Greece: two or three things that Ms. Merkel should bear in mind at this point in June

By Viktor Sukup

The last few months have not ceased to darken the European scene. Islamist terrorism remains a serious threat, as shown by the attacks in Paris and the high number of “jihadists” made in Europe. The economy is still not taking off; unemployment is not dropping; and the problem of Greece is not yet resolved… As for immigrants and the thousands of deaths from their attempts to reach Europe, as well as the highly shady deals between European countries over how to receive –or rather reject– these immigrants, the NGO, Global Social Justice, estimates, not incorrectly, that we should now be ashamed to be European.

Even in democratic and fairly successful Scandinavia, the xenophobic right wing is reaping victory after victory, as in the last legislative elections in Denmark, where the right won more than 20% of voter support. Coupled with this is the significant progress of a party with the same trend in the regional elections in Austria: all linked to the rapidly growing Europhobic and xenophobic trends. Hungary, whose prime minister is seriously proposing to bring back the death penalty, has gone as far as building a wall to prevent access for refugees from Serbia, and on some Greek islands the authorities no longer know what to do to address this problem locally.

Although Germany is one of the countries that take in the largest number of migrants one of the keys to the general problem is precisely in that country, mistakenly seen as the example to follow. There is no doubt that Germany has several very desirable elements, such as its vocational training system and the innovative spirit of its businesses, including its SMEs that succeed all over the world. But it is also clear that this current “prosperity” is highly debatable, given the poverty (by no means residual) of  large minorities within its population and, in fact, largely artificial: firstly, due to the remarkable lack of investment in infrastructures. Suffice it to see the sorry state of its motorways, for instance, and secondly, because this wealth is derived largely from the problems and misfortunes of the rest of the Eurozone, which offers Germany privileged markets and maintains the euro at a very competitive level, while it obtains zero interest rates…

In Germany and other northern countries it is often forgotten that if some countries have a trade surplus, others must have a deficit. And if corruption and patronage have reached exorbitant extremes in other countries, they are by no means lacking in Europe, as clearly demonstrated by the billionaire bankruptcy of the Austrian provincial bank, Hypo Alpe Adria, property of the old populist right-wing extremist leader, Jörg Haider, a scandal well able to compare with any of Spain’s or Greece’s in terms of dimensions… As for Germany, there is no shortage of examples, as seen by the recent change in the upper echelons of Deutsche Bank, although there, in terms of corruption, this is particularly of the revolving door type: unscrupulous transfers of front line politicians to company management and vice versa …

As some commentators rightly emphasise, Germany is not an island, and neither is Finland, the Netherlands or Austria. Without any mechanism of European solidarity, like the intra-German Finanzausgleich, to offset inevitable differences in competitiveness, for Greece and other countries like Portugal it is impossible that monetary union will ever work. Either the whole of Europe will be saved, or it will all collapse together. We will have to find ways to undertake sensible reforms – and at the same time see how we can reconcile the interests of some countries with others; or simply end an experience and recognise the mistakes made, seeking a friendly finale to a failed adventure. The cost will be high, with or without Grexit, particularly due to the pathetic handling of the recession…

As Tsipras said, 70% of the reforms proposed or imposed by the EU are fine but the rest are not. Deng Xiaoping said something similar about the ideas of Mao, and we saw that this policy change had spectacular success. And what about Greece? There is no doubt it needs reforms, in its own interests, especially if it wants to stick with the euro. But is it rational to propose those same privatisations, as well as other unsocial and ultraliberal measures, which led Argentina in the 90s to national bankruptcy, with the enthusiastic applause of the American and European establishment?

If the Union fails once and for all to learn the lessons of their repeated failures in economic, foreign and immigration policies, and in their dealings with Greece – and unless it proposes not so much “more Europe” as a very “different Europe”, there will be little hope for a bright future like the one described by Jeremy Rifkin before the avalanche of new turbulence, as a “European dream”, preferable in many respects to the old “American dream”. Today, a decade later, it has to be accepted that this dream is looking more and more like a nightmare, not only for those inclined towards the populist right, or even only for the Greeks and the Portuguese…

Germany is still weighed down by the unhappy history of the twentieth century, and Greece, according to historians, was one of the countries that most suffered from Nazi barbarism. There is no doubt that the crisis it has collapsed into is largely of its own making, but not only that, as irresponsible banks and German arms exporters also have plenty to reproach themselves with. The disastrous management of the recession since 2009 has a strong German stamp, and it is high time mistakes were finally recognised. To err is human – but blaming the mistake on others is even more human… History will judge whether in the end Ms. Merkel has been up to her historic responsibilities, given this end of June Hamlet-style. All this, of course, is despite the logical pressures from the financial and speculative lobbies behind her, and a public opinion which is, moreover, misinformed and manipulated by these lobbies.

 

 

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