The crisis in Greece is born of the Euro elite’s blatant attempt to replace democracy and politics with bureaucratic rules and procedures.
Implacably, relentlessly, step by step, Greece is being destroyed to preserve a political order supported by all the European Union’s member countries, whether they are in or out of the Euro.
What happens in Greece will mark the opening of a new era in European politics. It is important therefore to understand what is and isn’t going on. The crisis is not, as many believe, being driven by ‘neoliberal’ economic policies. It isn’t caused by any Greek cultural propensity to fecklessness either. And, despite the protest graffiti and the timeless appeal of Nazi references, the Greek tragedy is not a plot to restore an explicit German hegemony in Europe. Angela Merkel is no Adolf Hitler.
What is happening in Greece is a crisis of European proportions because it is the sharpest expression of a destructive trend common to all countries in the EU: the twenty-first-century elite mission to place institutions, policy and statecraft above society. The Greek catastrophe, then, is an indicator of what happens when the question of interest or politics becomes the sole preserve of bureaucratic or state structures decoupled from, and increasingly defined against, the public.
Measures imposed on Greece are explicitly declared, even celebrated, as being in opposition to Greek society. Any attempt by political parties to uphold the democratic representation of Greek interests is met with aggressive hostility. Moreover, the EU-IMF programme, or so-called Memorandum of Understanding, for Greece is utterly divorced from economic reality. As documented in the Daily Telegraph, the Eurozone’s policies are pushing Greece into a ‘death spiral’ that defies any economic logic.
The Greek economy was expected to contract by three per cent last year. In reality, it shrank by up to seven per cent as EU-imposed austerity measures laid waste to the real economy. The EU’s management of Greece – in place since May 2010 – is making things worse. Under the tutelage of EU officials, manufacturing output contracted by 15.5 per cent in 2011. VAT tax revenues fell by 18.7 per cent in January, a collapse in state income caused not by corrupt Greeks but by the bankruptcy of 60,000 small firms since last summer. Unemployment leapt almost three per cent in one month last November, to 20.9 per cent.
And why is the EU making decisions in defiance of Greek conditions or economic facts? Because it is defending institutions, such as the European Central Bank, at all costs.
The EU, however, is happy to blame the failure of its debt-reduction policies on the culture of the Greek people. ‘It will still take time and effort by the Greek society’, sniffed Olli Rehn, the EU’s monetary and economic affairs commissioner, when asked why austerity was not working. In fact, Greeks work an average of 42 hours a week - much longer hours than Germans.
Sunday 12 February was a dark day in Greek history. As Athens was torn by violent protests, MPs voted 199 to 74 to sign up to a new EU-IMF austerity programme. The cave-in by the Greek parliament was not a heroic affair. It was impossible to justify draconian additional measures demanded by the EU, which include the sacking of 150,000 public sector workers, new pension cuts and a 22 per cent reduction to the minimum wage, as anything but a national surrender.
The Greek finance minister Evangelos Venizelos told his countrymen: ‘We have to choose between humiliation suffered by a country with a proud history and the even greater humiliation that would we have to suffer if the attempt to keep our pride and our dignity lead to solutions with a far larger social, economic and institutional cost.’ As I discussed recently on spiked, the EU has recast politics as the practice of bowing to the inevitable rather than coming up with, or fighting for, alternatives. In its eyes, forcing toxic decisions down the throats of voters is considered virtuous, despite this being a reversal of Europeans’ hard-fought democratic gains of the last century.
During angry and despairing debates last weekend, Venizelos, a Socialist, gave the game away while explaining himself to left-wing MPs who had accused him of selling out social democracy to impose the EU’s austerity agenda. His comments are worth quoting at length:
‘I could say a lot about how this negotiation has been handled. How much we spoke about the democratic deficit in Greece and in Europe, about the deficit of politics and the need to not push our society, our economy beyond a certain limit, about the recession, the need to take anti-recessionary measures. They [members of the EU elite] want to transfer to us their own perception, which we can easily characterise as neoliberal. They believe this model has worked in their countries and they want us to have it too. They have the majority, they have the money, they have – in their opinion - proven that their model works. They don’t care about things that we said decades ago, about what the European welfare state means, about what Europe as a continent of democracy, civilisation and dignity means. They don’t care about these things. Their political discourse is totally different.’
