When this text was finished (morning of 29th of June) nobody knew, how the confrontation between Greece and the other 17 countries of the Euro-group would end. Everything is possible. The crisis has reached such a precipitating dynamics, that nobody is able to fully control the process. There might still come a last minute muddling through compromise. The fact that Obama has called Merkel on Sunday the 29th of June indicates, that there is pressure from Washington, where they want to keep Greece in the Euro for geopolitical reasons. But there might also be an insolvency and a subsequent Grexit either by accident or by intention.
Independently from how the drama will continue, the damage is already huge and irreversible. From outside, the situation looks like a total mess. Compared to the bunch of extraordinary problems the EU is confronted with - migration, Ukraine, Brexit, right populism, the economic crisis and unemployment in many member states - the Greek issue appears almost the easiest to be managed. Hence, seen from Rio, Tokyo or Beijing the want-to-be super power EU looks rather ridiculous.
The Greek referendum – too democratic for the EU
Looking closer, one can see an abyss of brutal power play and blackmailing by the neoliberal Goliath against the Greek David. Goliath cannot accept, that a country whose population is completely exhausted and depressed by five years of failed crisis management should have the right to democratic self-determination. The fact, that the referendum came as a shock to the Euro-group offers a deep insight into their understanding of democracy. In a statement at the finance ministers conference the Greek representative, Yannis Varoufakis, had reminded that his “party received 36% of the vote and the government as a whole commanded a little more than 40%. Fully aware of how weighty our decision is, we feel obliged to put the institutions’ proposal to the people of Greece.”. But such a reasoning seems alien to the “institutions” and the leading governments. Jeroen René Victor Anton Dijsselbloem, Dutch finance minister and chair of the Eurogroup called the Greek decision “unfair” after Greece had refused to swallow the ultimatum he had set. Again social democrats are on the forefront when it comes to propaganda and slander against Greece. German foreign minister Steinmeier even qualified the referendum as taking the Greek people as “hostages”.
But this should be no surprise. The eurocratic elites are used to take decisions of historic range without consulting the sovereign of democracy, the citizens. Thus the Lisbon treaty, which replaced a draft constitution after its rejection in referenda in France, the Netherlands and Ireland in 2005 or the far reaching measures of the crisis management since 2008, are implemented in a kind of permanent mode of emergency. One cannot but agree to Krugman’s comment in the New York Times: “If you ask me, it has been an act of monstrous folly on the part of the creditor governments and institutions to push it to this point. But they have, and I can’t at all blame Tsipras for turning to the voters, instead of turning on them.” The Greek experience adds a fresh chapter to the long story of the democratic deficit of the EU. Those, who hope since 25 years for a social and democratic EU should now definitively be disillusioned by the Greek experience.
By the way, it is worthwhile to read the whole statement of Varoufakis. The information policies of the Euro-Group is very intransparent. They never publish documents so that most media rely on statements of politicians, which, of course, are always biased by their strategic interests and their blame game, while the Greek position does hardly come through. Syriza also published the draft agreement, which the Euro-group refused to accept. It shows for instance that declarations in TV like the one from Martin Schulz, head of the European Parliament, that they had refrained from increasing Greek VAT, are simply not true. Either Schulz does not know what he is talking about or he is lying.
EU at a turning point
Whatever will happen with Greece in the future, the whole drama is another indicator that the EU is coming to a turning point in its history. Too many heavy problems remain unresolved, to begin with the currency. Economically it is a misconstruction to have a common currency for such a heterogeneous group of economies without an overarching single state. The economic crisis and the failure of the crisis management is further deepening the asymmetries. The centrifugal tendencies are increasing. Even if another referendum, the one in the UK, should not lead to a Brexit, there will be in any case to a loosening of rules and regulations.
The centrifugal trend will be furthered by another important development: as mentionedabove, Obama has phoned Merkel to express the US interest in the case of Greece. What seems to be a trivial detail reveals a new dimension of the situation in the EU. Abon mot of Henry Kissinger cuts it short. When asked about his opinion about the EU, he used to say: "What’s the phone number of the EU?" At present, Kissinger’s question is answered. The phone number of the EU is nor Juncker, neither Tusk, but Merkel. In other words, the crises of the last seven years have served as a catalyst for the establishment of a German hegemony, or, as it is called in the mainstream discourse: German leadership. The problem, however, is that too many people and some governments still remember, that the German word for leader is Führer. Although contemporary Germany can by no means be compared to the times, when Europe was integrated under German leadership from the Atlantic to Stalingrad, the present crisis has shown, how easy the spectres of the past can be mobilised. In particular the former leaders in London and Paris are not enthusiastic about the new hierarchy. Obama is aware of that and knows that German capabilities are limited and contested by the lower ranks in the informal hierarchy. This increases the influence of the US on European issues.
The EU is in sharp decline. This will not be prevented by the recent proposal of Juncker, Tusk, Schulz, Dijsselbloem and Draghi for a leap forward in the integration of the Eurozone. This plan will not work, as most countries are not prepared to follow this pathway.In order not to fall back into complete national fragmentation it would be wise to redefine the future of the EU, the so called finality question. It is time to say definitively good bye to the dream of the United States of Europe. Instead, more flexibility internally and more openness towards the outside world are required. We need less centralisation and more diversity. This means selective disintegration in certain areas, such as the common currency and selective integration in other areas, for instance renewable energy. Opening to the outside world could mean to develop closer ties with the Maghreb region and Turkey, or taking up the idea of an economic space from Vladivostok to Lisbon, as suggested by the Prince of Darkness in the Kremlin and accepted in general by Merkel in the Minsk II agreement. We need realism instead of euromanticism!
After this weekend, that moment seems to have moved closer. Next week the Greeks will give their opinion, via a referendum, as to whether they are for or against the austerity agreement.
Since the beginning of the crisis the Greek economy has collapsed. 25% of the wealth has evaporated. One in four Greeks is unemployed and amongst young people the figure is as high as six out of ten. Extremely harsh austerity – many times greater even than in the Netherlands – has dismantled health care. Figures for poverty are rocketing, as is the number of suicides.
Billions in loans in recent years have not helped Greece. That’s not so hard to believe. Europe has primarily, with the money for Greece, rescued its own banks. These have, as a result, withdrawn from the country and governments have taken over their debts. Meanwhile the problems have not been solved, as Greece can only emerge from this catastrophe if some prospects of improvement arrive. A real solution: fewer right-wing reforms, less tax avoidance and more hope, optimism and revenue, so that the economy returns to the discussion.
That hope is not on offer from Dijsselbloem & Co. Worse still, instead of such hope, the Greeks have been handed a new austerity agreement which would drive the society, the public sector and the economy still further down.
