Belfast Telegraph

EU bullying puts a nail in coffin of Greek democracy

Former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis
Former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis

By Eamonn McCann

The main problem in the negotiations was the Eurozone governments' complete lack of democratic scruples. You put forward the view endorsed by the people you represent and you might as well have sung the Swedish national anthem."

Thus, former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis, in an interview in the current edition of the New Statesman. The man in the cool leather jacket recalls German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble's assessment of Syriza's election victory in January: "'We can't possibly allow an election to change anything'. So, at that point, I had to get up and say: 'Well, perhaps we should simply not hold elections anymore'. And there was no answer."

This account will come as a mantra from Heaven to the likes of Jim Allister. The EU has become a battering ram to smash through the walls of democracy and force whole populations to surrender to bankers and unelected bureaucrats.

Greece isn't the first country to have been handed a diktat to ditch democracy. The Republic's current Government was elected in 2011 on a pledge to roll back the austerity programme of its Fianna Fail predecessors. "It's either Frankfurt's way, or Labour's way," declaimed party leader Eamon Gilmore.

Scarcely had he taken his seat as Tanaiste than he was on the blower to Frankfurt asking whether it would ever email over his marching orders.

Why didn't the governments of other indebted countries stand with Syriza? Varoufakis explains: "Were we to succeed in negotiating a better deal… they would have to answer to their own people why they didn't negotiate like we were doing." So we had all 18 other members of the eurozone, weak and strong, debtors and creditors, ganging up on Syriza.

The unforgivable sin of the Greeks was to attempt to put the policies they had been elected on into practice. This seems to have been regarded as irrational. One anonymous minister assessed Varoufakis's approach to the negotiations as "immature".

Sign In

Immaturity? The atmosphere at last Saturday's marathon gabfest was described by one participant as "tough, even violent".

Schaeuble reportedly "roared" at European Central Bank governor Mario Draghi: "I'm not stupid!" Reuters reported another participant saying: "It was crazy, a kindergarten."

During one kerfuffle between representatives of major countries, "a fellow minister turned to (Euclid) Tsakalotos, (who had replaced Varoufakis) and told him: "Don't worry, Euclid, it's not your problem anymore, it's theirs."

And that could be the crux of it. Eurozone governments felt they had to come down harder on Greece than they needed to, lest other members ponder the possibility of following suit, putting the entire shebang at risk.

The Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman wrote in The New York Times on Monday: "This Eurogroup list of demands is madness... this goes beyond harsh into pure vindictiveness, complete destruction of national sovereignty… the European project has just been dealt a terrible, perhaps fatal, blow."

The project has never grown into the "family of nations" envisaged by Jean Monnet, one of its founders and inspirations. It has, instead, become a warring band of brothers and sisters, designed to stay together, destined to fall apart.

We are set for a period of economic and political turmoil across Europe. It is impossible to say how this will work out. Capitalism is the most unpredictable system of economic organisation ever devised.

Not a single mainstream US economist (Krugman included) predicted the sub-prime crisis and consequent near-meltdown of the banking system in 2007/08. Likewise, the sudden death of the Celtic Tiger came as out of the blue to experts pontificating in newspapers, academia and finance houses. There is no reason to follow the experts now. Tea-leaves would be just as reliable.

A new actor is set to take the stage today. The Greek trades unions have called for a general strike. The initiative will be seen by many as quixotic. But given that elections evidently don't count, it may be one of the only ways the Greek people can make themselves heard. Which, after all, is supposed to be the essence of democracy: the people making themselves heard.

Asked whether Syriza might usefully have worked more closely with "sympathetic parties like Podemos in Spain" - which mobilised millions (yes, millions) against austerity last year - Varoufakis replied: "Not really... there was nothing they could do. Their voice could never penetrate the Eurogroup."

But if they had a few hundred thousand behind them, calling on the Spanish Government to repudiate the debt and end austerity, they might be heard. If the same sound were welling up in Portugal, Italy, Ireland, they'd certainly be heard.

Nobody can say what the outcome of a spreading strike and major demonstrations would be. Many in Syriza are, perhaps understandably, reluctant to take the chance.

But if I were in Athens, I'd be keeping a keen eye out for colonels.

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph