Harris&Ewing Washington Monument, view from air 1919
I know I’ve talked about this before, but it just keeps coming and it keeps being crzay. Bloomberg ‘reports’ that the ‘German Finance Ministry’, let me get this right, “is supporting the idea of a vote by Greek citizens to either accept the economic reforms being sought by creditors to receive a payout from the country’s bailout program or ultimately opt to leave the euro.” And that’s it.
They ‘report’ this as if it has some sort of actual value, as if it’s a real thing. Whereas in reality, it has the exact same value as Greek Finance Minister Varoufakis suggesting a referendum in Germany. Or Washington, for that matter. Something that Bloomberg wouldn’t even dream of ‘reporting’ in any kind of serious way, though the political value would be identical.
Apparently there is some kind of consensus in the international press – Bloomberg was by no means the only ‘news service’ that ‘reported’ this – that Germany has obtained the right to meddle in the internal politics of other eurozone member nations. And let’s get this one thing very clear: it has not.
No more than the Greek government has somehow acquired the right to even vent its opinions on German domestic issues. It is a no-go area for all European Union countries. More than that, it’s no-go for all nations in the world, and certainly in cases where governments have been democratically elected.
So why do Bloomberg and Reuters and all the others disregard such simple principles? All I can think is they entirely lost track of reality, and they live in a world where reality is what they say it is.
Now, I know that Schäuble ‘merely’ said – I quote Bloomberg -: “If the Greek government thinks it should hold a referendum, it should hold a referendum.. Maybe it would even be the right measure to let the Greek people decide whether they’re ready to accept what needs to be done.”
That’s admittedly not the same thing that Bloomberg makes of it, though it’s possible that the ‘reporter’ got some additional background information from the German Finance Ministry, and that that’s the reason the ministry gets mentioned, instead of just Schäuble.
But that still doesn’t make it alright by any stretch of the imagination. The EU, and the eurozone, are made up of sovereign nations. Who function in a system of equal partners, certainly from a political point of view. So the German FinMin has no business even talking about a Greek referendum, no more than the Greeks have talking about a German referendums. And Angela Merkel should be on his case for this. But she’s not. At least not in public.
Whether or not Greece has a referendum -about the euro or anything else- is up to the Greek people, and first of all to the government they elected only 3.5 months ago. It has absolutely nothing to do with whoever is in charge in Berlin, or Paris, or even in the EU headquarters in Brussels. It’s a fatal mistake to think otherwise. Bloomberg has made that fatal mistake. Schäuble has come so close Athens should file a complaint against him.
Granted, all parties involved may be influenced by what happened 4 years ago -more Bloomberg-:
Schaeuble’s stance on a Greek plebiscite is a departure from Germany’s position in 2011. Back then, Prime Minister George Papandreou dropped his plan for a referendum after Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy urged him not to hold the vote.
That referendum involved a haircut on Greek debt ‘negotiated’ by the troika, which Papandreou wanted the Greek people to vote on. And Merkel and Sarkozy did much more than ‘urge’ Papandreou not to hold the vote. They were afraid it would drive Greece from the eurozone, and scared the sh*t out of him so much he withdrew the plan a few days after proposing it.
Which is just another case of Euro nations meddling in the internal affairs of a fellow member nation. Something for which there wasn’t then, and still isn’t now, any political or legal support or framework inside the EU. Still, Brussels, Berlin and Paris applied similar pressure on Italy PM Berlusconi in those days, and installed – helped install – a technocrat PM, Mario Monti. In Greece, they got Papademos. Both Papandreou and Berlusconi were gone soon after the ‘pressure’ was applied.
That’s how Europe operates. And they have no legal right to do it. But that you won’t read at Bloomberg. The whole thing is so accepted that not even Syriza tells the Germans – or Bloomberg for that matter – to shut their traps. Even though they would have a lot more right to do that than Schäuble has to comment on internal Greek affairs.
And from where I’m sitting that means that Ashoka Mody’s piece for Bruegel is too little too late. Nice try but..
The problems will worsen in Greece and, will inevitably, arise elsewhere. The economic and political costs of breaking the Eurozone are so horrendous that the imperfect monetary union will be held together. Instead, the cost of the ill-judged rush to the euro and mismanagement of Greece will eventually be a substantial forgiveness of Greek debt.
But this is a good moment to step back and loosen European ties. As Schuman said, “Europe will not be built according to one plan.” The task is to create a de facto solidarity—not to force a fragile embrace. A new architecture should scale back the corrosive power relationships of centralized economic surveillance. Let nations manage their affairs according to their priorities.
And put on notice private creditors that they will bear losses for reckless lending. The European fabric -held together by commercial ties- is fraying as European businesses seek faster growing markets elsewhere. That fabric could tear if political discord and economic woes persist. History and Schuman will be watching.
Things have moved way beyond where Mody thinks they are at present. The secret ingredient is simply the crisis. The way the eurozone was hastily slapped together allows only for good times. The idea was that as long as things go well, nobody would notice the cracks. But Europe has been nothing but cracks for 7 years now, and there’s no end in sight.
The Greek people can vote all they want to end the misery Europe has inflicted on them, it doesn’t matter to the major powers in the union. They simply blame it all on the same Greeks, and judging from how Bloomberg approaches the issue, they have the upper hand. They live above their means, they’re wasteful and they’re lazy. That’s the portrait painted, and that’s how 90% of the world therefore sees them.
It makes no difference whether it is true or not. It’s all just about who has more money and power and press; they get to decide what people think about other people.
Does the euro have a future? If it does, it won’t look anything like it does today. The eurozone has only ever been a mechanism to make more money flow from the south to the north. And now the north will have to come up with a measure of solidarity, of being an actual union, and they bluntly refuse.
Rich European countries are all led by politicians who want to win their next elections. And these are national elections, not European elections. Those hardly matter. Because Europe is made up of sovereign nations. And that’s why the European Union in its present shape is doomed to fail.
Brussels will always clamor for a closer union, politically, fiscally, economically. But the way Germany et al has treated Greece and Italy and Spain over the past 7 years makes abundantly clear that such a close union will never come to fruition. These are all countries that are proudly independent, that commemorate battles from hundreds of years ago where their ancestors shed the blood and gave the lives that made them independent.
They’re not going to let Germany and France and Holland call the shots in their economies and countries now. Not a chance.
Europe only has a -peaceful- future as a continent of independent nations that work together where they can. To get there, they will need to abolish the euro and completely redo the union project, from scratch, close down all offices in Brussels, and they will have to do it soon, or there will be no peace.
Meanwhile, what’s left for Greece in Brussels that is beneficial to the country? I don’t see it. It makes me think more of a Stockholm syndrome by the hour. Get out, get your own currency, negotiate a treaty with Italy and Spain, maybe France. But don’t stay in a ‘union’ with outsiders who think they can tell you, Greeks, how to run a democracy, or when to hold a referendum. That can only be a road to nowhere.