This weekend’s crisis lays bare the fundamental problem of the euro. It is a struggle between European institutions which are allowing themselves to be led by the financial markets and a population which is demanding democracy and human dignity. The struggle for market and currency is colliding with the Greek struggle for humanity and democracy. The Greek people have opted for a social course, but Brussels cares nothing for election results. First the currency, then the people. That’s how things go in this Europe.
I can well imagine Tsipras’s choice. He has not, against the will of his constituents, agreed to impose an austerity agreement. Quite correctly, he has not left his voters in the lurch but instead has given them a voice. So a referendum is a logical decision. You might well wish that there were more such democrats in Brussels, and a great deal fewer technocrats sitting around the table.
On September 6, 1946 US Secretary of State James F. Byrnes traveled to Stuttgart to deliver his historic “Speech of Hope.” Byrnes’ address marked America’s post-war change of heart vis-à-vis Germany and gave a fallen nation a chance to imagine recovery, growth, and a return to normalcy. Seven decades later, it is my country, Greece, that needs such a chance.
Until Byrnes’ “Speech of Hope,” the Allies were committed to converting “…Germany into a country primarily agricultural and pastoral in character.” That was the express intention of the Morgenthau Plan, devised by US Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau Jr. and co-signed by the United States and Britain two years earlier, in September 1944.
Indeed, when the US, the Soviet Union, and the United Kingdom signed the Potsdam Agreement in August 1945, they agreed on the “reduction or destruction of all civilian heavy-industry with war potential” and on “restructuring the German economy toward agriculture and light industry.” By 1946, the Allies had reduced Germany’s steel output to 75% of its pre-war level. Car production plummeted to around 10% of pre-war output. By the end of the decade, 706 industrial plants were destroyed.
Byrnes’ speech signaled to the German people a reversal of that punitive de-industrialization drive. Of course, Germany owes its post-war recovery and wealth to its people and their hard work, innovation, and devotion to a united, democratic Europe. But Germans could not have staged their magnificent post-war renaissance without the support signified by the “Speech of Hope.”
Prior to Byrnes’ speech, and for a while afterwards, America’s allies were not keen to restore hope to the defeated Germans. But once President Harry Truman’s administration decided to rehabilitate Germany, there was no turning back. Its rebirth was underway, facilitated by the Marshall Plan, the US-sponsored 1953 debt write-down, and by the infusion of migrant labor from Italy, Yugoslavia, and Greece.
Europe could not have united in peace and democracy without that sea change. Someone had to put aside moralistic objections and look dispassionately at a country locked in a set of circumstances that would only reproduce discord and fragmentation across the continent. The US, having emerged from the war as the only creditor country, did precisely that.
Today, it is my country that is locked in such circumstances and in need of hope. Moralistic objections to helping Greece abound, denying its people a shot at achieving their own renaissance. Greater austerity is being demanded from an economy that is on its knees, owing to the heftiest dose of austerity any country has ever had to endure in peacetime. No offer of debt relief. No plan for boosting investment. And certainly, as of yet, no “Speech of Hope” for this fallen people.
It is the mark of ancient societies, like those of Germany and of Greece, that contemporary tribulations revive old fears and foment new discord. So we must be careful. Teenagers should never be told that, due to some “prodigal sin,” they deserve to be educated in cash-strapped schools and weighed down by mass unemployment, whether the scene is Germany in the late 1940s or Greece today.
As I write these lines, the Greek government is presenting the European Union with a set of proposals for deep reforms, debt management, and an investment plan to kick-start the economy. Greece is indeed ready and willing to enter into a compact with Europe that will eliminate the deformities that caused it to be the first domino to fall in 2010.
But, if Greece is to implement these reforms successfully, its citizens need a missing ingredient: Hope. A “Speech of Hope” for Greece would make all the difference now – not only for us, but also for our creditors, as our renaissance would terminate the default risk. What should such a declaration include? Just as Byrnes’ address was short on detail but long on symbolism, a “Speech of Hope” for Greece does not have to be technical. It should simply mark a sea change, a break with the past five years of adding new loans on top of already unsustainable debt, conditional on further doses of punitive austerity.
Who should deliver it? In my mind, the speaker should be German Chancellor Angela Merkel, addressing an audience in Athens or Thessaloniki or any Greek city of her choice. She could use the opportunity to hint at a new approach to European integration, one that starts in the country that has suffered the most, a victim both of the eurozone’s faulty monetary design and of its society’s own failings.
Hope was a force for good in post-war Europe, and it can be a force for positive transformation now. A speech by Germany’s leader in a Greek city could go a long way toward delivering it.
This article has been published also in Project Syndicate and socialeurope.eu
Years of austerity, immigration, poverty and a growing wealth gap – the European Union today is far from the Utopia some used to imagine when it was created. Now, with current politicians unable to solve the issues people are facing, the whole Union is being torn apart by rising far-right and far-left parties; People seek innovation in politics, seeing EU’s stagnant leadership unwilling to act. But are these new parties able to deliver on their promises? Is there even an alternative way for Europe? We ask these questions – and many more! – to a philosopher, activist and author of 'What does Europe want?' Srecko Horvat is on Sophie&Co today.
SS: Srecko Horvat, philosopher, political activist, author – welcome to the show, it’s great to have you with us. Now, on the one hand, right parties are on the rise across Europe: in France, the UK, Finland, Austria… on the other hand, there’s the triumph of Syriza in Greece or Podemos in Spain. Is Europe headed towards a rupture caused by extremes? Is the “center” disappearing?
SH: That’s a good question. I wouldn’t say the center is disappearing, I would say the center is stronger than ever and we should call this center - “the extreme center”. It’s, as you probably know, a Ping-Pong play between the center-right and the center-left, but what is new in Europe in the last several years is precisely what you’ve said: on the one hand we have a rise of right-wing extremism, which is also part of Parliaments, even the European Parliament as so on – and on the other hand we have new left radical political parties like Syriza and Podemos and both of these are in a way a result of the crisis of the extreme center, of the austerity measures all around Europe, of the completely lost geopolitical ways of the current political leaders of the European Union.
SS: We’re going to talk about the austerity measures in just a bit, but I want to talk a bit more about how the power balance is distributed between these parties: Podemos and Syriza have raised the hopes of the left intellectuals, but they aren’t really halting the advance of the far right – and there’s no fundamental change going on in Greece. Is the European “Left” powerless?
