English

Greece-EU: humiliating defeats and pyrrhic victories

Jul 30 2015

Alberto Rabilotta* – Alai

28/07/2015It is very curious that the political leadership of the European Union (EU) and their traditional spokespersons, the politicians, economists and the mainstream press that for decades have sustained and defended this project, have not joyfully saluted, with statements of confidence, that the irreversible order has been maintained with the humiliating defeat inflicted on the government and people of Greece.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras was defeated and subjected to a “ritual sacrifice” by the German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, who acted as the “guardian of the temple” of a market fundamentalism that is the real nature of the EU, and which will not tolerate even a minimal deviation or interpretation of the dogma.

Except for these guardians of the temple, no one in the EU appears really happy with this overwhelming victory. It is enough to look at what many euro-believers have written in the “mainstream press” — which we will look at further along — to understand that this has been a pyrrhic victory, and that if Syriza and the Greek people have been defeated and humiliated, this has been a very high price to pay, by exposing to the world the antidemocratic system of the EU, its institutional rigidity and the insensitive dogmatism that has brought them to create a mechanism of negotiation without legal existence — the Eurogroup — in order to mentally “waterboard” dissident government representatives, in this case of a government that just wanted to protect its people from the brutal austerity policies that they have been suffering from, day by day, year after year, and to negotiate an illegal pubic debt that is unpayable.

No less curious is that in these moments of Syriza’s humiliating defeat, it is not seen by many on the left for what it is: a complex and difficult experience that beyond its negative consequences is loaded with positive teachings and political objectives in the short and the long term, both for political leaders coming from the grassroots, as well as for the people.

The tragic experience of Syriza confirms that the system of European market fundamentalism cannot be changed by playing the rules of the game, and in this sense, this political experience should be seen as a political and ideological turning-point in peoples’ struggles to recover national and popular sovereignty: to struggle against the totalitarian neoliberal system of the EU and imperialism in general, a system which is already exhibiting signs of heading towards collapse.

In this difficult moment, perhaps because in the Greek case there is an insupportable humiliation in the face of the EU “mafia”, I cannot personally forget that after the terrible defeat in the assault on the Moncada Barracks (1953) that many interpreted as the end of an “adventurist” experience aiming to overthrow the Mafiosi and pro-imperialist dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista in Cuba, Fidel Castro not only defended himself with his proclamation “History Will Absolve Me”, but it provided him with the political and ideological arms to continue and to broaden the struggle to retrieve the sovereignty and dignity of his people, until the final victory was achieved a few years later.

This is not a question of following the example of Cuba; but of knowing that there are well assimilated defeats that can lead to real victories for peoples.

How is the “victory” of the EU seen in the mainstream press?

The capitulation of Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to the European Union was inevitable from the moment that the Eurogroup, under the mandate Schäuble, brought to the table the proviso that Greece would be expelled from the euro zone unless there was a total and unconditional surrender. It was from this moment, and under conditions of doubtful legality, as we shall see further on, that the dictation of conditions replaced negotiation, and the fate was sealed, both of the immediate future of the government and the people of Greece, but also of the EU.

A further proof that the Greek “catalyzer” was working, accelerating the process of bringing the real nature of the EU to the light of day, were the unprecedented reactions in the media, press agencies and large-circulation dailies.

In the Irish Times, for example, an article indicates that to torment Greece is to send a message that we are now living in a new EU. “The European Union as we have known it ended over the weekend. That EU project was all about the gradual convergence of equal nations into an ‘ever closer union’. That’s finished now (…). And as a coercive institution it has moved into a state of profound division. There is no deeper divide than that between those who are punished and those who do the punishing.”(1)

On the threat of an expulsion of Greece from the euro zone, the Irish Daily pointed out that: “In the long term it matters less that this threat was not carried out than that it was made and deemed acceptable. Once that happened, all the irreversibles of the European project became reversible; all the irrevocables became revocable”; and with respect to the “financial discipline” based internationally on the notion that all debts should be repaid, the daily points out that this is doubtful: “consider that in March the IMF, with almost no fuss, announced a financial package for a European country that is far more corrupt, unstable and oligarchic than Greece.” (Ukraine, which got 36.1 billion euros.)

In “Bloomberg View”, Clive Cook writes that “Europe owns this disaster”, that the “deal” forced on Greece, and the manner of getting to it, calls into question the whole European project: “Exit from the euro has now been contemplated by Germany and others — not as a dire possibility, but as a remedy to be deliberately applied. This can’t be unlearned. It remains a tacit threat intended to keep Greece in line. For a while, to be sure, this could work. And not just on Greece: Pour encourager les autres, as they say.”

And Cook adds that “the crisis has demonstrated the EU’s impressive incapacity for government. The sheer dysfunction of recent months has been an education, to me at least. Pathological indecision has been institutionalized (…) The EU is stuck in an untenable middle ground. The single currency makes closer political union necessary; the way the system is run makes closer political union impossible. You haven’t heard the last of ‘exit.’” (2)

“Enough is enough: Greece should leave the euro system”, according to a note of the editors of the Bloomberg Agency, in which they point out that “the terms forced on Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras last weekend have little chance of being accepted, carried out and sustained by this Greek government or its successors. Greece’s parliament may accept them this week because it thinks the alternative is worse — and in the short term, that may be true. In the long term, a deal imposed under extreme duress, and bitterly resented by most Greeks, won’t succeed. (…) Trust has collapsed to such a point that Greece is being told it must become an EU colony, not a sovereign state. (…) Whatever happens in the next few weeks, Greece may still end up leaving the euro system. Exit now will be painful, to be sure. The risks to the rest of Europe aren’t small. But Greece will at least be in command of its own future, with nobody else to blame for its setbacks. The sooner that happens, the better.” (3)

An editorial in the Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail titled “Blame Berlin: Why the Greek debt deal is doomed to fail”, points out that one of the most worrying teachings of what happened in the negotiation is that “the euro zone, it turns out, is not really a currency union. Its strongest member, Germany, can threaten to remove its use and protections from its weaker members. If their fiscal policies displease Berlin, it can send their economies into chaos. The loss of euro zone members was until recently a danger that European politicians wanted to avoid at all costs; it now has been turned into a not-to-be-missed opportunity for blackmail. (…) It looks like a complete victory for Germany, for Chancellor Angela Merkel and for Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble. (…) In the long run, the economic destruction of Greece may serve as the foundation for a more unified Europe, led by Germany. Or it may mark the moment when Europe’s long move to greater integration started to come undone. (…) Germany has its Greek victory; sooner or later, it is likely to prove pyrrhic. (4)

Even the IMF, one of the members of the Troika (European Commission, European Central Bank and the IMF) confirms that the recipe applied to Greece is unsustainable. In their report “Greece: An Update of IMF Staff’s Preliminary Public Debt Sustainability Analysis”, of July 14 2015, (Country Report 15/186), which is a continuation of a similar IMF document of last June, they state: “Greece’s public debt has become highly unsustainable. This is due to the easing of policies during the last year, with the recent deterioration in the domestic macroeconomic and financial environment because of the closure of the banking system adding significantly to the adverse dynamics. The financing need through end-2018 is now estimated at Euro 85 billion and debt is expected to peak at close to 200 percent of GDP in the next two years, provided that there is an early agreement on a program. Greece’s debt can now only be made sustainable through debt relief measures that go far beyond what Europe has been willing to consider so far”. (5)

Guardian of the temple and orchestra director

The capitulation was foreseeable, as well as the humiliation and pressures to which Tsipras was subjected, in the meetings after the “orchestra director” of the Eurogroup, German Minister Schäuble, demanded that, in order to continue the “negotiations”, the Greek Finance Minister, Yaris Varoufakis, should be replaced (6).

One by one the veils that shielded the ugly nakedness of the EU from European eyes have fallen in this “negotiation” in which Greece was obliged to surrender, under the threat of expulsion from the euro zone; and the first veil to fall was the notion that all countries are equal and negotiate with mutual respect. “They put a knife to our throat”, said Alexis Tsipras, while Varoufakis, in an interview with The New Statesman said that he negotiated with a pistol pointed at his head. If Tsipras accepted to “surrender the sovereignty” of his country, it was following “what EU officials gleefully called ‘mental waterboarding’”, according to the Irish Times report (see footnote 1).

Another veil that fell is the response that Varoufakis got when he asked the Euroroup to let him know what was the legal base of the threat to expel Greece from the EU, that he had received shortly before. Varoufakis, in a New Statesman interview (see footnote 6) said that he received no answer because EU experts told him that the Eurogroup had no legal existence, so they can say and do whatever they want and there are no traces because no minutes are kept.

Tsipras, that is to say the Syriza government upheld by a decisive referendum, had dared to ask for some sensible changes to the neoliberal fundamentalism of the EU: to reduce the austerity policies and renegotiate part of the external debt that justifies such policies in order to alleviate the burden of unemployment and serious poverty that is oppressing the Greek people, to enable them to develop economically in order to pay their debts.

In previous articles we had maintained (7) that with this request, Greece would be the catalyzer that would accelerate decision-making and deepen the system of governance destined to apply the Troika policies across the board and to eliminate any vestige of national and popular sovereignty. And that Syriza, with the referendum of July 5, would reveal in all its nudity the true and horrible nature of the EU. And so it
happened!

It is widely recognized and subject to analysis, commentary and opinion in the mainstream daily newspapers of the western world, that the image of the EU is now clear, precise and terrifying. And in passing, in Our America it is just as well to know that, in the face of the persistent resurgence of initiatives of certain countries to celebrate free trade agreements with the EU.

Why was it important to disrobe the EU? Because the humiliating and typically imperial victory of the EU against Greece, a small people in a region of many other peoples that are crushed by the austerity of neoliberal dogma and the monetary utopia of the euro (that looks much like the gold standard of sad memory) demonstrates in a clear and precise way what many had already warmed of: that there are not, nor will there be, social, political and economic alternatives favourable to the popular majorities, in the EU in its present format. That the EU has been carefully created to be what it is, and not something else, and that “the European dream” has been transformed into “the European nightmare”.

