Greece: Breaking out of the euro prison

Slaying the euro minotaur is not easy. Greeks have been suffering for years now, having learned the hard way that prosperity with shiny euros in their hands was not miraculously just waiting around the corner. What was waiting was a hoard of German bankers, eager to buy up Greek islands for winter vacations, sleazy banks eager to syphon Greek earnings into offshore accounts, and more schemes by high financiers.

The poor are mere pawns in this game, and even when they elect a radical anti-euro government, their politicians are strong-armed into acceding to bailout plans, in hopes that the anger will abate and the ‘euro march will proceed apace.

This continues, with the current Greek party in power, SYRIZA (from the roots).

Its success has sent shock-waves across the EU though it claims to support europeanism—they voted for the Maastricht Treaty in 1992, but there is europeanism and eurovanadalism. SYRIZA’s National Reconstruction Plan calls for confronting the humanitarian crisis, restarting the economy and promoting tax justice, a national plan to regain employment and transforming the political system to deepen democracy.

At the european level, the program demands a “european New Deal” of large-scale public investment by the european Investment Bank, extended quantitative easing by the european Central Bank, and a conference for the reduction of Greek and southern european debt modeled on the London Debt Agreement of 1953.

Domestically, the program sets out a “National Reconstruction Plan” based on the rebuilding and extending of the welfare state, and the strengthening of democratic institutions alongside the implementation of forms of direct democracy. These policies would be financed through revenues raised by combating tax evasion and appropriating european funds from bodies such as the Structural Funds and Cohesion Fund.

This would mean a dissolution of the present corporate EU and the advent of a people’s EU where nations are respected—a delightful maze of gardens minus the ogre. Hardly the dream of smug euro minotaurs and their fiery chimeras.

Marches protesting the economic plight of the people are expected to grow and lead to further violence throughout europe, with Greece as the prequel. Suddenly, the specter of the end of the EU, certainly the end of the common currency, is being raised. Coined to convince the “free world” of the dangers of Communism, the domino effect is back with a vengeance.

The string pullers over the past two decades managed to transform the face of europe, destroying the Soviet Union and expanding the EU and NATO rapidly eastward. But just as Napoleon and Hitler before them, the over- confident conquerors moved too far too fast, and now face the prospect of losing everything. The marvel of the euro zone is now derided as the Völker-Kerker (prison of nations) recalling the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Italian journalists have begun to talk of europe’s “Tequila Crisis,” referring to the collapse of Mexico’s peso in 1993 when the elite took their money to the US. A similar capital flight from Club Med could set off an unstoppable process and even bring the euro down.

What is the euro, except a fixed exchange rate agreement among members? Skeptics have always dismissed it as a dangerous straitjacket, since europe is far from uniform. It means national governments are highly restricted in their monetary and fiscal policies to deal with crises. It also means that ripples in europe become tidal waves, as all the countries’ economic successes or failures happen together.

This is fine if governments are united in pursuing a common agenda to promote stability and prosperity for the common europeans, but neoliberalism allows for no such political will. The common economic space has merely allowed large companies and banks to take control of the whole market, supposedly to be equal competitors to their big brothers in the US, China and elsewhere.

But riding the wave of privatization and euro-expansion, they threw caution to the winds, with no strong national governments to clip their wings. The EU “government” is exposed as worse than useless, a rubber stamp for this Thatcherite mania, fooling europeans into thinking there was someone controlling the private chaos.

If the steely-nerved bankers can stay the course, the payoff is potentially immense. IF they can throw enough money at Greece to keep it inside and calm the waters. But other nations are lining up. Cyprus, Italy, Spain for starters. In contrast, a vibrant euro alliance would mean radical reform to protect the poor. The common people provided for and the ruling party’s privileges circumscribed. But if today’s unsupervised elites keeping sending their money abroad, the pit becomes bottomless. Riots turn into revolutions.

The sunny euro-vistas of yesterday are no longer. Eastern europe risks being eaten alive by Western banks. Western europe risks mere stagnation and endless political unrest. All indications are that this is a dead-end, that the only way forward is to break the hold that the bankers’ system has on both East and West.

The idea of transforming the EU from within by radical insurgents is an intriguing one, though it is more likely that it will simply collapse and national governments will work to reconstruct a more democratic (or fascist) europe. The bankers may keep their present lucre, but perhaps there are ways to retrieve it, as Ecuador discovered when it took them to the IMF court in 2009. The president formed an audit committee and managed to cancel two-thirds of the $13 billion debt.

Using a crisis to push through unpopular measures doesn’t work anymore, as Greek politicians have discovered. The streets are already ringing with the cry: “We won’t pay for your crisis!”

Canadian Eric Walberg is known worldwide as a journalist specializing in the Middle East, Central Asia and Russia. A graduate of University of Toronto and Cambridge in economics, he has been writing on East-West relations since the 1980s. He is author of “Postmodern Imperialism: Geopolitics and the Great Games” and “From Postmodernism to Postsecularism: Re-emerging Islamic Civilization.” You can reach him at ericwalberg.com.

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