SH: I wouldn’t say that the European left is powerless. On the contrary, I would say that the success of Syriza and also the possible victory of Podemos in autumn this year at the national elections in Spain, is a clear sign that left is back again in Europe. But, what we have seen after the first Eurogroup meetings between Syriza and finance ministers of Europe was that the Troika or the so-called “Institutions” - which means the European Central Bank, the IMF – will do everything in order to prevent left wave in Europe, because it is clear that the left parties are completely opposed to new indebtment, to the enslavement, to austerity measures, new privatizations and so on. So, what we could have seen isn’t an impotency of the left – I would say, it’s a clear sign that Greece should at least reconsider exiting the Eurozone, because what we have seen during these negotiations is that it is not possible to negotiate with capital.
SS: But also, I mean, there are a lot of thoughts on what should happen to Greece, and one of them is that Greece’s creditors should be forgiving the country’s debt. Is it fair? Does it not annoy you when someone borrows a thousand euros from you, let’s say, promises to give it back, and then tells you that it’s not happening? That’s not good, is it?
SH: I wouldn’t agree with you. You know, if we go back in past, we will see that the so-called “economic wonder” of Germany was realized precisely because the huge part of their foreign debt was forgiven. So, in 1953 we had huge debt conference in London, when the superpowers of the world from that time decided to forgive the debt of Germany in order for it to recover. So, what Syriza is proposing is that we should have similar debt conference in Europe, where we should, in a way redefine the debt – and it is not something which is utopian, you know – we had something similar in Ecuador several years ago, where this succeeded to show that 30% of the foreign debt was illegitimate, because it was debt towards institutions like IMF, private banks and so on. So, the money which Greece today gets from the EU, isn’t the money of German taxpayers – it is actually the money of private banks, so Greece is supposed to return money to private banks who will make a new profit out of this debt. So, in a way, this is a thing which is scandalous – the real scandal is not “not repaying the debt”, the real scandal is to repay the debts to private banks.
SS: Now, let’s talk about austerities. The opinion that austerity is leading Europe nowhere has been voiced and heard since the beginning of austerity. Why is it still a thing?
SH: That’s a good question. I would say, because austerity is the main ideology today – you know, beside debt you have austerity, because, I would say, most of the power elites today are completely incapable of projecting or imagining a different economical system which wouldn’t be based on austerity. Since, if you have austerity, it’s the easiest way to do… What the powers, either Social-Democrats or Conservatives in the country where I come from, the newest member-state of the European Union – Croatia - are doing is austerity all the time, in the sense that they are privatizing public companies, like they are now trying to privatize the railway, healthcare system, education is partially already privatized and so on – and in that sense they are, in a way, building up the budget, and this is just to survive the next four years until the next elections. But what should be done is to have a vision which would go beyond that – what we will do in the next 20-30 years if we will still have austerity? If we will still have austerity in the next 20-30 years, my thesis is that we won’t have the European Union anymore…
SS: Okay, but is there a way back? Can you turn the trend around? Is there even an alternative to austerity, and what would that be?
SH: I wouldn’t say there’s a way back, because I don’t think Communism of the XX century is a solution: I would say there’s only way forward. There are different examples which show there are different ways of reorganizing the economy. So, for example, in Porto Alegre in Brazil you have the participatory budgeting – the idea behind the participatory budgeting is very simple. The citizens should decide, at least partially, where the budget should be spent, or, for example, you have workers’ cooperatives in Mondragon in Spain, and as you know, Mondragon is not a communist company, it’s competing on the market, and it is very successful. Also, in the country where I come from, I mean, previously, once upon a time, I don’t know if people still remember, it was called Yugoslavia as well, we had something called “self-management” – so the idea was that the surplus value doesn’t go to the financial elites, to the CEO’s, to the managers, but the surplus value goes back to the economy, it goes back to the workers, it goes back to the people who produce every day. So, there are, actually, real Utopias, which are not Utopias from the XX century, but they are models which can still function in the XXI century. If you ask me, you know, capitalism has shown that it cannot function for a hundred times, it shows every day that it cannot function.
SS: I think, there are plenty of people in European countries and in America as well, who are of the same opinion as you, that the capitalism in its present state isn’t functioning anymore – so we see protests in southern European countries like Spain and Greece and Italy, etc., and they’ve been so plentiful – and it had so little consequences! They even ceased to be real news – but are these a sign of things to come or just a waste of time and energy?
SH: Of course, if you start a protest or if you participate in protest and then things don’t turn out as you expected them to turn out, you can be rather pessimistic or Walter Benjamin says, “there can be a sort of melancholia left”, you know, but of course, if you look at the map of the current protests, for example, Tahrir square or Occupy Wall Street, of course you could say “yes, everything had to change yet everything stays the same”. I mean, after the Tahrir square and so-called Arab Spring we got the Muslim Brotherhood, then we got the Army nomenclature again... After the Occupy Wall Street, which was opposed to Obama and to the bailouts and saving private banks and so on, we got Obama again and so – but I wouldn’t say this is a reason to be pessimistic. I would say, there was a sort of paradigm shift after the financial crisis of 2007-2008, that in the sense, that all these protests, like Indignados in Spain – that was the main reason why a new political party like Podemos is possible now; and of course, I’m the last one who would say that the new political parties will succeed to change that status quo. What my thesis is and what I can see while participating or following different protests all around Europe is that the new political parties have to stay in contact with these protest movements and it is the other way around as well, it is a sort of Hegelian dialectics: that the protest movements need new political parties in order to be stronger, so it is not over yet, I would say.
SS: You’ve said something very interesting, that the closer the left parties come to power, the more accusations we hear that they’re not radical enough anymore. Do you feel they should stay radical when in power?
SH: That’s a tough question, and we’ve seen that in history already, after the period of 1968 we had huge debate between Rudi Dutschke and his thesis on the long march through the institutions with the thesis that yes, we have to enter institutions in order to change the institutions from within – but we know how it ended, it ended with German Greens and with the Social-Democrats who are not radical at all. On the other hand, after 68 in Germany, for example, you had, of course, the RAF,Rote Armee Fraktion, which is terrorism – and they also failed. So this is the true question, but I wouldn’t say that they’re not radical anymore. The biggest tragedy today is that, for example, take for example Thomas Piketty and his book on the capital in XXI century: the biggest tragedy is – and Thomas Piketty is not a Marxist, he said that himself – the biggest tragedy today is that progressive taxation on wealth would be a radical measure. The biggest tragedy today is that even social democracy would be a radical thing today if we look at the current social-democrats all over Europe and the completely inexistent welfare state. So, yes, even if Syriza in Greece or Podemos in Spain succeed to build a functioning system of public healthcare, a functioning system of social security, pensions and so on, in the current situation, unfortunately, it would be radical.
