Saturday

17th Apr 2021

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

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe 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.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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.

'Ethno-nationalism' is not way forward for Bosnia-Herzegovina

In Bosnia-Herzegovina, tempted by the allure of a 'deliverable', the EU, US, and UK are supporting a political process that would enhance the power of ethno-nationalist leaders, cement ethnic partition, and quite possibly lead to violence.

Will Romania be EU's Green Deal laggard?

Of the €30bn allocated to Romania under the EU recovery fund, just four percent is slated to go to renewable energy and energy-efficiency. Despite the pressing need to decarbonise Romania's heat and power sectors, this is not an investment priority.

Column

Muslims, Ramadan, and myths facing 'European civilisation'

Happy Ramadan? The UN special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief warned the Human Rights Council last month that institutional suspicion of Muslims and those perceived to be Muslim has escalated to "epidemic proportions" worldwide.

News in Brief

  1. EU postpones decision on labelling gas 'sustainable'
  2. MEPs call for mass surveillance ban in EU public spaces
  3. Greek and Turkish ministers trade jibes in Ankara
  4. Biden repeats opposition to Russia-Germany pipeline
  5. Navalny in danger, letter warns EU foreign ministers
  6. Lithuania keen to use Denmark's AstraZeneca vaccines
  7. Gas plants largest source of power-sector emissions
  8. Study: Higher risk of blood clots from Covid than vaccines

Column

Why Germans understand the EU best

In Germany, there is commotion about a new book in which two journalists describe meetings held during the corona crisis between federal chancellor Angela Merkel, and the 16 prime ministers of its federal constituent states.

Why Iceland isn't the gender paradise you think

Iceland's international reputation masks two blunt realities that face the country's women - the disproportionate levels of gender-based violence that they experience, and a justice system that is frequently suspicious and hostile towards victims of this violence.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersDigitalisation can help us pick up the green pace
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersCOVID19 is a wake-up call in the fight against antibiotic resistance
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region can and should play a leading role in Europe’s digital development
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council to host EU webinars on energy, digitalisation and antibiotic resistance
  5. UNESDAEU Code of Conduct can showcase PPPs delivering healthier more sustainable society
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen benefit in the digitalised labour market

Latest News

  1. US rejects Slovenia-linked plan to break up Bosnia
  2. Ukraine urges Borrell to visit Russia front line
  3. Could US sanctions hit Russia vaccine sales to EU?
  4. Polish court pushes out critical ombudsman
  5. Political crises in Romania and Bulgaria amid third wave
  6. Von der Leyen's summer plans undisclosed, after Ukraine snub
  7. Over a million EU citizens back farm-animal cage ban
  8. Three options for West on Putin's Ukraine build-up

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us