As a frank admission that the EU is violating democracy and Greek interests, especially as the Greeks actually elected a Socialist government in 2009, Venizelos’ defeatism is spot on. But he is wrong, as are so many others, in thinking that the EU is imposing policies because they ‘work’ or because it has taken an ideological, right-wing position on economic thinking.
The truth is both more prosaic and terrible: for the EU to function as a general force for statecraft in European societies, it must embody procedures and policies that are deliberately estranged from national, democratic or industrial interests. The EU is using the full force of its statecraft to defy new economic facts and to enshrine ‘golden rules’ into national constitutions simply because those are the rules already set out in the Treaty of Maastricht that created the Euro in 1992. For the EU to function as the EU, especially when enforcing the domination of Europe’s global powers such as Germany, it must lean on precepts and dogmas already written into EU treaties.
Understanding this is important. Dimokratia, the Greek daily newspaper, hit a nerve with its hysterical headline ‘Memorandum Macht Frei’, echoing the slogan written on the gates of Auschwitz. But the pious authoritarianism of the EU is best expressed in its lingua franca, English, with the words There Is No Alternative. The EU is potentially far more dangerous than a straightforward expression of Germany’s hegemony because its political culture is common to all Europe’s elites.
The same 1992 EU Treaty of Maastricht, which created the Euro, was also the treaty of German reunification. Britain and France were both keen to bind or neuter Germany in the Euro arrangements. As noted previously, by fostering a German statecraft completely dependent on the EU, UK prime minister Margaret Thatcher and French president Francois Mitterrand may have created a monster on a par with the Treaty of Versailles. The particular character of the German state and its defensive evolution since 1945 means it has become more bound than any other to EU statecraft and institutions.
As a global - or certainly European - power, Germany, which is without an independent foreign policy in the conventional British or French sense, needs the EU to project its power in Europe and the world. If Germany controlled the EU as a mere expression of its national interest, then Greece would have been kicked out long ago. But the EU is intrinsic to Germany’s own statecraft. Germany needs to keep the current EU treaty order both because it is hardwired into the German constitution and because it relies on the Euro and single market for its economy.
While the bureaucratic structures of the Euro have benefited powerful countries like Germany and France, the EU can only work if it assumes a form that is independent of them. And historically, monetarist austerity is the independent institutional form – through Maastricht’s Stability and Growth Pact – that the EU has taken. The EU’s austerity programme for Greece does not, strictly speaking, have an economic or ideological basis. Its raison d’être is to ensure that questions of interest are defined by the EU method, by bureaucratic statecraft and not political contest. Germany and others are destructively upholding the EU because that is the established political order in Europe.
The official Euroscepticism of UK prime minister David Cameron is mute on the question of the EU versus Greek self-determination. ‘If Greece wants to stay in the Euro’, stated Cameron during a recent Commons debate, ‘then those are the conditions [the austerity measures] it will have to meet. I am not Greek; I am British. We have made our decision to stay out of the Euro; this is their decision.’ The words of a true Little Englander.
At the time of writing, the EU is withholding the loans that Greece needs to service its debt and seeking to impose new demands: the ‘permanent presence’ of EU officials in Greece’s treasury and the creation of an ‘escrow’ account for loans and possibly Greek state revenues. The trigger for the new ultimatums were remarks by Antonis Samaras, the centre-right Greek leader of the opposition, that he would seek to renegotiate the austerity measures if he won elections in April. Since then he has climbed down and written to the EU, assuring it that he will do no such thing. Nevertheless, the EU is taking additional measures to remove the question of the austerity measures from politics entirely. According to current reports and diplomatic sources, Germany, Holland, Finland and Italy have even suggested the Greek elections could be postponed.
The hand of history is on Europe’s shoulder. Internationalist ideals and established principles – the equality of nations, democracy, self-determination and justice – are being strangled in Greece. Are such gains of civilisation to be sacrificed at the altar of the EU’s political order? This is now an urgent question for all Europeans.
*Bruno Waterfield is Brussels correspondent for the Daily Telegraph and author of E-Who? Politics Behind Closed Doors, published by the Manifesto Club.