SS: Now, Croatia is the latest state to have joined the EU in 2013 – what that changed for the country? Was that a positive step?
SH: I was very critical of the entrance of Croatia to the EU, and I would be the first to say that there were no positive effects of entrance to the EU, except cheaper mobile phone calls or easier travel around Europe. For the majority of the population things didn’t really change, and especially if the new trade agreements like TTIP and similar stuff will be agreed upon – I think, even worse times will come. I should say that Croatia is the new record-holder, when it comes to the turnout to the referendum about becoming a new member state to the EU. Before it was Hungary, there was 45%, I think, and now it’s Croatia, with only 43% of population that turned out on the referendum. So, I think, this is already a clear sign that the atmosphere is changing. Before, in 2004, for example, when Slovenia – another ex-Yugoslavian state – entered EU, there was huge enthusiasm and everyone though that “once we enter the EU, we will arrive at a society with prosperity, with stability, peace, equal opportunities” and so on. But today, I think, go to Serbia, for example, or to go to Montenegro – other ex-Yugoslavian states – there isn’t such big enthusiasm anymore…
SS: Yeah, but you know, Serbia is still pushing to be part of the EU, and so is Albania and so is Macedonia; Turkey for that matter. Why do you think these states are actually lining up to share Europe’s problems? What do they stand to gain at this point? Like you’ve said, it’s a different Europe at this point that it was in 2004…
SH: First, I have to say that I will be critical again – I still think, Europe, the idea of Europe which is not the EU, is an idea which is worth fighting for; in this sense, it is Europe which created the Trade Union movement, it was Europe that created a huge feminist movement, it was Europe where we had Paris Commune, October revolution if you want, 68 and so on, self-management, anti-fascism, non-aligned movement… so there are a lot of ideas which we can still inherit from Europe. But the problem is the European Union. When you mentioned Serbia, for example, I wouldn’t say Serbia is pushing towards European Union. You know that Russia is very strong in Serbia, but not only Russia – you have Arab capital, you have Chinese capital. So, my thesis is that precisely because of the austerity measures all around Europe, the perfect example is Greece and port of Piraeus, 50% of which was bought by the Chinese, Europe is actually geopolitically loosing ground. So, from all parts of Europe, foreign capital is entering, either from Russia, either from UAE, from China and so on; so it is precisely because of these current political decisions and the way of Angela Merkel, Junker and so on, that Europe is actually losing the role it had in the XX century – and this is a tragedy again, I would say.
SS: Ukraine is also hoping to gain much from its association with the EU, planning for future membership, for instance. You’ve said the EU is not answer to Ukraine’s troubles: does Kiev realize this?
SH: Regarding Ukraine, which is a tough question, I can only answer with a joke, a joke from a communist times. You have a listener who called Radio Erevan and he asks: “Which tea is better, is it Chinese tea or is it Soviet tea?” And the answer is “Don’t get involved in the fight of the superpowers; drink coffee”. This is a false dilemma – should Ukraine choose Russia or should it choose the EU. I think both choices are false and are a bad in a way. What we have to reinvent today, is a new non-aligned movement, which started precisely 60 years ago in Indonesia, when Surkano invited Tito, Nehru, Nasser, Indira Gandhi and so on, and then, afterwards in 61, in Belgrade, the non-aligned movement was created. I mean, of course, you could say “this is some historical bullshit and so on”, and of course, the non-alignment movement still exists today, but it is completely impotent, I would say. If you have powers, new powers, such as Syriza, or if Podemos comes to power, and if they connect with Venezuela, Bolivia or so on, maybe, a new force could be created that could oppose both of these dilemmas – is it the U.S. or is it the EU, is it Russia or is it China – no! I think we should create something completely new, and the pity, is – if I just can add – you know, you probably remember because Snowden is still in Russia, when Evo Morales was going from Russia back to his country and he was forced to land in Vienna because there was a suspicion that Edward Snowden was onboard… If you ask me, this was the biggest diplomatic scandal of the XXI century! How can you force a President to land? I mean, what if something similar would happen to Obama? It would be a huge scandal; so my answer is, if we would have a functioning non-aligned movement, maybe, this wouldn’t happen. He wouldn’t be forced to land in Austria, because other forces, other countries, not only Latin-American countries would oppose such geopolitical situation that the NSA from the U.S. can force a Latin American president to land.
SS: Back to the whole idea of Europe and how it differs from the concept of European Union, you wrote that the new members have not been treated as equals by the established Western European states. But the EU is the community of equal nations, I mean, in theory it is – was there ever something real behind those words?
SH: I don’t know if there ever was something real behind those words, I suppose some people believed in it, and so on, but we have to remember that the EU was, first of all, an economic union, it was never humanitarian, I don’t know, emancipatory union, it was always an economic union – and you can see it now. One of the lines, of the official anthem of the EU, says in German “alle Menschen werden Brüder” – “all people become brothers”, but you know, several weeks ago, one thousand people died at the shores of Europe. And what is Europe doing now? They are doing military operation in order to shut down, to sink all the boats – not with immigrants, but without immigrants and so on, in a way to prevent immigrants from entering ships, which is, if you ask me, pretty bizarre – it reminds me of a nice saying by Oscar Wilde, who said that if you’re walking a street and you gave a penny or a dollar or whatever to a beggar, to a poor person, you are actually sustaining the same system. What we have to do in order to get rid of people who beg for money is to create such a system on such basis that would make poverty impossible. I would say, if it comes to military operations to sink smuggler ships who are trying to smuggle immigrants to Europe’s shores… the answer is not to sink ships, the answer is to create such a system that people from Libya, from Tunisia, from all other where wars were created, actually by the European Union, wouldn’t have to need to go to Europe.
SS: I actually want to talk about that as well, because you bring up a very good topic – immigration, which is one of the biggest stumbling points in Europe. You believe Europe has a responsibility to solve the problems of say, African states, as well as accepting these immigrants. How is EU going to help solve problems of Libya or Congo when we’ve just talked about its inability to solve its own problems, and why do Europeans have this responsibility in the first place, anyway?
SH: The question would be not only “how can Europe solve these problems if they cannot solve their own problems”, but how can Europe solve the problem of illegal immigration, these waves of immigrants, you know, one thousand people died in one week, this is almost the same as Titanic – it is like five or six or seven flights have collapse in one week, that’s a huge scandal, I would say – but the question is if Europe is creating the problems, how can it solve the problems? Let’s not forget that it was the European Union, the French President who had a role in war in Libya, that European troops, NATO, are still present in Afghanistan or Iraq. So, if you have European troops there, or if European Union creates wars in the Middle East or in North Africa, are we surprised that people who are affected by war are trying to get to Europe? And the answer of Europe is again cynical – we all know what outsourcing of labor is, you know, you build a cheap factory in Asia and so on, and you outsource work in order to have cheap products. What European Union is doing now is actually that they are outsourcing deaths, in the sense that they are now building walls in Morocco, in Tunisia, in all the other countries in order to prevent them to come to the Mediterranean Sea. So, one year ago we had a huge celebration of the fall of the Berlin Wall, but we now have walls all around the world – and that’s very cynical. I’m not seeing that the EU can or wants to solve these problems.
