No matter whether in favor of or against Greece: everybody speaks about solidarity. Solidarity with the insolvent European partners. Solidarity with the unemployed Greeks. In midst of the crisis, the word faces true inflation. Unfortunately, it also suggests the wrong idea. The financial “aid” program was never an act of solidarity. And such a thing is not needed. What we need is democracy.
Never in its history has Europe shown so much solidarity. Billions of taxpayers’ money was spent to rescue the distressed countries from their desperate situation. Financial aid loans, rescuing the Euro, Nobel Peace Prize. And the EU governments, led by Angela Merkel and her finance minister, celebrate their crisis management as a true success. After wandering through the valley of hardship, everybody is back on the rise. Everybody, except for Greece.
From bailout to capital control
Now, incomprehension prevails among the Germans. Incomprehension and anger. All these years of generous solidarity. Merkel herself had always emphasized: there is no alternative to rescuing the Greeks. Decisions quickly run by the parliament. Help. Non-bureaucratic and – especially – selfless. And now, all of the sudden, the Greeks don’t play along anymore. They want to ask the people. The heart of solidarity breaks into a thousand pieces.
In the night from Tuesday to Wednesday the alleged aid program expired. A program, which provided “financial aid” loans (as we call them in Germany, although a loan is by definition never a financial aid) to a completely bankrupt country, only to have them pay the money back immediately. Not exactly the most logical procedure. And now the situation in Greece gets out of control. Again!.
The air is hot out there. Long queues in front of those ATMs that still work. Withdrawal limit from Greek accounts is 50 Euros (no limitation on foreign accounts). Many people do not have ATM cards and are cut off from the money supply. Capital control. State of emergency. And now, those in Germany, who actually care about the situation, are split: Some want solidarity now more than ever. Others, including the German government, claim that the limits of solidarity have been reached.
Negotiation rather than solidarity
It is time to take off the halo of solidarity and finally come to sit at a table of facts. A fact, for example, is that the “offers” from the EU to Greece after the many grueling months of ever lasting negotiations are simply not acceptable.
VAT increase? In a country where the VAT is already higher than the European average and in which the market is more or less collapsed? In a country where the minimum wage is 3,35 Euros and more than a quarter of the population has no job? And increase corporate tax? In a country where one company after the other files for bankruptcy and foreign investments are badly needed?
It does not take an expert to understand that these kinds of measures prevent exactly what – according to the self-appointed Euro-rescuers – was supposed to be the core objective of the whole mission: economic growth. We can say without any doubt: In Greece, the program has not helped. And – contrary to official statements: in the other countries the large scale helping effect cannot be observed, either.
Greece has problems, but is not a problem
Looking at the labor markets in Spain and Portugal, the situation has hardly improved. The conservative governments there speak of success, but they are just waiting to lose the next elections. Poland (non Euro-country) is one of the fastest growing economies in Europe – and is facing the greatest emigration wave since World War II. In Germany, the poverty rate is estimated a shocking 15.5%. The air is hot all over Europe, but medially encircling Greece, nobody really notices.
We prefer to show solidarity with the isolated black sheep, rather than becoming aware of the fact that the crisis is not merely a problem made in Greece, and that it doesn’t cease to exist beyond the Greek borders. But with the media magnifying glass over a country that has been bankrupt for a long time, the situation in other European countries appears much better. As long as you focus on the Greeks and act as if the problems there had nothing to do with the numerous problems of the EU, people feel safe.
Solidarity yes – but not with Tsipras
It is striking how much solidarity the EU felt for the predecessor of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. In cooperation with the Samaras government there were no complaints. The only talk was about the great reform efforts of Greece and the good progress. Hands were shaken in solidarity, as the economy failed to grow. Fact is: The previous government under Samaras has not carried out one single meaningful reform. Not one.
There are taxes on children now, because they are considered a luxury. So, if you have children, the states assumes that you hide money and taxes you for that. As a freelancer, you pay taxes without making any money at all. If you register with a guild or professional association, the state collects money no matter if you ever wrote a bill. The Samaras government has violated the law, offered beaches for sale and shut down the public TV and radio network. Neither did they reform the tax system, nor did they fight tax evasion or corruption.
