[Marxism] Deal on Greek Debt Crisis Exposes Europe’s Deepening Fissures
lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Jul 13 14:56:52 MDT 2015
NY Times, July 13 2015
Deal on Greek Debt Crisis Exposes Europe’s Deepening Fissures
By STEVEN ERLANGER
LONDON — Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany said about Greece on Sunday
that “the most important currency has been lost: that is trust and
reliability.” But many Germans think the most important currency that
has been lost is the deutsche mark, the symbol of rectitude and
confidence that embodied West Germany’s ascent from the ashes of World
That same sense of solidity is badly lacking in the European Union as it
confronts the limits of its ambitions, and Monday morning’s painful deal
on Greece seems unlikely to restore it.
The latest effort to preserve Greek membership in the eurozone has only
deepened the fissures within the European Union between north and south,
between advanced economies and developing ones, between large countries
and smaller ones, between lenders and debtors, and, just as important,
between those 19 countries within the eurozone and the nine European
Union nations outside it.
In the name of preserving the “European project” and European
“solidarity,” the ultimatum put to Greece required something close to
the surrender of the nation’s sovereignty. For all of Greece’s past
sins, and for all of the gamesmanship and harsh talk of the governing
Syriza party, this outcome arguably had elements of punishment as well
as fiscal responsibility.
Whether this is good or bad for Greece, in the end, the Greeks will
decide. But it averted an outcome that could have left Europe even more
badly fractured. And it highlighted the willingness of some leaders to
make a compelling case for unity over narrow national interest,
especially President François Hollande of France, who played an
important role in mediating between Germany and Greece.
Unpopular and yet contemplating another run for the presidency in 2017,
Mr. Hollande displayed leadership and distanced himself from Ms. Merkel
and German demands, which many in Europe, especially in France, saw as
selfishness and even vindictiveness.
On Monday, Mr. Hollande said that “even if it was long, I think for
Europe this was a good night and a good day.” That is true, given the
But it will be even better if the European Union can now, after so many
years, lift its head from its euro crisis and begin to concentrate on
other critical issues: providing economic growth and jobs for its young
people, a rational and unified policy on migration, a response to
Russian ambitions in Ukraine and elsewhere, and a British vote on
whether to leave the European Union.
A so-called Brexit — an exit by Britain, which is expected to overtake
France as Europe’s second-largest economy and is one of Europe’s main
military and diplomatic actors, with a permanent seat on the United
Nations Security Council — would be far more damaging to the European
Union than the departure of small, difficult Greece.
Britain, which never joined the euro currency bloc, plans to hold a
referendum by the end of 2017 on whether to remain a member of the
European Union, and Prime Minister David Cameron is negotiating now to
change Britain’s terms of membership. The mess over Greece has hardly
helped the reputation of the European Union inside Britain, but it may
also help Mr. Cameron secure a better deal.
And the challenge to the post-Cold War order in Europe posed by a newly
revanchist Russia is a bigger threat to European ideals of peace and
stability than Brussels seems to understand.
Together with the migration crisis and Greece, these represent “the four
horsemen” circling around Europe’s future, said Rem Korteweg of the
Center for European Reform, a research institution based in London.
“The four horsemen threaten the E.U. precisely because they raise issues
that can only be solved if governments prioritize a European solution
over narrow national agendas,” he said. “If a European answer cannot be
found, the horsemen will continue to promote chaos, instability and
mutual recrimination” within the European Union.
As for Ms. Merkel, her reputation hangs in the balance, at home and in
her role as Europe’s de facto leader. Having rejected a Greek exit from
the eurozone three years ago in the name of European solidarity, she has
again avoided that outcome. This time, she risked considerable cost to
her political standing at home. But what would really damage her legacy
is another expensive bailout for Greece that fails.
The crisis that played out over the weekend was just the latest in a
series that traces back to the origins and nature of the currency union.
When Germany under Chancellor Helmut Kohl gave in more than two decades
ago to the entreaties of President François Mitterrand of France and
agreed to give up the deutsche mark for the new common currency, the
euro, he did so for the same reason Mr. Kohl had agreed earlier to trade
one East German mark for one West German mark: politics.
Economics was never the most important issue, and Mr. Kohl and Mr.
Mitterrand ignored the voices that warned against a common currency
without common financial institutions or fiscal policies in a set of
widely varying economies.
Greece was allowed into the eurozone for largely the same reasons,
wishful politics, that put ancient Greece, the core of European culture,
at the heart of a European ideal built on civilization and peace. The
fact that today’s Greece bears little relationship to the country of
Socrates or Pericles was simply ignored. And so was clear evidence,
well-known at the time in Brussels, that the Greeks were regularly
faking their budgetary figures to qualify for the euro.
The magical thinking involved was that the euro, somehow shorn of
politics, would bring all these different economies into closer balance.
The last decade has proved that to be illusory. And Monday’s deal — if
it is ratified by an angry Greek Parliament, and by an unhappy German
Parliament, and not derailed by smaller countries like Finland with
coalition governments that depend on the support of euroskeptic parties
— will avert the debacle of a country leaving the common currency for
the first time. But by itself, it will do little to strengthen the
future of the euro, and it might simply prolong the agony and deepen the
For many in Europe, the euro’s economic benefits have been offset by the
constraints it imposes. For the weaker economies in particular, it has
become a sort of prison, limiting the ability of elected governments to
use budgetary policy to smooth out the ups and downs of the economic
cycle and eliminating their use of currency fluctuations to help manage
For Greece, the crisis five years ago was a chance to create a modern
democratic capitalist state, which was one of the reasons to join the
European Union in the first place. Many Greeks suffered, the debt
mountain grew, and finally, as long predicted, the economic squeeze
produced a political revolt — and just as Greece finally seemed to have
turned an important corner and was running a primary surplus, in other
words, financing its current budget and having something left over to
pay its debts.
The victory in January of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and his Syriza
party led to the reversal of some critical economic overhauls demanded
by creditors, threw the Greek economy backward and raised even higher
the requirement for further loans. Mr. Tsipras bet big but lost. But so
have the Greeks.
It is one thing to undergo changes when a government and a people have
bought into them as necessary and hopeful — this is how the Baltic
nations took the pill of economic austerity and overhaul, and this is
largely how Ireland, Portugal and Spain saw matters, too, when faced
But it is a far different thing to have further social changes and
austerity shoved down one’s throat in an exercise of political power and
domination, as many Greeks are no doubt interpreting this deal. Carrying
out these changes will feel like enforced labor to many Greeks, and
especially to the Syriza government, if it survives at all.
As Samuel Johnson said about second marriages, this prospective third
bailout of Greece is a triumph of hope over experience. Even more so
with Mr. Tsipras and Syriza, their protestations of mandates and
sovereignty thrown back into their faces by European colleagues offended
by Syriza’s moralizing, and even more, by its gamesmanship.
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