SS: Mr. Horvat, thank you very much for this wonderful interview. We were talking to Srecko Horvat philosopher, political activist, author of “What Does Europe Want?”, talking about the existing divides in the European Union, if member states can find a common approach to solve their issues. That’s it for this edition of Sophie&Co, I will see you next time.
First published by RT on the 15.05.2015
SYRIZA’s election on January 25th was a historic event. In the midst of a deep economic crisis and a steep decline of faith in political elites, Europe had elected its first radical Left government since the Spanish civil war. Veteran leftists cried and embraced, socialists from across the continent and beyond flocked to Athens to sing their anthems, and Greek society breathed a sigh of relief at a break from years of immiseration.
Yet, in the party election tent and headquarters, the mood was quite different. The weight of responsibility – to a society suffering enormously, a Left that had been battered by generations of defeat and even more profound causes threatened by phenomena like the rise of the far-right and the world’s environmental crisis – weighed heavily on the new princes of European politics. With a state squeezed between an unpayable debt and a highly unpalatable exit from the euro, SYRIZA were in many ways elected into a prison.
So it proved in the weeks that followed. After a first month of highly astute symbolism and mass rallies in support of the government, the second was shaped by the nature of their agreement with the EU, ECB and IMF on February 20th, which promised to put large parts of their agenda on hold in return for not forcing new austerity measures onto the government.
This agreement locked SYRIZA into a highly fractious negotiation process in which the institutions attempted to make the Greek economy scream by choking off liquidity to the financial system and withholding tranches of bailout funds to which they are legally entitled. To compliment this, the Troika openly mocked and attempted to delegitimise the elected government, blackmailing it in public and even lobbying for regime change in the composition of the government.
May and June are crucial months for the negotiations. An interim agreement which sees the release of some bailout funds is likely to be necessary this month to prevent a cash crunch for the government, which is already seeking the reserves of local authorities to cover costs. Then in June the second bailout programme will expire, necessitating a more fundamental agreement on a new one.
SYRIZA is dancing desperately to prevent itself being snared in another memorandum agreement like its predecessors. Such an outcome would double down on the idea that there is no alternative to neoliberalism just as its first serious challenge in a generation appeared to be on the horizon. But is it nimble enough on its feet?
Dimitrios Tzanakopoulos is Alexis Tsipras’ Chief of Staff. A serious Marxist theorist with an utterly coherent anti-capitalist worldview, he is at the very heart of the new government, directing the affairs of the Prime Minister’s office. He remains “optimistic that there will be a deal” with the partners. “Europe needs to ask if austerity is the future. If not, there must be a solution to these social catastrophes. SYRIZA has promised to find one and this is what we will do”.
In many ways the government’s line in negotiations mirrors his Althusserian politics. It views instability as the most important threat for the ruling class and capital accumulation. The election of SYRIZA brought such instability, inserting an unpredictable and politically divergent player into decision-making in Europe. So, the logic goes, the number one goal of European elites will be to overthrow the government. Not by violent means but by a soft coup, which they are currently attempting to execute by combination of economic strangulation and political humiliation.
This instability thesis is a profound challenge to the dominant narrative of capitalism today, which sees it as a system based on risk and reward. But actually it has a long history as a critique, with even moderate figures like Keynes noting instability’s effects on the “animal spirits” of the economy. The prevalence of the word “confidence” in contemporary discourse evidences the degree to which economic and financial players value security.
Therefore if they cannot overthrow SYRIZA, and if no capitulation is forthcoming, the team around Alexis Tsipras believe that European elites and the IMF will compromise. This is because the third option, the last on the table, brings about an explosion of instability: the threat of Grexit from the eurozone.
This opinion is shared by Loudovikos Kotsonopoulos, party intellectual and senior advisor in the Economy Ministry. “My prediction is that there will be a compromise. European elites fear a geopolitical realignment. It is very difficult for the European Union to suffer a defeat of such magnitude as a departure of one of its members. Until now the only direction was countries coming into the EU. If this ceased to be the only option it would have significant ramifications. I’m not sure that they can manage such a defeat, and neither are they. But they know as well that we are in trouble if we exit the euro. So it is tense. What are the sides going to give? And how can this be presented as a victory for both?”.
Dimitris Ioannou, writer for party publication Enthemata, is more sceptical about a compromise. “We come with arguments, they reject them, then they say, ‘you’re wasting time’. What does that mean? It’s just saying, agree with us. You’re wasting time between getting elected and doing what we say”.
There seems to be some surprise in the party ranks at the degree of ruthlessness displayed by the institutions. Some had earnestly believed that more allies could be found in the battle against austerity. Others simply thought that Europe’s elites would be forced to stick more closely to their stated support for democratic legitimacy and a degree of social justice in the economy.
In fact, these elites, particularly those around Merkel’s government in Germany, are much more politically and strategically astute than they had been given credit for. The discursive trick of left-populists, not just in Greece but Spain too, of trying to box them into a corner by holding them to their stated principles has not succeeded in shifting the political terrain.
As Ioannou says, much of this has to do with a complicit media. “Today the institutions will say, ‘stick to the agreements, you’ve signed them’, tomorrow they’ll blatantly break the agreements to disperse funds and the press will simply report the situation as if there is no hypocrisy and we are to blame”.
But even though the party’s strategy seems to be failing internationally, producing retreat after retreat and ominously creeping towards capitulation, it has secured significant support internally. In their first month of power more than double the number who voted for SYRIZA in the election said they supported the government’s battle in Europe.
Despite this eroding somewhat in recent weeks, with the media particularly turning on the leftists after they attempted to break the power of the oligarchs, they remain around fifteen points ahead of their right-wing opponents in New Democracy. This is twice the margin with which they won the election only a few weeks ago.
Markos, a political-science graduate who supported SYRIZA despite doubts about their likelihood of success, says he thinks they made two very smart moves when they were elected. “In the first month they amassed enormous political capital which they are able to consume now that things are not going so well. First, they had [Finance Minister] Varoufakis fight with the institutions publicly. This made Greek people feel some dignity, which was something they had lost. They were used to ministers going abroad and being humiliated or Prime Ministers, like [George] Papandreou, being overthrown because he dared to utter the word ‘referendum’. Papandreou returned on the plane and realised he wasn’t Prime Minister any more. This is how it went and to break from it was significant.
