At the moment of writing, we still don’t know what the result of today’s referendum will be but that is starting to look accessory.
It seems like over the past few weeks, several million parallel realities have taken over: in one of those realities, the Greek government called for a referendum on accepting a bailout which had already expired; in another of those realities, the European Commission and the other EU Member States disagree with Greece holding such referendum but still call on the Greek voters to take one option over the other and turn the referendum into a question on Eurozone and EU membership; in yet another reality, the Commission says it does not interfere with the democratic processes of its Member States; and in yet another reality, the Greek government asks for a third bailout. This goes on and on and on…
Trying to keep up with all these realities and narratives will only lead to more confusion. I think this is revealing of something that is far greater than Greece or deficit spending in times of economic crisis: the European integration project has been showing dangerous symptoms, symptoms which consist of actions and events that go against the fundamental tenets of the European Union as a political and economic integration bloc.
Greece has been one of the most frequent targets of the manifestation of those symptoms over the last five years as a consequence of its vulnerabilities. Governments of many EU countries, especially those with economies that were showing signs of fragility, repeated ad nauseam “we are not Greece”, which became a sort of mantra against the onslaught of the markets.
A lot less people ask how was it possible for Greece to break the Eurozone rules for so long without the European institutions raising the point with the previous Greek governments or how was it that banks and investors from other EU Member States kept lending money to Greece in such high amounts and in complete ignorance – was everyone blindfolded or simply afraid of revealing something too uncomfortable?
As simple as it would be to blame a profligate Greece (like many EU Member States have done) or predatory creditors (like the far-left of the political spectrum has done), I think it falls down to the symptoms I mentioned earlier and which we can observe in leaders, institutions and citizens alike and in such a degree that it’s becoming alarming.
These symptoms include, but are not limited to:
the EU (or should we say the Member States and MEPs?) appointing Jean-Claude Juncker as President of the European Commission: after ten years of Barroso, the EU had a chance to improve its image before the citizens…and it brought Juncker to lead the Commission, I feel tempted to say this is done on purpose to prevent Europeans from getting more interested in the project. Usually, major endeavours call on someone with a magnetic power to galvanize people…the EU prefers to send its citizens to sleep
the UK’s repeated calls for reform and potential renegotiation of its EU membership, lest it leaves the EU…which could be understandable from a certain point of view, were it not for the fact that this is nothing but a political tactic by David Cameron to remain in power, one which so far has given him results, now that the EU leadership is in disarray
the Central and Eastern European Member States rejecting, in large numbers, the resettlement of refugees from conflict zones (because our countries have nothing to do with the conflicts they are running from and they would only disrupt our societies) and claiming that it is not fair for their countries to contribute to the Greek financial assistance plans, as Greece is a wealthier country – I can’t wait for a European Citizens Initiative that calls for tax payers in the poorer regions of Western Europe to be able to opt out from their tax money being disbursed to EU-funded projects in the wealthiest regions of Poland, Czech Republic and Slovakia…
the unprecedented results of far-right and populist parties which call for an outright breakup of the EU and for setbacks in democracy and respect for Human Rights – this is significant, especially as most EU Member States have known authoritarian or totalitarian leaderships over the last 100 years
the EU’s and its Member States’ overall lack of action when Greece was breaking the Eurozone rules and nobody seemed to bring this up, at least on a high level – nobody will ever know, right?
the way this crisis was handled: Greece received the most money, yet it remains in an extremely fragile situation…”We told you so”, say the Greece-bashers in other countries, “we are wasting our money”…Did someone ask how was it possible that after five years of oversight and auditing of Greece’s policies and expenses, we still find ourselves in a situation where talks break down because of a discussion on VAT? Not a single mea culpa from the creditors, not one statement claiming that things went wrong, that erroneous forecasts were made and that the results were the exact opposite of what was expected
If the European project really is about common values of democracy, rule of law and Human Rights, common objectives and solidarity in order to achieve peace, prosperity and a high standard of living for all, it seems to be interpreted in a very bizarre way by some these days, a bizarre way which says: “yes, of course, we are all Europeans and we all have common values and we fully subscribe to what the treaty says and we completely agree with the ideal of European integration…but now I want to get reelected for as long as I can, so pander to my demands immediately or I’ll bring the next European Council meeting to a standstill”. Or perhaps, « I want all the perks and benefits of EU membership but I want to contribute as little as possible because for my voters, the EU is only about receiving and who am I to tell them the opposite? »
If there’s one simple message that this sends to the electorate, it is that of Obi-Wan’s words to an unaware Imperial storm trooper: This is not the leadership you are looking for. Well…perhaps he didn’t say THOSE exact words, but you get the idea.