Thursday

15th Nov 2018

Opinion

The EU's darkest day

  • "Greece has essentially seen its independence eviscerated" (Photo: Laurent Sauvebois)

Monday July 13 will go down in history as the day Greece lost its independence after 185 years of freedom, the day democracy died in the country that invented it and the day the European Union took a decisive step towards self-destruction.

After almost 20 hours of of browbeating by EU leaders in Brussels – which one senior official compared to “mental waterboarding” – Greece was given a blunt choice: vote through a raft of draconian measures demanded by creditors or leave the Eurozone.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

With banks shut and state coffers empty, prime minister Alexis Tsipras had no option but to accept the deal. But the price will be heavy – for both Greece and the EU.

Greece has essentially seen its independence eviscerated. A state whose motto is ‘Freedom or Death’ and whose national anthem is ‘Hymn to Liberty’ is now little more than a protectorate of the EU. Its parliament no longer has the power to make sovereign decisions about the issues that matter most to its citizens.

Instead, it has two days to vote through a shopping-list of far-reaching reforms mandated by Brussels. Its administration is subordinate to a triumvirate of unelected officials from the European Commission, European Central Bank and IMF. And billions of euros of assets are to be stripped from the Greek state’s control and placed in a Luxembourg trust fund.

As the summit of Eurozone leaders limped to a conclusion Monday morning, some commentators compared the tortured talks to the Nice Treaty, thrashed out over four days in 2000. In fact, it more resembles the Versailles Treaty, whose punitive terms were imposed on Germany almost a century ago and poisoned international relations for decades after. No wonder officials at the all-night talks variously described Tspiras as looking like a “beaten dog” or “crucified.”

It is possible to argue that Greece deserves this brutal treatment. It fiddled its figures to enter the Eurozone, it failed to implement the reforms it signed up to and its present government has shattered the trust of EU colleagues by its toddler tantrums and reckless risk-taking.

But it is no longer possible to argue that Greece remains a sovereign state.

For decades, EU cheerleaders have argued that membership of the EU is about pooling sovereignty, not losing it. This has now been exposed as a charade – as European Parliament President Martin Schulz admitted when explaining Greek hesitations about handing over assets to a foreign-based fund. “It is of course a question of relinquishing sovereignty,” he said.

Nor is it possible to argue that Greece remains a democracy as most Europeans understand the term.

Democracy, from the Greek word ‘demos’, means ‘rule of the people.’ In January, Greek voters gave a clear mandate to the leftist Syriza party to oppose EU-imposed austerity measures and reconfirmed this in a referendum on a proposed bailout package last week.

Ignore these votes, as EU leaders blatantly did Monday, and you ignore the will of the Greek people and sacrifice national democracy at the altar of European integration. Frogmarch elected politicians to vote through measures they oppose – as Greek MPs will later this week – and you make a mockery of a proud parliament.

Of course, Greece has obligations as a EU and Eurozone member – just as the governments of the other 27 member states have obligations to their electorates. But what is the point of holding national elections if results can be vetoed at the European level – as Irish voters discovered twice in the past? And what is the purpose of national parliaments and governments when they no longer have the power to decide their own policies or budgets?

Federalists like the European Parliament’s Liberal leader Guy Verhofstadt said Monday that the lesson from the Greek crisis is a “currency union without a political union isn't sustainable.” He is probably right.

But saving the Eurozone by creating a fiscal, economic and political union will lead to the end of the European Union as we know it.

The EU will split in two if anything like a United States of Europe is created. On the one side will be Eurozone members like Germany, France and Italy with common taxation policies, budgets, ministers and possibly armies. On the other will be countries like Britain, Sweden and Denmark, which will still follow most EU laws but retain their independence.

Needless to say, a divided Europe will be a weaker Europe when it comes to tackling pressing problems like standing up to a resurgent Russia or handling mass migration in the Mediterranean.

There is little evidence from the last two decades that the massive transfer of powers from nation states to the EU has made the Union better able to project power on the world stage or provide greater prosperity for its citizens. In fact, the euro – which was supposed to bind Europeans together, has ended up tearing them apart. And far from creating a European people with a common identity, tighter integration has lead to a backlash from populist parties representing the antithesis of the European dream.