“Second, thanks to their coalition with the right-populist ANEL, but also the way that they constructed their discourse in the first month, they played the national unity card. This is a dangerous strategy, and we should recognise this, but it proved very profitable”.
Stratis Bournazos is editor of Enthemata, and one of SYRIZA’s most highly-regarded intellectuals. He says that, in the first week after elections, people were smiling. “And not left-wing people!”, he emphasises. Indeed there was a joke circulating in the month after that said ‘eight out of ten Greeks support the SYRIZA government, the remaining two are the leftists’.
SYRIZA is unusual by the standards of European Left parties in power. Unlike the radically reforming social-democratic parties before and after the world wars, the German SPD or British Labour Party for example, SYRIZA does not have a mass membership, at only around 30,000. Instead it relies on more distant support from its positive relationship with Greece’s social movements.
For most of its history Synapsismos, the main current of SYRIZA, was quite a middle-class party, known for its left-wing intellectuals. It was, Markos says, largely a party of the nice and polite. But its reach extends far beyond this now, as was evidenced by the 42% support Panagiotis Lafazanis, the Energy Minister and leader of the party’s more radical Left Platform, received in working-class Piraeus in the recent election.
This explosion in support began in 2012, two weeks before the last general election, when a party that had been 4 or 5% for most of its history suddenly became a player. “Tsipras came out and said ‘we want a Left government’. It was a brilliant idea, saying exactly what needed to be said at the time. He gave a political project to the people to defend society when most of the Left was waiting for socialism. SYRIZA took all the chips on the table.”
But how long can its popular support last? There is no doubt that its rivals have been substantially discredited by the devastation wrought on Greek society in recent years. Yet, it seems on current trajectory that the party will fail to reverse much of the damage done by austerity. Will its democratic credentials, its campaign against the oligarchs, its commitment to root out corruption and its young, insurgent character be enough?
Bournazos does not believe hegemony-with-austerity is a viable prospect. “It will be difficult to be the dominant party while continuing with austerity. This is why we were elected, why Greece has a Left government. It can only endure up to a point”.
It seems more likely that democratisation, a decline in repression, civil rights and governmental transparency, all things SYRIZA are firmly committed to, will be the collateral benefits of an economic improvement. In Greece, the economy keeps governments in power or causes them to collapse. The reason is simple: due to poverty, which now effects half of the population, the demands are urgent. The heart of politics today is thoroughly material.
Unfortunately for SYRIZA this material basis needed to implement their programme is no more likely to be achieved by a Grexit. Many on the further Left have proposed this as a solution to the country’s woes, with the Left Platform in particular advocating it within the party and both other significant leftist forces, ANTARSYA and the Communist Party, arguing for it from outside. But in reality its prospects look bleak.
Part of this is the fault of SYRIZA, which has failed to prepare in any serious way for a Grexit scenario. Rebel party MP and London-based economist Costas Lapavitsas is one of the few to attempt this – but his treatise with German post-Keynesian Heiner Flassbeck didn’t delve too deeply into specifics, despite being the most advanced proposal on the table. In addition, it relied on European elites providing a soft-landing with debt reduction and stable value for the new currency – things which look thoroughly utopian in the context of the negotiations.
In a country with a very low productive base, turned into a debt colony by EU economics, reliant on services and which has for years imported about twice of what it exported, Grexit produces highly unfavourable dynamics.
A new Drachma that is likely to be next-to-worthless, confining consumption largely to what is produced internally in a state that does not produce enough food to feed itself. A significant increase in the value of the public debt, which would still be denominated in euro, would necessitate a repudiation and cutting off access to international markets for the foreseeable future. A fall in domestic consumption of more than a third would follow in a society that has already suffered from six years of austerity.
In addition, as Kotsonopoulos’ experience in the Economy Ministry has shown him, “80-85% of our public investment comes from European funds. So, if we leave, we will not have any plan for internal investments. Any national development plan we could have that would be impactful would be inextricably linked to these funds”.
Put simply, the only way Grexit could work without harshly punishing workers and the poor, especially given the timeframe and since SYRIZA has assumed power when the movements are at a low ebb, is if the state took over the economy. It would need to impose capital controls, introduce rationing and nationalise the banks, before expropriating large portions of the wealth of the rich. Even more concretely – it would need to send soldiers to the Greek countryside to tell farmers that their tomatoes weren’t going to Germany for payment in euros, but to feed the hungry in Athens instead.
Turning Greece into Europe’s Cuba was never SYRIZA’s mandate. In addition, the society is simply not ready for this. There is no team of technocrats capable of overseeing a transition to a command economy, the solidarity networks are impressive but not capable of becoming the dominant provider of goods and services, and Greeks are still attached to the trappings of consumer society, which would all but disappear under a Grexit.
That is even if things went well after a rupture – but what if the desperation plunged a society already in turmoil into chaos? What would be the ramifications for Golden Dawn, the neo-Nazi party which came third in recent elections? How would the NATO-affiliated, ultra-nationalist Greek military, which previously ruled the country in a junta, respond?
Many argue, with increasing credibility, that a break is the only prospect of escaping neoliberalism. But SYRIZA would have to do a lot of preparation and convincing to make this prospect viable. To date, it has been unwilling.
And so it dances with austerity, attempting to introduce what it can of its urgently-needed humanitarian agenda amid a hail of threats and sabotage by European elites who know the precarious position it finds itself in.
Without more anti-austerity voices at the European table success will be difficult, much as the party will continue to fight. SYRIZA is not minded to sell out, despite the condemnation of its ultra-Left detractors. But neither is Europe likely to come to the rescue. Kotsonopoulos says the international situation leaves him “pessimistic”.
“Other left-wing politics will not come to power in central Europe. It is as simple as that. The only possibility is that the German Social Democratic Party will move somewhat left. There is absolutely no chance that the radical Left will win in Germany or France in the foreseeable future. In the periphery too the wave looks unlikely. Podemos and Sinn Féin could achieve positive results but are not likely to win at the moment. That is not to say it won’t happen in the future. But now, the odds are against us”.
SYRIZA have found no allies in the governments of other peripheral states like Ireland, who are also creaking under austerity’s weight. The way that previous Greek Prime Minister Samaras behaved before he left office, effectively destroying his society to protect the political establishment, is now the approach other governments of the periphery are adopting towards SYRIZA. There could probably be a debt deal if there was a united front of Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain. But there won’t be. Enda Kenny and his allies know that the moment there is a new deal there will also be a new politics.
