I am normally only ever driven to write something when feeling frustrated at the overarching arguments present during a political debate. One such is the prevailing tone of discussion to do with Greece. In this article I want to cover three main things. I want to discuss the anti-greek sentiment which has emerged in the media and argue that it is neither constructive, mature nor welcome in a political crisis in which the welfare of hundreds of millions of people across Europe is on the line. I will then argue that Greece’s situation must be treated with respect and that the welfare of the Greek people must be placed higher on the political agenda through talking briefly about the political landscape of Greece. Lastly I will argue that if the crisis is to be solved, both the Greek people and the leaders of European countries must cease to treat each other as adversaries and instead look at working together for a solution which has the consent of the Greek people and the interests of working people across Europe at its heart.
There has been a notion that Greece must be “punished” for what it has done. Indeed, in the discourse associated with the country there are often fingers pointed at the “laziness” of the Greek people or massive problems with the country’s institutions. As with any political crisis, the most dramatic of events is the one which often gains the most coverage as in this one most commentators in the media flirt with the notion that a Greek exist is somewhat desirable and inevitable. It is not. A Greek exist from the Eurozone is still one of many option on the table and even if it were to occur there would still be a mountain to climb in terms of solving the crisis at hand as well as solving the fundamental issues surrounding the crisis.
There has been a debate which has existed since the inception of the European Community not over whether or not there should be a more united Europe, but over what the future of our continent should look like. Although in the UK we are seen as either “Euro-sceptic” or “Europhilic” these are huge over simplifications of the visions for what Europe should be. One such is where the power over common policies is held mostly at state level (commonly referred to as the inter-governmentalist approach) and the other is where decision bodies have power over issues which are most efficiently solved at European level (often referred to as the community method). Throughout Europe’s history there have been numerous failings of the intergovernmentalist method due to the fact that the political interests of member governments (trying to please their own electorates) all too often conflict with the interests of the citizens as a whole and the development of common solutions to common problems. This is one of the reasons why Qualified Majority Voting has been introduced for an increasing number of areas, as the intergovernmental method has proved too inefficient to provide a fast reacting, strong and united response to crises affecting the whole of Europe.
It therefore appears to me that the path which Merkel has chosen for Europe is one of intergovernmentalism. Rather than look at strengthening EU institutions to govern the Eurozone collectively by introducing Eurobonds and greater powers for community-level institutions, it left the burden of deficit reduction in the hands of individual Governments. This has meant that when it has come to the “problem” of Greece, the decisions have not been heavily influenced by heads of state and not people accountable to the governments of all. Greece has therefore become a salient issue for state level governments across Europe, with populist discourse about the “lazy Greeks” coming from creditor states. But the question must be asked: how legitimate is Merkel’s role in Greek politics? Surely if the issue spans beyond Greece’s borders, then collective institutions are more legitimate as they represent both the concerns of the community and of the people of Greece? What right does Merkel in particular have to punish Greece when her own inaction and mistakes are partly to blame for the current situation? It must be remembered that Merkel’s re-election relies on the mood of the German people, not of Europe as a whole. The future of Greece must involve the input of the people of Greece. They must be treated as we would all expect to be treated if we were in their situation and should feel included in negotiations.
Many people are surprised that PASOK, the main social democratic party in Greece, has used the slogan “Αυτοδύναμη Ελλάδα” or “self Greece” as their election slogan. This seemingly nationalistic slogan isn’t new to the character of PASOK at all. The left in Greece has always carried a semi-nationalistic tone dating back as far as Eleftherios Venizelos (a hugely influential liberal republican) and to the founder of PASOK, Andreas Papandreou. To me this isn’t a nationalist populism so much as a desire for Greece and its people to be treated as equals much like any other state. The country is geopolitically in an interesting location, finding itself next to Turkey and during the cold war next to both Yugoslavia and Bulgaria (then a member of the Warsaw Pact). This has meant that throughout their history they have been of strategic interest to Italy, the Ottoman Empire, the United Kingdom and the United States. It is therefore understandable that parties have formed along this line of politics a country so vital to the interests of others and why, during a time of forced Austerity, even the moderate parties carry such a seemingly nationalistic tone. This has been somewhat amplified by the fact that politicians who are totally unaccountable to them, such as Merkel and Sarkozy, have created such public anger when talking in a populist manner to their voters about “solving the problem of Greece”. It is this anger which allows parties like SYRIZA, a radical socialist anti-austerity party, to do so well by tapping into public anger instead of offering a stable alternative which suits both the Greek people and the wider Eurozone.
It is partly the responsibility of PASOK to try and argue for the stable future which the Greek people undoubtedly desire, geared more towards growth and stability and not a deficit reduction plan which appears to endlessly create a higher deficit. The people must also have trust within the wider institutions that if they do elect a PASOK or New Democracy government, that it will be listened to and their views will be taken on board. The people of Greece in opinion polls seem to overwhelmingly support staying in the Euro, and for me it is doubtful that a SYRIZA government would manage to do so considering they can’t rise above party politics to form a coalition with other parties at a time when the Greek people need one. Other leaders must understand this desire and work with and not against the wishes of the Greek people. If the austerity plan fails it will not be the fault of the Greek parties or people, but of the leaders of other countries within the Eurozone to deal with the crisis in a responsible manner. If this all doesn’t suggest that massive reform of the way Europe works is needed, and that it goes beyond the borders of Greece, then I have no idea what will.
If Greece and their European partners wish to come to a solution to this crisis, they must treat each other as allies in a struggle to solve this crisis for the half a billion people resident in the European Union. They must also share responsibility for the crisis. There are undoubtedly problems which existed in Greece following the mismanagement of the country under the last New Democracy government and problems regarding the reform and strengthening of Greece’s financial and governing institutions. But these must be performed with the consent of the people whom will be governed by these new institutions, and if they feel they are not being listened to then they will elect louder and more unreasonable governments such as SYRIZA in order to be heard. The rest of Europe must also share responsibility for the mismanagement of the crisis, the inability to accept vital reforms such as the introduction of Eurobonds and the strengthening of community level institutions. The ridiculous treaty must be scrapped which essentially limits the tools available for Governments for making long term growth and which constitutionally enforces an ideologically pro-austerity approach to the problem of public debt. Instead there must be co-operation between governments on regaining the trust of the Greek people, on finding an urgent alternate solution to Greek debt and on finding an adequate solution to the wider problems in the Eurozone in Ireland, Spain, Portugal, Italy and beyond.