolds, and as it strips bare the pretensions of those powerful forces who talk with less and less conviction of the European ideal and of democratic rights, we can surely no longer be in any doubt. The “Europe” in whose service so much sacrifice is now demanded is a cartel of bankers, financiers and right-wing politicians who have no interest in democracy, or jobs, or the living standards of ordinary people. As the Greek people suffer, and plead “no more”, it is not the travails of the Greeks – or, for that matter, the Spanish, or the Portuguese, or the Italians – that weigh with Europe’s powerful; their sights are fixed on maintaining austerity and discipline, on adhering to ideology and doctrine.
Above all, they are determined to protect the euro, because it is the one weapon that ensures that there can be no backsliding. The euro was put in place so that, whatever temptations – or even imperatives – there may be, there can be no going back. The grim and unrelenting disciplines of neo-classical economics demand nothing less.
For many of us, this imposition of a single monetary policy and discipline on a hugely diverse European economy was always destined to fail. There was no way that small and underdeveloped economies like Greece could survive competition from a powerful German economy, especially when it was the Germans who had the power to decide on the monetary policy that should be put in place – and no prizes for guessing whose interests that policy turned out to serve.
The irony is that is those powerful interests – represented by the IMF, the European Central Bank, and the European Commission and obliged to follow the dictates of the German Finance Minister – who now find that, despite the disparity in power between them and a bankrupt and demoralised Greece, it is they – and not the supposedly feckless Greeks – who have the responsibility for saving the euro.
With the power of the referendum result behind him, Prime Minister Tsipras can now say that there is nothing more he can do. Ravaged by austerity, Greece has no resources left. Unless they are helped by a bail-out package that does not drive them deeper into collapse but instead gives them a chance, over time, to begin to grow again, they will be forced – since there is no other option – to leave the euro and seek their own salvation.
The Greeks have, in other words, taken their decision. There is nothing left for them to decide. The ball is now in the court of Europe’s leaders. It is not for them to give up entrenched positions. It is up to them to decide whether to refuse to help, with the result that Greece will have to leave the euro whether they like it or not, simply to survive, or to relent and offer a more acceptable and realistic package that will keep Greece afloat and allow them to stay in a re-shaped common currency.
We know what they want to do. They have stuck to the current stance in the hope that the Greek government will fall and “regime change” will be brought about. There has even been talk of a government imposed on the Greek people from outside or of a government of “technocrats” that will do the bidding of the financial establishment. The referendum result, though, seems to have put paid, for the time being at least, to that disgraceful objective.
But, for a brief period, the Greek crisis has given us a glimpse of the mailed fist and doctrinaire rigidity behind the “European” ideal. Rarely can there have been such a stark demonstration of the inherently undemocratic nature of the European power structure and of the interests it truly serves.
It may be that the Greeks, by forcing an “agonising re-appraisal”, will end up having done the true adherents of a united Europe a favour. It may be that, at long last, we will begin to contemplate a Europe based on agreement freely given by the continent’s governments and peoples, an agreement to build a Europe by learning from each other how to work together and to cooperate more closely, a functional Europe that will do those things that are best done together rather than separately, a “bottom-up” Europe that will develop as a result of, but not getting ahead of, a growing sense of European identity and the wishes of its peoples.
We need a Europe, in other words, that is not just a vehicle for advancing powerful interests, and riding roughshod over everyone else, but that understands that the Greek poor and unemployed are just as important, and just as essential, to Europe’s future, and that enabling them and millions like them to live a better life is both a united Europe’s true purpose and its only real chance of success.