Europeans march in solidarity in Berlin and London, Paris and Dublin; all will be cold comfort to the Greeks in the harsh light of this morning’s deal. The pressure exerted upon Greece by its creditors will have parlous consequences for the European project and its lofty democratic ambitions. As is so urgently pointed out by the #ThisisaCoup hashtag, the terms of the new deal, and the behaviour of the central EU and German administrations, fly in the face of any supposed national sovereignty.
The pretence of political solidarity in the Eurozone can now be seen for the farce it has become. The language involved in negotiations between the Syriza cabinet and the troika (ECB, IMF, European Commission) reached such virulent heights as Yanis Varoufakis, the pugnacious former Greek finance minister, accusing the EU of terrorism. To speak of terrorism is to appeal to particular understandings, emotive ideas of some intensely abusive behaviour; it is to invoke dramatic hostility and violent consequences. This between partners in a political union. The treatment of Greece has been akin to that of a country under sanctions for aggressive or warlike international conduct, not relative economic frailty within a cooperative regional institution.
The human cost is frankly appalling, and will remain a blemish on Europe’s record for many years to come. Of course, Europe is a developed society and a cynic might draw the unequal comparison to abuses elsewhere in the world. But that an economic bloc larger than the US, founded on principles of fundamental freedoms, should allow one of its constituent states to come so close to human tragedy is indefensible. Ranging from images of pensioners crying in the street to worries over the supply of pharmaceuticals, concern for the Greek people is legitimate. Thus the solidarity felt by protestors on the streets of Europe.
However, it is becoming increasingly clear that this empathy does not translate into political reality. The forces which occupy the upper echelons of European politics at present are singularly unsympathetic to the plurality of European citizens clamouring for debt relief and compassionate financial assistance. The grounds proffered for such a rejection are that the taxpayers of other Eurozone countries should not be responsible for supposed Greek laxity and imprudence in its fiscal stance. Indeed, the crux of the issue is that many of those taxpayers may well agree. But the ever-insistent European emphasis on rules and the letter of the law places troublesome countries in a category of those who deserve some degree of punishment for their transgression. This normative move has repeatedly proven successful during negotiations, allowing Germany and supporting states to press harsher terms on the Syriza government. Nonetheless, the idea of a country even beginning, tout court, to pay off debt worth 177% of the value of its GDP is economic lunacy.
The words of the German Chancellor herself are illuminating as to the degree of the sanctimony at hand. Angela Merkel, appearing before the international press, offered lip-service to the notion of solidarity among member states. But the reality is that the European project is in grave peril. Paul Krugman, always a vocal critic of austerity, has opined all too accurately on this. Mr Varoufakis is due to write in Die Zeit that the deal today is but a spectre of the brutal economic treatment the Eurozone as a whole would receive, if left to an unchained Wolfgang Schäuble, the German finance minister. He, too, is worryingly correct in his provocation. The vision of a Europe rife with rising inequality and dangerously liberalised financial markets is surely at odds with the traditional European social contract.
There is the not-insignificant question of the Greek referendum on the 5th July, which delivered a resounding rejection of bailout terms less harsh than those agreed upon this morning. Let alone strengthening the Greek hand at the bargaining table, the expression of a valid, democratic national will seems simply to have cost the country the chance to take a kinder deal. Whether this was a poor gambit on the part of Alexis Tsipras, the Greek prime minister, is a moot point. The actions of the ECB have been notably political, confirming the hegemony of the neo-liberal order as it refused to support the Greek banks. The upshot of the near-irrelevance of the referendum is that when national democracy within Europe produces outcomes contrary to the wishes of the elite in Brussels, it counts for ostensibly little. The problem is that reclaiming the democratic prerogative for nation-states themselves strikes at the core of political integration. Those who denounce the EU’s democratic deficit will now see their arguments grow more persuasive at both ends of the political spectrum.
As Mr Tsipras was grilled by MEPs on the 8th July, he was criticised for failing to present a serious programme of reform in response to creditor demands. Syriza’s uncertain start to its term in government can be justly questioned, but the conditions under which Tspiras is being forced to turn around his economy are despairingly hostile. His government might yet crumble under the tension of trying to pass bills supporting the raw deal Greece has been handed. But it is extremely poignant of Manfred Weber, chair of the European People’s Party, to accuse the Greek prime minister of “destroying confidence in Europe” – appealing to far-right and far-left parties sceptical of the state of the EU. Mr Tsipras is a man with few options, subject to “blackmail”, according to his party colleagues. That the allies fastest to his side will be those who already vilify the bureaucracy and machinery in Brussels is obvious and understandable to an extent. Through their uncompromising stance, the EU’s politicians have worsened, not helped, this problem.
Mark Mazower has previously written excellently on the historical context of German leadership in the EU. The implications of this context are taking the union down a turbulent path. The project relies on the absence of German dominance. At present this cannot be reconciled with economic asymmetries between the European nations, especially when domestic factors within each country, including Germany, play such a large role. Mrs Merkel has complained about the loss of trust and credibility – in fact, it is her administration and the EC which have squandered that crucial currency in this crisis.
Here I wish to echo Owen Jones’ anxiety over growing disillusionment: Eurosceptics across the continent will decry the unaccountability of ECB and EC officials and the bloated political elite, with ever-greater appeal. That will have ramifications for Britain’s own debate over membership, for instance. For those of us who, at heart, support the European project, our patience will surely be tested further in the coming weeks.