But, for Markos, SYRIZA’s difficulties don’t change how he feels about his vote on January 25th. “I voted for SYRIZA very consciously and I’m proud of my vote. Why? Because society reaches a certain point where a breach in the political system is absolutely necessary. It becomes stuck and suffocates potentialities. This is the stage we were in before the election after so many defeats. We needed SYRIZA to be elected to bring it to the next phase”. Asked about the future, Bournazos is philosophical on Greece’s experiment with the radical Left. “Growing up I never expected to see the Left in power. As a member I was absolutely certain that SYRIZA would never form a government. Well, it happened. After so many decades. Who will say what is impossible now?”.
Ronan Burtenshaw is a columnist with Village writing from Athens.
The original text was first published on: villagemagazine.ie
The Greek drama has entered its endgame. The Greek government has to repay loans to the IMF and other public institutions in the near future but does not have the cash to do so. The lenders refuse to come forward in providing liquidity as long as the Greek government does not accept the conditions they impose.
We now hear from the finance ministers that the Greek government is unreasonable because it does not want to accept these conditions. These are that austerity be fully implemented and that the structural reforms that have been agreed to by the previous Greek government, be fully carried out.
But are these conditions reasonable?
The austerity measures that were imposed since 2011 led to devastating effects on the Greek economy. They drove millions of people into unemployment and poverty, and produced intense political instability that is responsible for the rise of Syriza. Insisting on further austerity does not seem reasonable when the failures of this strategy have become so obvious. The surprising thing is that ministers of finance continue to hold the moral high ground and preach to the Greek that they should be more reasonable. Being reasonable is equated to accepting the conditions of the creditors even if these conditions have failed to produce positive results. It is even more surprising that most of the media have now accepted this story.
Some of the structural reforms the creditors insist on are badly needed. Tax reform that would lead the rich to pay taxes is one. But surely this is a reform that the Tsipras government, in contrast to the previous government, is willing to introduce. But other structural reforms are patently unreasonable. The privatization program that was agreed with the previous government and that the creditor nations insist should be implemented does not make sense. A country should not be pushed into disposing of its valuable assets in a forced fire sale. This will lead to very low revenues for the Greek government and will mainly profit the buyers, some of which are companies in the creditor nations.
We are now being told that the responsibility for failure rests entirely with the Greek government that remains unreasonable and unreliable. It is exactly the opposite. The intransigence of the lenders and the unreasonable demands they impose on a country are responsible for the drama that unfolds.
There is a big contradiction in this intransigence. As is well known, Greece has profited from debt rescheduling in the recent past. Maturities on the debt were extended and interest rates were lowered. According to the Brussels think tank, Bruegel, the effective Greek public debt represents only about 60% of Greek GDP. This appears to be sustainable, provided the Greek economy can function normally. Put differently, Greece can be said to be solvent but illiquid.
The lenders, however, keep the money tap closed. As a result, financial markets are now speculating that the Greek government will not be able to respect the next repayment deadline and will be forced to go into default. The interest rates on Greek government bonds have shot up to levels that make the debt service unsustainable and that make it impossible for the Greek government to refinance itself in the bond market. Speculation has become self-fulfilling and is driving the Greek government into default. But note that this is the outcome of the decision of the creditors not to provide liquidity to the Greek government. It is precisely because the lenders do not want to provide liquidity that Greece may be forced to default. It looks like the creditors are pushing Greece deliberately into default.
The ECB is carrying a great responsibility. By providing liquidity it could unlock the stranglehold the Greek government is kept in. Refusing to provide liquidity would make the ECB the single most important actor responsible for a Greek default and a possible Grexit.
The original text was first published on: socialeurope.eu and republished by analyzegreece.gr
As the bridge agreement with the Eurogroup approaches its expiration date, the conflict between the European “institutions” and the Greek government is getting tenser.
Last week, Jacobin sat down with Elena Papadopoulou to better understand the dynamics between the Greek economy and the European Union (EU), the role of Germany and the United States, and Syriza’s strategy for the ongoing negotiations.
In particular, we wanted to grasp not only how the structures of the European Monetary Unification have produced different outcomes for different countries — according to their existing economic and political structures — but also how it has created core-periphery relations inside the EU.
Papadopoulou is an economist currently working as an economic adviser to the Greek minister on international economical affairs. She is also a member of the board of the Nicos Poulantzas Institute and an editor of the Greek edition of transform! magazine. This is the second in a series of interviews that Catarina Príncipe and George Souvlis are conducting in Athens for Jacobin.
In the tense relations between Greece and the European Union, how would you describe the process of neoliberalization of the Greek economy? Is it mainly a process imposed from outside or from within, as well?
An important thing to observe in this conjuncture is how different European countries have been developing economically through their participation in the EU and the eurozone. This should be our starting point for testing the validity of the argument that Greece was an outlier in the process of European Economic and Monetary Unification — an exceptional case — as it has been presented in the context of the current crisis.
To do that, we have to look at the history of neoliberalism both in Greece and in Europe. This is the red line that connects the Greek public debt crisis with the Irish banking crisis, the Spanish real estate crisis, the French and the Finish stagnation. And by binding together all these pieces it suggests why and how the economic, social, and political relations within the EU became, as you say, tense.
What the Left in Greece was arguing long before the outburst of the 2010 crisis, was the need to challenge the main tenants of neoclassical economics and public choice theory: that what was wrong in Greece was that it never became a fully developed capitalist country, that it never modernized enough, that it never liberalized enough, and that it was trapped by vested interests which worked within the state and blocked the aspirations and the potential of the private sector in an inefficient vicious circle. So, the argument continues, it was insider interests that brought down both the private sector, and the Greek economy as a whole.
Looking at the evidence, one realizes that this is actually not the case. Neoliberalism worked its way into the Greek economy since the mid-1990s; with privatizations, deregulation of the labor market, reduction of corporate taxation, etc. All the basic pillars of what neoliberalism is about, were there. So, the argument of the exceptional case that is based on the “fact” that Greece did not follow the example of what good capitalist countries did, is not valid.
Going back to the question of whether neoliberalism came from outside or from within, the answer is that neoliberalism, and the political and economic forces advocating in its favor, deeply reshaped the Greek economy, as they reshaped all other European economies in the past decades.
The reasons why the crisis in Greece was more acute than elsewhere have to be examined in view of the specific characteristics that capitalism assumes in different national contexts. These characteristics, we should not underestimate. Nor should we fail to address chronic problems of the Greek economy, the Greek state, and the Greek public administration. But in order to deal with these issues, we must not confuse the lines of causation, and we must be clear on their nature.
