Battle for Europe

Battle for Europe

Late last week the Greek Parliament bowed to Berlin’s will and voted to support a package of austerity reforms. This step will come at a steep political price, as it will deepen the split in the ruling SYRIZA party. According to the British newspaper The Guardian, Panagiotis Lafazanis, the leader of the party’s Left Platform and former energy minister, has pledged to «smash the eurozone dictatorship», and Zoe Konstantopoulou, the speaker of the Hellenic Parliament, has stated that she is «not going to support Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras anymore».

The economic cost of this decision will be even higher for the Greeks. Greece will receive its initial 13 billion-euro payout from its third aid package, which totals 86 billion euros, but is now once again being managed from abroad: a trio of creditors - the ECB, IMF, and European Commission - will continue their routine oversight of the Greek budget.

In addition, Greece has pledged to uphold its tax reforms, make it easier to lay off employees, put an end to early retirement, and liberalize the markets for natural gas and pharmaceuticals, as well as housing and utilities. Several measures that could be dangerous for the Greek economy, such as an increase in VAT taxes on tourism in the islands, were approved by Parliament back in July. All this will exacerbate unemployment and raise the cost of living.

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One would think that having suppressed this «rebellion on the Greek trireme», Angela Merkel could now relax. She got what she wanted: Greece has toed the line and German dominance of the eurozone and EU is stronger than ever. One look at the Greek example will warn anyone to think long and hard before defying the will of «the mistress of Europe», who has already decided to run for her fourth term as chancellor of Germany.

But it’s actually more complicated than that. Of course Washington’s reaction to the election victory of Greece’s SYRIZA party was remarkably warm - Barack Obama telephoned Alexis Tsipras, offered his congratulations, and advised him to get some rest after his arduous campaign. But the most interesting part of Obama’s congratulatory phone call was his comment that the US supports Athen’s desire to push back against Europe’s austere budget policies and to adopt «a strong agenda for growth». 

At a time when Berlin is clearly losing control over Greece, the new Greek prime minister could become a convenient tool for the Americans to use to further diminish German influence within the EU and to tether the EU to the US. One way to do this would be to rush to establish the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

That would seem to explain Christine Lagarde’s behavior in recent days. The US-controlled International Monetary Fund is approving the allocation of financial aid to Greece, but insists that that debt be restructured. This was part of astatement by the IMF’s managing director. US Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew shares that view. 

It is touching to see how these two leading spokesmen for neoliberalism have joined efforts to alleviate the Greeks’ plight, but it does raise some questions. It makes one wonder, for example, about British Prime Minister David Cameron’s idea to hold a referendum on Great Britain’s future in the EU. Most likely it is not Cameron who is blackmailing the EU with the threat of its collapse after a British pullout, but Washington that is using London to blackmail Berlin, should the EU refuse to join the TTIP. If the EU signs off on that transatlantic partnership, it will ultimately result in Europe’s complete prostration before the Anglo-Saxons, the beginning of the end for the EU, and Berlin’s loss of hegemony.

Perhaps that is why Angela Merkel is in such a hurry to create a «Fourth Reich», claiming to be an «economic» Bismarck. On July 19 the German chancellor made the televised statement that it was not possible to write off debts within the currency union. No options will be made available to Greece except for extensions on the maturities of its loans and lowered interest rates, and even those will not happen immediately, but only when the Greeks fulfill «all the conditions». In other words, this means when Greece’s most valuable physical assets are «expropriated». By those same Germans, for example.

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Paris is deeply concerned about such a scenario, given that the French national debt has exceeded two trillion euros and is almost equal to 100% of GDP, while the French economy stagnates.

According to the French sociologist Emmanuel Todd, «Under Germany’s direction, Europe has become hierarchical, authoritarian, and ‘austeritarian.’» That scholar claims that the inherent tragedy of this situation is that Europe as a continent has already committed suicide twice in the twentieth century with Germany at the helm. Now Todd claims in an interview quoted on that a third self-immolation in underway in Europe, and the Germans are once again behind it. 

France could disrupt this sequence of events, but Todd wonders whether France will even be able to rouse itself to action, given that its political system continues to produce a series of ridiculous presidents, in which hysterical leaders are replaced by weak ones. For Hollande, this is a moment of truth. The French sociologist believes that if he deserts the Greeks, the French president will go down in history alongside those socialists who gave Marshal Pétain their vote of confidence.

However, it is difficult to wait for Hollande to «make a move». He is frightened enough of his own shadow, let alone Merkel. But at the same time, his biggest rivals in the upcoming 2017 presidential election - Nicolas Sarkozy and Marine Le Pen - are adopting a far more critical stance toward Berlin and Brussels. For example, at the founding congress of the French party now known as The Republicans (the successor to the Union for a Popular Movement), Sarkozy stated that that party was tasked with «rethinking the whole concept of the European Union». Le Pen says that if she wins she will hold a referendum about a French withdrawal from the EU.

The European Union in its current form was not created for the sake of a united Europe, but in order to hold Germany in check after the reunification. At least, that was the thinking in Paris at the time. And Greece’s victimization at German hands is pushing France to take countermeasures. France is not alone here and can fully rely on the support of the countries of southern Europe, starting with the largest of them – Italy, which is experiencing problems that are comparable to Greece’s (Italy’s public debt broke yet another record in May of this year, reaching a historical high of 2.218 trillion euros, or 132.1% of GDP).

Objectively speaking, it is now high time for France to take a leading role in rallying southern Europe to thwart Germany’s ambitions. The only question is whether the countries of the Mediterranean Union (in existence since 2008) will find the courage to operate independently or whether that party will be led with one eye on Washington. François Hollande would be good at that second option. However, such a policy would be of little benefit.

Europe’s future does not lie in a new administration of Gauleiters or in their duumvirate, such as we have now, but in the formation of a «European concert» of national interests. If supranational structures get in the way, they will become expendable. Europe is waiting for politicians who can cut through this Gordian knot that is so dangerous for the entire continent, as the example of tiny Greece so clearly shows.