Straightjacketing states in a political and economic union would exacerbate this trend. Remove the rights of peoples and states to decide how much they spend on schools, hospitals and pensioners or how they guard their borders, tax their citizens and defend their territories and national identities will get bruised, resentment towards political elites will rise and the desire for self-determination will become unstoppable.

In the past, imposing artificial constructs on disparate peoples has ended in failure or disaster and there is no reason to think it will be any different in a United States of Europe.

Gareth Harding is Managing Director of Clear Europe, a communications company. He also runs the Missouri School of Journalism's Brussels Programme. Follow him on Twitter @garethharding.

Greece capitulates at EU summit

"There will be no Grexit", Juncker said on Sunday's summit deal, which saw Greece capitulate, and which could still fall foul of Greek, German, or Finnish MPs.

The EU in Limbo

The EU fails to fulfil the role of a nation state or of a supercharged international organisation. The time has come to consider how "less Europe" could save the EU.

US steps in to clean up Cyprus

Cyprus has overlooked undertakings on bank probity made to the EU in the context of the 2013 bailout - but it might prove harder to get the US off its back.

Macron's 'European army': why is everyone talking about it?

Few people commented on one key point in Macron's statement: he did not justify the idea of a European army by the need to intervene in Africa, which would have been France's traditional approach. Instead, he invoked the Russian threat,

EU 'Magnitsky Act' must bear its proper name

Sergei Magnitsky gave his life to fighting corruption. The least we can do is to honour his sacrifice in the name of the legislation that his heroism inspired.

News in Brief

  1. Second UK cabinet minister resigns over Brexit deal
  2. UK Brexit secretary quits morning after deal agreed
  3. Romanian MPs call for national 'Magnitsky Act'
  4. Tusk: Brexit summit on Sunday 25 November
  5. Full text of Brexit withdrawal agreement published
  6. Greece to investigate former PM's bank accounts
  7. EU threatens to retaliate if US introduces auto tariffs
  8. Frontex: Spain now main destination for migrants

Why 'Spitzenkandidat' is probably here to stay

The power of the parliament to 'appoint' the president of the EU Commission is new, highly-contested - and not universally understood. In fact, even some of the lead candidates to replace Jean-Claude Juncker are against it.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  4. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  5. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  6. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  7. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  8. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs.
  9. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  10. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  11. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  12. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs

Latest News

  1. Romania heaps scorn on 'revolting' EU criticism
  2. US steps in to clean up Cyprus
  3. 'Decisive progress' on Brexit as British cabinet backs deal
  4. Asylum for Macedonia's ex-PM put Orban on spot
  5. How the 'EU's Bank' fails to raise the bar on accountability
  6. Knives out on all sides for draft Brexit deal
  7. Romania data chief defends forcing press to reveal sources
  8. EU to review animal welfare strategy

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  3. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  5. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  7. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  9. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma
  10. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network
  12. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. ACCAEmpowering Businesses to Engage with Sustainable Finance and the SDGs
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersCooperation in Nordic Electricity Market Considered World Class Model
  3. FIFAGreen Stadiums at the 2018 Fifa World Cup
  4. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Work Together to Promote Sustainable Development
  5. Counter BalanceEuropean Ombudsman Requests More Lending Transparency from European Investment Bank
  6. FIFARecycling at the FIFA World Cup in Russia
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersOECD Report: Gender Equality Boosts GDP Growth in Nordic Region
  8. Centre Maurits Coppieters“Peace and Reconciliation Is a Process That Takes Decades” Dr. Anthony Soares on #Brexit and Northern Ireland
  9. Mission of China to the EUMEPs Positive on China’s New Measures of Opening Up
  10. Macedonian Human Rights MovementOld White Men are Destroying Macedonia by Romanticizing Greece
  11. Counter BalanceControversial EIB-Backed Project Under Fire at European Parliament
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersIncome Inequality Increasing in Nordic Countries

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us