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Thursday, 16 July 2015

Everyone against Everyone – How the European Home turned into a Madhouse



The EU is like a family. You set up a house in which everyone can have his own room and you live together in harmony. For a long while, it went pretty good and the family could prosper, eventually becoming bigger, and from outside it looked like a very happy and all united family.

However, if you step inside the EU house, you see that everything is falling apart. Disunity among the members, a single member apparently dominating the whole household and budget, and the integrity that held for many years is facing the beginning of a decline.

If it had been a regular family or even a shared house, people would have started to move out by now. Everyone would have the opportunity to start from scratch, to have their own home and those willing to stay in the house can arrange themselves and bring peace into their home. The trouble is: you can neither move out of the EU house that easily, nor can you kick someone out – at least not without consequences for everyone else who wants to stay.


The over-dominant Valkyrie
For the Greeks, it is very clear who to blame: the image of the old and evil German has been re-kindled throughout the crisis, and populist media loves to picture the rise and power of Germany over the continent, feeling pleasure to humiliate Greece. Comparisons of Chancellor Angela Merkel with Adolf Hitler or with Nazi Germany in general are rather popular nowadays, specifically when either individual policy makers or even individual member states blame Germany for being too dominant in the entire EU policy making.

Looking at the German media, it is – obviously – the opposite image. In conservative media coverage, Merkel and Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble are pictured as the true – and probably only – “saviours” of the European Union, stating that the Greeks need to accept the harsh austerity measures now, if they want to remain in the Euro-Zone. German mainstream media makes the image that the party is over for the Greeks now and that they had to accept the cruel, brutal, but necessary reality. 

The argument here is not related to lacking empathy, the suffering of broad parts of the Greek population very well covered in media, and there is a high amount of sympathy for the Greek people even in Germany, stating that the austerity measures on the Greek people of the past years – and now the new ones – have been too tough and that it takes all the potential resources to recover economically and socially. The argument is simply about economic reality and figures. Merkel and Schäuble have been resiliently pointing out the figures over and over again, disregarding the visible social breakdown happening before their eyes. The images of desperate Greeks unable to get money from the cash machines, or retirees unable to pick up their – already – low pensions, have dominated all websites throughout Europe – and even the globe.

But sympathy has not been detected among German government, and certainly not with Schäuble, who still insists on a (temporary) Grexit. It could partly be a personal vendetta against Tsipras (although his favourite nemesis Varoufakis is gone now), but the image drawn strengthens the impression that the EU is ruled by Germany. He, for sure, is now the most hated German all over Europe – or at least for the Greeks.


United in disagreement
Not only is the EU facing its biggest crisis since the beginning of economic integration in the early 1950ies, but it has never been as disunited as it is now, with a lot of conflict potential and enormous uncertainty of what long-term effects it might have for the integrity of the whole Union. Many scholars and journalists, but also high ranked politicians, blame the current development of the Union, talking that the core ideals of the European integration have been undermined by the austerity measures and the Eurogroup-imposed reforms on Greece, just to keep the EMU intact.

Tensions inside the EU and among its member states will remain high and as for now we can see an increasing gap between those member states who prefer a softened approach towards Greece (mostly southern Europe) and the hardliners alongside Germany (e.g. France, Finland, the Baltics). Additionally, even the heads of the EU institutions, i.e. Commission President Jean Claude Juncker and Council President Donald Tusk – back-up the German position. The EU Parliament has played a rather insignificant role, only as a debate platform for all EU policy and law makers, where everyone was able to call for a last and partly desperate call for or against bail-out. Disunity was clearly visible in the only democratically legitimated institution of the EU.


A move towards the left – or the right
With further elections coming up this year, specifically in the other crisis countries Portugal and Spain, the left wing parties will definitely gain massive votes; not just from their own disappointed voters, but also from those expressing sympathy for the Greek Syriza Party. Dissatisfaction with the austerity measures, the lacking democratic legitimation towards the EU institutions and the increasing resistance against German dominance will drive numerous voters to the opposition parties, specifically towards those that oppose the austerity policy.

The “Bloco de Esquerda” (“Left Bloc”) could gain significant votes during the upcoming parliamentary elections in Portugal in October, so does the Spanish “Podemos” (“We can”) for the elections this November. We might observe a similar tendency in other EU Member States, such as in Germany itself, depending if the Green Party and the Left Party will be able to sustainably put the Greek topic on their electoral agenda for the next elections.

In opposition to that, the right wingers might also raise their votes, especially the increasing euro-scepticism among the Front National in France, or even the extreme right wing “Golden Dawn” party in Greece itself. No matter into which direction the votes might go, the established parties from all affiliations (left-centre-right) have to brace for a massive shock in upcoming elections for the next years to come.


Own History ignored
During the London Conference on German External Debts in 1953, the Federal Republic of Germany was relieved from its debts to its creditors – the sum back then was 16 billion Marks. Knowing that Germany would have never been able to pay back its debts, this relief was also a main reason for Germany’s economy to boost in the 1950ies and the 1960ies. It also guaranteed political and social stability in the country and helped Germany to regain its dignity.
Germany in fact owes a lot to its former creditors back then and it would probably been a sign of decency to apply a similar strategy to Greece this time. Even the former President of the European Commission, Romano Prodi, advocated for a debt relief for Greece (http://sptnkne.ws/3xD). If there is any sense of dignity left, they should grant the same amount of dignity to Greece as it was been granted to Germany back in 1953.

The question remains: does Germany, the IMF or all the other creditors really expect Greece to pay back every single cent they owe to them? And if they do, in how many years?

The time calls for a good and sensible family psychologist to bring back the peace to the EU house.

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