I’ve just come back from a week’s hiking in the Pyrenees. When I left for the mountains I knew that the European Union was in poor health. By the time I came down four days later it was dead. The cause of death is open to question. Was it a deliberate act of collective suicide? Or an accidental death, inadvertently carried out by a cruel, fanatical and clueless leadership that was simply too blinkered, too stupid, and too abjectly submissive to the financial institutions that have inflicted such catastrophic ruin on so many countries to keep the Union alive?
Was it homicide-by-banker? Or did the Union finally succumb to a long illness, whose symptoms have been evident for some time? Whichever the verdict, the Greek crisis is the catalyst that historians will one day analyse in their future post mortems. But I can’t say I saw this coming. On the contrary, the resounding Greek rejection of the Troika’s latest bailout package left me feeling moderately optimistic that the Oxi vote might galvanize Syriza and the European left in general to oppose the vicious fanaticism of Greece’s creditors and the malignant con trick called austerity.
If that happened, I naively thought, perhaps it might be possible to salvage the best of Europe from the corporate–bureaucratic-financial monster that it has become. Of course the surprising decision to force Yanis Varoufakis’s resignation should have been a warning sign of Syriza’s intentions, but there was no time to take in its significance before I disappeared into the mountains.
So the news of Syriza’s total capitulation to the Troika when I came back came as a real shock. I assumed that Varoufakis’s resignation was an – admittedly poor – negotiating ploy. I didn’t anticipate that after these painful and insane last few months, Tsipras would simply surrender everything and more without even a fight. Why did he even call a referendum if he wasn’t prepared to use it to wring, at the very least, some serious concessions during the negotiations?
I now realize, as Syriza has done, that Greece’s creditors had no interest in negotiations. They wanted only the total surrender, humiliation and subjugation of the Greeks and their government. They wanted to crush Syriza in order to deliver a wider lesson any other movement with a similar programme. They wanted to use the Greek debt to turn Greece into yet another neoliberal social laboratory. Disregarding the referendum completely, they were determined to drag the Greek population to the muddy pool and make them drink from in it, in order to impose an accept an economic model on the country that even the IMF admits is unsustainable.
There is a grim irony in the fact that Germany was the principal driving force behind this process – the same Germany that once wrecked Europe, that then had its debt wiped out and its economy generously reshaped in order to pave the way for the post-war ‘economic miracle’; the same Germany that made millions bribing Greek officials to buy weapons that Greece didn’t need, and which now presents itself as model of financial probity.
So it’s deutschland uber alles, except that Germany is not the only culprit, and would not have been able to behave like this had so many other governments not supported it. All this left Syriza caught between a rock and very hard place. It had failed to prepare for the possibility of a Grexit, which in any case the referendum didn’t give it a mandate for. Without that option, it had nothing but moral pressure to bring to bear on governments and institutions that have now demonstrated that they are entirely resistant to any such pressures.
No good telling the Troika about democracy. No point telling Greece’s creditors that their plans are a recipe for permanent recession and social ruin. Don’t waste your breath talking to them about cruelty or solidarity. Try and argue that if a soft-left formation like Syriza can’t find an alternative to austerity then the Golden Dawn fascists will pick up the mantle themselves and will use it for entirely different purposes.
These creditor-zealots can’t – or won’t hear any of this. They don’t even realize that their deafness and blindness has killed the ‘Europe’ they claim to stand for. Of course, technically speaking, it isn’t dead. The European Union still exists with all its institutions, and its representatives will stagger on like the walking dead, offering platitudes about progress, solidarity and ever closer union, as embittered and angry electorates across the continent turn to the likes of Jobbik, the National Front and Nigel Farage.
Governments and financial elites will still walk around in European clothes and sing emollient hallelujahs in praise of the eurozone. But the idea of Europe is now dead, muerto, kaput, its remains splattered all over the Acropolis like the wreckage of a beautiful crashed aircraft.
To remind ourselves of what this idea once consisted of, consider these principles outlined in the preamble to the 2005 European Constitution:
‘DRAWING INSPIRATION from the cultural, religious and humanist inheritance of Europe, from which have developed the universal values of the inviolable and inalienable rights of the human person,freedom, democracy, equality and the rule of law,
BELIEVING that Europe, reunited after bitter experiences, intends to continue along the path of civilisation, progress and prosperity, for the good of all its inhabitants, including the weakest and most deprived; that it wishes to remain a continent open to culture, learning and social progress; and that it wishes to deepen the democratic and transparent nature of its public life, and to strive for peace, justice and solidarity throughout the world,
CONVINCED that, while remaining proud of their own national identities and history, the peoples of Europe are determined to transcend their former divisions and, united ever more closely, to forge a common destiny,
CONVINCED that, thus ‘United in diversity’, Europe offers them the best chance of pursuing, with due regard for the rights of each individual and in awareness of their responsibilities towards future generations and the Earth, the great venture which makes of it a special area of human hope.’
Pretty, isn’t it? Like drifting down the Danube listening to a Mozart symphony. Now try to relate any of that to the brutal humiliation inflicted on Syriza and the Greek people over the last week. Try to detect a smidgeon of evidence that the ‘bitter experiences’ of the past were brought to bear to help the ‘weakest and most deprived’ in Greece. Show me how the Troika has acted in a spirit of justice and solidarity. ‘A special area of human hope’? – only to proponents of gallows humour. Democracy and transparency? Enough now, you’re embarrassing yourself and no one is laughing.
Of course it wasn’t only Greece that wrecked these aspirations. There were always contradictions between the nobler aspirations that drove the European project and its actual practice; in the disastrously inept response of the EU to the wars in the former Yugoslavia; in the EU’s ruthless enforcement of its hardened anti-migrant borders and the massive death toll that it has engendered; in the EU’s reckless adventurism in Libya and Ukraine.
Despite all that, I believed that that European unity was a good idea, or at least that it contained the seed of of a much better one, and had the potential to become more than a ‘bosses club’, as some sectors of the left called it. But now that Europe is gone – suffocated and trampled underfoot by the dim subjugation of national governments and EU institutions to the merciless imperatives of debt-driven finance capital.
Such a Europe doesn’t deserve the support of anyone, but the constitutional preamble is a reminder of another Europe that does.
And despite everything, I can’t help mourning its loss, and I can’t help wondering that if the European Union couldn’t implement these principles, then who will?