So, although the trend for neoliberalization in the European Union is similar, there are differences according to the political and economical structures of each country, and according to which place they occupy in the core-periphery relation.
We have to speak about the eurozone as a currency area overall — not just in the context of this crisis. And we have to look back at the bibliography suggesting that the type of economic unification that Europe has been pursuing was only meant to work in “good times.” What happened due to that, is that the eurozone lacked one of the things that are indispensable for a monetary union to actually be viable: economic convergence in real terms.
What was made clear, especially during the years of the crisis, is that the opposite process was set in motion: a divergence tending to create a core-periphery structure, which at the same time lacks mechanisms for fiscal transfers and current account rebalancing.
With this in mind, can you clarify the role of Germany both today and during the last decades?
One of the most common accusations against the German paradigm is that, since the 1990s, it based its competitiveness gains on the so-called “wage moderation.” This helped Germany create a strong export-oriented economy, which at the same time was presented as a model for all other European countries.
The problem with this model is that it is not applicable in a relatively large closed economic area. In other words, when the volume of transactions carried out within the EU is a big percentage of the participating countries’s total transactions, not everyone can be in current account surplus.
This means that when Germany is lecturing that all other countries have to follow its successful lead, it knows that this is a self-defeating argument, and at the same time, when its internal demand is not strong enough to absorb exports of other countries, the scale will permanently be on its side. Thus, the problem is not that Germany exports too much: it is that its internal demand is too weak to support enough imports from other countries.
To be fair, however, we must note that Germany’s successful export-led growth model was not entirely due to “wage moderation.” Studies of the German labor market suggest that there is a great deal of dualism, for example between public sector and export-oriented private sector wages, as well as a big deregulated services market with a lot of precarity and insecurity.
At the same time Germany preserves many development tools which were destroyed in Greece during the crisis years due to blind, horizontal internal devaluation — among which are small special-purpose banks, cooperative or development banks, etc. So, in our case, what Germany seems to suggest is: “Do what I say but don’t do what I do.”
What about the role of the United States in all this?
For a long time now, the US has been arguing that Europe is not doing its job dragging the global economy out of the crisis. And it is true that, during these years, the US pursued a much more expansionary fiscal and monetary policy compared to the eurozone.
Thus, one would expect that this could be mirrored in the stance of the International Monetary Fund — especially in the case of Greece — which could act as a lever for the abandonment of austerity and the move towards a more growth-oriented, investment-driven strategy. Unfortunately, even the “multiplier” discussion (the underestimation of the fiscal damage caused by austerity policies) did not end up in a comprehensive view change — or active intervention for that matter — in this respect.
Can you comment on the conceptual framework of austerity and why it can’t generate an economic recovery?
The policy of austerity was based on the theoretical concept of “expansionary contraction” connected with economic, political, and moral arguments. The basic argument of this concept is not new. A similar debate took place during the Great Recession of the 1930s with the so called “liquidation theorists,” as well as during the crisis of the 1970s.
The story went in similar lines: certain economies live above their possibilities and therefore, they need to pursue a strategy of fiscal consolidation and creative destruction. In the case of Greece — with no real devaluation or expansionary monetary policy- what we had instead of expansionary contraction was, in fact, contractionary contraction.
What we should have learnt from the 1930s and from the Keynesian turn in theoretical and policy terms, is that in a structural crisis, there is no automatic market mechanism of economic rebalancing. How could we forget that the market can’t bring us back to full employment unless there is state intervention, unless there are public investments that can restart a virtuous circle, and unless there are tools that help development, such as a comprehensive industrial policy?
During the last five years, Greece went back decades in economic terms with huge losses in terms of productive and human capacities. Without a positive shock, its temporary balance might turn into a long-term bouncing around the bottom.
The whole concept of internal devaluation has shown its limits: Greece cannot expect to gain competitiveness through wage dumping; this is a strategy that doesn’t make any sense. On the contrary, Greece needs to rebuild its productive base in terms of quality and plurality regarding its forms of production, as well as relying on its social capacities, its highly educated, high-skilled human dynamic, and learning from the broad creative experimentation of self-organized, commons-based initiatives that have been developing all around the country during these years.
What about today? What is Syriza’s approach to the problems within the EU and the eurozone, and what is its strategy for the ongoing negotiations?
The neoliberal turn of the EU has been going through a gradual process of social delegitimization for many years now. This process (accentuated by the crisis) was particularly acute in Greece, and caused a major political change that challenged its track.
Syriza’s goal, since before the January 25 election and until today, was to give content to “changing Greece, changing Europe.” Given the current constellation, this might sound as an unrealistic project. But if we think about the core of the problems and the severity of the situation, economically and (perhaps even more seriously) politically, we cannot escape by just kicking the can down the road.
Major questions have to be addressed: Is the process of monetary unification, given different economic structures in the various participating countries, really viable? Can it move forward? If not, under which conditions and with which strategy can it be transformed?
In my opinion what the Left in Greece and in Europe need to discuss at this point, is how to develop a comprehensive strategy towards economic solidarity, challenging the economic model of the monoculture of the private-market sector, creating alternative mechanisms for fiscal transfers, connecting economic goals with social welfare and social justice, etc.
In this sense, Syriza’s obligation is to put this whole agenda on the table, to involve everyone in the problem, to make clear that this is not exclusively a Greek issue, that we must stop looking away and stop kicking the can down the road. This is one part of the strategy. The other part of the strategy is to actually do things inside Greece that actively constitute parts of the solution.
The problem is that the European institutions and the European political elites are not honest about the flaws of the project. This leads them to negate the fact that this is an opportunity for the whole of Europe to rethink about itself and at the same time to allow Greece to apply policies that prove that alternative ways do exist.
In the short period of the bridging agreement, Syriza’s goal should be to keep its red lines, while at the same time pursuing a left-wing agenda that connects short-term measures with medium-term policies that lead to social transformation.
At the same time, it needs to convince the people — inside and outside Greece — that the application of such a program is indispensable for Greece to survive and develop, and that the reason that the government pursues it is because anything else would destroy its society.
When this short period finishes, we have to make sure that we have made progress in both fronts: on the one hand keep putting the question of the political and economic impasses of the eurozone, taking into account all those facts that show that this is actually the case, and on the other, pushing a genuine left-wing agenda forward so that our social base can be reassured that we will not abandon its interests.
Bringing fairness, equality, and hope for Greece to escape the vicious circle of austerity is the only credible guideline for the government, not only for the negotiation period, but for its governance overall.
This article was first published by Jacobin Magazine here.