Monetary union, that most unlikely of thrills, took Europe for another hair-raising ride today, with the German parliament voting 523-85 in favour of the terms of another rescue package for beleaguered Greece. Meanwhile Greece continued to slide towards crisis and confrontation — as IMF finance wonks arrived in Athens to administer the latest round of austerity measures and audits, they were locked out of the offices by public servants, who occupied six sites across Athens.
Protests continued in Syntagma Square outside parliament, and the roving “no cuts” protesters went from place to place, protesting the range of new taxes — most of them coming down on the lower-middle class, and those working-class people with some capacity to save. George Papandreou, hereditary prime minister, gave speeches to the Greek people and to German MPs, and the cute double-dealing — playing nationalist to his own people, European satrap to the north — was gone. He sounded like a man who had started out thinking he had a mountain to climb, only to realise it was the edge of the abyss.
Greece has paid and paid and cut and cut, and it has done very little to solve its greatest problem — skyrocketing interest rates from a monopoly financial market, and a smooth supply of bailout cash from EU governments. Why should it? The world saw the nature of the financial markets with the now notorious clip of trader Alessio Rastani, claiming that he “dreamt of the next recession” and that “Goldman Sachs ran the world”. Rastani was calumnied around the world, as an “appalling” person, “evil”, etc.
I thought he possessed at least the virtue of honesty, which is more than one can say for all the rhetoric associated with the Greek crisis, in which the undoubted problems of the country have been targeted as the cause of a bankruptcy brought on by the determination of the financial markets to talk it into a lucrative crisis in 2010. Had there been 10 Alessio Rastanis a year ago, Papandreou would never have got his people to consent to their own slow impoverishment — PASOK would have revolted and perhaps deposed him.
Perhaps that will still happen, but the latest German vote has saved him for a time. There was more than Papandreou’s position riding on it — Angela Merkel identified herself with the vote, which increased the lending capacity of the European Financial Stability Facility to €440 billion (about $600 billion). Fifteen members of the Christian Democrats crossed the floor, but the opposition SDP had lent their support to it, so it passed strongly — “this one time”, the SDP noted. The move also allows the fund to buy up bonds of the PIIGS countries, in order to ease their desperately high rates, and to lend at an earlier stage, before countries hit crisis.
Much of the sudden flurry of activity has been begrudging, and prompted by demands from the US that Europe sort things out (which is pretty rich — good thing someone is). Doubtless some form of trade war was threatened as the price of not complying, but the effect was simply for the US to take one side of the struggle within the EU — between economistic eurocrats determined to eschew nearly all fiscal policy at an EU level, and almost everyone else, who recognise that the whole European project, a half-century labour of union by stealth, was on the verge of collapse.
The Right — which can’t decide whether it likes the euro or not — is arguing that the crisis is all about living within your means. But it’s rather the opposite — it’s a product of the EU’s goal over the past 30 years, to take a whole host of decisions about the economy out of the hand of elected governments. The EU — which transmogrified from the EEC to the EC across the late 1970s and ’80s, with Margaret Thatcher a keen agent of its expansion — was the means by which that transformation could take place, both a continuation of the original European ideal, and its co-option to neoliberal dogma.
European union was meant to produce union, but a thing becomes its opposite as da Man said, and what the eurozone has bred, at least in Greece, is intense national resistance, and the destruction of the legitimacy of the major parties. Indeed Greece is almost textbook — as dislocation, everyday poverty and anomie grows (and the best reports to access on that, essential viewing, are those of Paul Mason on the BBC, an ex and long-time member of tiny Trot sect Workers Power), the only party that retains legitimacy and authority are the Communists.
Greece has borne out the “weak link” thesis of historical change to the nth degree — it is the place where all the contradictions of Europe are concentrated so tight that they cannot but come into conflict. From the start, the Communists have said “you can trust us — we will never go into coalition” and that stance has borne fruit. Is a revolution possible in Greece? Yes it is, it absolutely is. The folly of the EU, of the Greek mainstream elite, of the financial markets have brought it to this point. If it happens, it won’t look like 1917 — but it won’t be utterly dissimilar either.
More power to it. Then the country should leave the EU, restore the drachma, take investment from China on any terms demanded, and thereby turn Europe on its ear.