May Greece Save the Euro, Colltalers
There’s been measured enthusiasm with the election of Alexis Tsipras as Greece’s Prime Minister last month, and the rise of Pablo Iglesias-led year-old Podemos party in Spain, which has quickly become a contender for the December general elections.
But as their ascendancy is a sign that there’s finally resistance to the European Central Bank’s ineffective and poverty-boosting austerity policies, they actually run counter the overall tendency within the remainder 18 countries sharing the euro and beyond.
Europe is in fact experiencing a resurgence of hatred towards immigrants, anti-Semitism, and religious obscurantism, rapidly manipulated by the continent’s right-wing parties, that no populism seems capable, at least at the moment, to reverse.
More, there’s already been a well-articulated backlash against these two courageous but still timid counterpoints to the dominant ideology. In the past weeks, for instance, tax fraud allegations against Juan Carlos Monedero, a political scientist and co-founder of Podemos (We Can, just in case), have been swirling around in Spain, placing the party’s probity image under scrutiny.
As for Tsipras, he’s facing criticism within his own Syriza party, over the latest round of negotiations between Greece and the other euro countries over debt agreements signed in exchange for loans, now all but unlikely to be timely paid.
Even as Greece was granted a four-month loan payments extension Friday, supporters have accused Tsipras of capitulating on campaign promises of refusing any unfair agreement. And that very 11th-hour small reprieve can come undone today, if policy measures to be adopted in exchange for the extension are not to the creditors’ liking. A pickle, indeed.
While it’s only fair that Monedero clarifies the consultancy fees he’s received from four Latin American countries, there’s no question that even if he does, PM Mariano Rajoy, and his center-right Partido Popular, have caught a precious break.
But although some have been quick to call off the movement against austerity – the NYTimes said that European leaders don’t want to ‘finance the Greek-led revolt’ -, what’s been left out is the wreck such policies have visited throughout Europe. That is, except in rich Northern countries, Germany in special, whose banks, not coincidentally, are the region’s major lenders.
More than a populist ideal of reform ‘for the people,’ however, what may turn the tide against austerity is the pragmatism that allowed those same banks to take advantage of lending opportunities, opened by the increased membership in the eurozone.
Not that anyone would detect it in mainly German officials’ rhetoric, but the threat of a bankrupted Greece may cause more damage to the euro project, and the continent’s political stability, than if it’d squeeze a cent more from the Greek Treasury.
For those loans, whose payment is now endangered, hardly touched the ground of both Greece and Spain, before returning to the lenders’ coffers. And besides banks, only brokers and corrupt officials benefited from them, pocketing commissions and, in Greece, looting the state with an absurdly regulation-free privatization wave that further eroded its ability to pay its debt.
It remains to be seen whether Tsipras’s success in the polls will be followed by enduring policies, and he’ll remain loyal to the principles that led him to power. The same way in Spain, as we still have an almost full year before Iglesias has his shot at real power. But even in their best case scenario, it’s doubtful they’ll be able to reverse Europe’s overall ideological trend.
What’s clear is that a Greece exit from the eurozone may reawaken old separatism feelings, and precipitate the end of a social-liberal dream, which once held the promising outlook of replacing Europe’s violent history of ethnic strife with a commonwealth of equal opportunities, peace and stability for all. Who’d stand to win with such scenario? the banks, of course.
But even with that, if a country breaks free from the euro, it’ll be a failure not just of a principle, but also of the system’s wardens and executors. Imagine bank runs, and the end of depositors’ trust, which has already been severely challenged throughout.
All the austerity policies, and pseudo-morally sound lessons on rectitude, have done to millions of middle and underprivileged classes in Europe, was to reaffirm the sanctimonious, quasi-religious fervor of some of its political leaders.
Take Germany, for instance, a country whose economy would be on the toilet if it didn’t depend on its powerful union system, and progressive workers’ rights. Despite of that, it has no problem enforcing the payment of outrageously high-interests on loans its banks have irresponsibly allowed to accrue, even if it destroys other countries’ own unions and working forces.
It’s hypocritical when Chancellor Angela Merkel advocates a unilateral payment of debts contracted during the financial crisis, by Greece, Spain, Ireland, Portugal, and others, while at home, her administration wouldn’t dare preaching the same gospel.
Some say that the chancellor is gambling that a Greek exist wouldn’t disrupt the euro, but no one’s buying it. Even Aegean fisherman know that a resurrected drachma, at this point, would force a debt restructuring that would ultimately hurt Germany.
As for Iglesias and the We Can party (a bitter-sweet name to many Americans these days), Spain, Portugal, and other European countries humiliated into submission by the ECB’s orthodoxy, could do well supporting Greece’s efforts to stand up to money merchants and their cronies at the bank. No one can tell that they won’t be under the gun again pretty soon.
In the end, either because of a multi-nation political populist movement, or the banksters’ sheer opportunism, the single-currency project can still be salvaged from the reactionary credo spell it’s has fallen under. To the point that its own survivability may be conditioned to its ability to change and reset priorities according to the socialistic principles it was founded upon.
It’s fracture, or demise, however, may reproduce without much variation, a sad string of idealistic proposals sabotaged by incompetence and greed. And that’s the fertile ground where tyrannies and despots have historically arisen from.
The Weimar Republic comes to mind, even though our age being afflicted by a startling lack of clarity as it is, that prewar period is also characterized as Germany’s golden age of ideas and cultural breakthroughs. What misnomer will our own time be referred to in the future is up to contention. But it’s possible that Greece and Spain will be referential brackets to it.
The Greek ‘resistance’ hardly resembles what used to be known as such, in the same way that the wave of ‘leftist’ South American governments elected in the early 2000s – a precursor to what many believe should be happening in Europe any day now – had little to do with Marx or some sort of response to the market capitalism and authoritarian repression that preceded it.
One hopes other populist leaders are waiting in the wings to take center stage in European politics. Chances for them to step in and give muscle to the movement will only increase if the euro project picks different winners this time. Workers, for instance.
Tsipras knows that it’s more important to prioritize the Greek people’s needs rather than the euro project. But perhaps he can do both, by insisting in renegotiating the terms of his country’s debt – no money down right now – and, in the process, wrestling control of ECB policies from financiers and money managers trying to protect their own wealth. Be good and till March. WC