But Europe showed enough solidarity to ignore all these facts. It was when Tsipras and Varoufakis came that the EU decided to be more critical. Now, the two are depicted as an outstanding example of a lack of solidarity. That the conditions imposed by the EU would have given their country the fatal blow, does not matter. Decried by some as insolent rascals or even the most dangerous men in Europe, others celebrate them as heroes.
Another fact: Up to now, the Syriza government has not been addressing the necessary reforms, either. And instead of blind solidarity, the many followers should be taking a close look at what the new government is actually doing. They reopened the public TV and radio network and protest against the austerity institutions. Unfortunately, the big hope that Varoufakis would pull some genius master plan out of his drawer and finally begin to clean up the unbearable corruption chaos in Greece, did not become true. Whether “Nai” or “Oxi” – the country needs to finally deal with its many problems.
Yes and no to what now?
In this mood, Tsipras lets the Greeks decide. A necessary, yet ill-fated referendum. Technically, it’s all about accepting the EU’s “offer” (which has been withdrawn by now anyway) saying “Yes” or rejecting it (No). But due to the critical situation between the Greek government and the EU, the vote is seen as a commitment for or against Europe (just like the referendum, which is currently being prepared in the equally strong ailing Austria).
For the Greeks, this means to choose between: “Yes, I opt for an” financial aid program, which has so far suppressed any possibility of economic recovery and a confederation, which does not recognize its own failure.” Or “No, with the risk of leaving the monetary union resulting in economic isolation, guided by a government that has given lots of hope, but so far failed to take the necessary measures.” The people who tend to say “Yes” are worried about losing the Euro. They feel more secure with the common currency and as a member of the EU. The others, who tend to say “No”, are exhausted by the austerity measures. The last years of unspeakable stagnation loads stronger in people’s minds than the fear of isolation.
Now everyone is waiting for Sunday. The stock markets respond positively to every little approach and negatively towards contention. And the Greek people, after a week without or only little access to the remaining capital go to the polls and decide their fate. Not really ideal conditions for a democratic vote – especially since the last few weeks have demonstrated everything but democracy.
Greece and the EU
No, the “institutions” and Europe have not really been showing much affinity towards democracy. Even at Tsipras’ victory, Mrs. Merkel found no good words for her new counterpart. Neither did the alleged negotiations have much to do with a dispute on an eye-to-eye basis. Instead, the “donor” countries (those who give, and then take back right away), who previously showed so much solidarity, simply refused to take a close look at what has been done and renegotiate based upon observations. Especially Germany blocked every possible alternative.
In other words, Greece never had the chance to dissuade the negotiators from their standpoint. Since, in this case, Europe would have had to admit failure. Solidarity, apparently, doesn’t go that far. The result is the referendum on Sunday. A referendum that either accepts or denies an offer that, in almost every detail, resembles the conditions before the negotiations started.
State union vs. national state
In all this panic about Greece and with all the injured solidarity pride, we seem to forget the essential: It’s time to focus on all of Europe. The state union is on a bad course and the re-nationalization of the member countries is the result. Anti-European movements beyond the center-right have become socially acceptable – are a part of everyday life. Refugees suffer on both sides of the EU borders. Whole countries are being sacrificed. This is the opposite of solidarity. This is a misunderstanding of the precarious situation in all of Europe.
Interestingly, the greatest failure of the EU is exactly where also the Greek government has failed to act. The purpose of a ruling administration is to create structures, in which a social construct can live and strive. Brussels needs to provide functional channels between the European nations. Channels, that allow the citizens to create jobs and make use of the many resources in Europe. Especially the transfer of knowledge should be at the forefront here. And of course the financial union.
More EU, but with an emphasis on Union
All, however, to which the EU is being associated until now, is the failure of a financial aid program. It would have been much more efficient, if the EU had created structures, allowing the citizens to act autonomously, and tools which would support this independence. Then, a referendum like the one in Greece on Sunday would be perceived as a viable instrument of democracy – not as a threat. Under these circumstances, though, we risk the idea of Europe due to the lack of flexibility within a failed rescue mission.
In a democracy, it is legitimate to make mistakes. The system provides decision-making mechanisms because of that. People in charge have to take responsibility for their wrongdoing – as civil servants. In any case, they are by oath and constitution obliged to decide for the benefit of the people. If they insist on incorrect action just in order to support their own position, this is more than just lack of solidarity. It is against their oath.