Possible consequences of the humiliating defeats

In the face of the capitulation of Tsipras, the first reactions were highly disappointing, and there were some who qualified him as a traitor, as if he had had another alternative than to hit the dirt and struggle. But popular movements, trade unions and political parties of many European countries did not delay in expressing their strong sentiments of overall rejection of the EU policies, and a call for solidarity with Syriza and the Greek people, and for resistance and fighting against EU policies.

As for the vision that the Greek people now have of the EU, Stathis Kouvelakis, of the Left Platform — one of the components of Syriza — said to Jacobin (8) that he had received a message from a comrade, saying that it is true the Syriza government has succeeded in “making the EU much more hated by the Greek people” than anything other left-wing groups have been able to accomplish in twenty years of anti-EU rhetoric.

In reality Syriza, along with the majority of leftists in the EU who came from “Eurocommunism” of the 1980s, were putting their stakes on (this verb should now be in the past tense) a “possible” change of the “really existing” EU, via negotiations, political pressure and national elections, in order to convert it into a “social Europe”, with regulated capitalist economies.

This is why the programme of Syriza did not contemplate an exit from the euro, nor did the Greek people favour this option. Have the options changed? The next few days and weeks will tell us, although this step is not a simple declaration that could be made without long, extensive and carefully planned preparation.

Why? For the simple reason that the EU, through the Treaties, the pressure of the Bundesbank and the ECB — of Germany in short — and the directives of the bureaucrats to complete total control, designed the creation of the euro through the monopolization of the emission of currency and the monetary policy of the member countries; that is, demolishing everything that would make a return to national and popular sovereignties possible. The presses that printed the Dracmas no longer exist, as Varoufkis said.

To say it in more military terms, the EU under the direction of the Germany of Angela Merkel, in breaking down the small and inoffensive Greek people won a battle that sowed doubts over the direction of the “war” and the means utilized to crush Greece. Two important allies of Berlin, Paris and Rome, are indebted and politically asphyxiated by the austerity policies, and could themselves have to submit to the “mental asphyxia” of the Eurogroup. At the same time Germany created more potential enemies in other European countries that could also in a short period of time be in the same situation as Greece. What is this but a “pyrrhic victory”?

On the other hand, the humiliating defeat that Syriza suffered in the unavoidable task of seeking to lighten the burden of the austerity measures and beginning to negotiate the unpayable debt, may be the catalyzer of the process of forming a popular and national consciousness that might lead the Greek people to decide to resist, while they continue to struggle for a return to a real national and popular sovereignty.

Finally it may be worth reproducing here a few paragraphs of what two Canadians of the radical left, Leo Panich and Sam Gindin, have written from Greece, for the international left under the title “Treating Syriza Responsibly”: in spite of the characterizations of Syriza made in recent days by some of the radical left: “the disciplinarians of neoliberalism made it clear yesterday that they believed that SYRIZA was not a typical social-democratic party that could be trusted to accommodate to neoliberalism. Indeed, they clearly see that SYRIZA is a left party with socialism in its DNA, and one that whatever the constraints of staying within the EU, will continue to challenge European and global capitalism.

“The exact content of the agreement that has now been struck between SYRIZA and the EU leaders will be examined in the coming days, and the reaction of the party and those who supported it in the referendum will be assessed. We hope SYRIZA can stay united as the most effective new socialist political formation on the European left that has emerged in recent decades. The role of a responsible international left is to support this, while continuing to point out the party’s weaknesses in terms of lacking the capacity to build on the solidarity networks so as to create alternative economic plans at local and regional levels that would put people to work in transformed social relations.

“This is what really matters, and it would be no less crucial even with Grexit. The potential for this will also be addressed in future. Given our own weaknesses in this respect, considerable patience and modesty of the international left is called for as we watch this drama unfold.” (9).

1.- http://www.irishtimes.com/opinion/tormenting-greece-is-about-sending-a-message-that-we-are-now-in-a-new-eu-1.2283593

2.- http://www.bloombergview.com/articles/2015-07-13/europe-owns-this-disaster

3.- http://www.bloombergview.com/articles/2015-07-13/greece-should-just-quit

4.- http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-debate/editorials/blame-berlin-why-the-greek-debt-deal-is-doomed-to-fail/article25489080/

5. https://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/scr/2015/cr15186.pdf

6.- Extracts from what Yaris Varoufakis, the Minister of Finance, obliged to renounce at the request of the Eurogroup, said to the New Statesman http://www.newstatesman.com/world-affairs/2015/07/yanis-varoufakis-full-transcript-our-battle-save-greece):

NewStatesman: What is the greatest problem with the general way the Eurogroup functions?

Varoufakis: [To exemplify…] There was a moment when the President of the Eurogroup decided to move against us and effectively shut us out, and made it known that Greece was essentially on its way out of the Eurozone. … There is a convention that communiqués must be unanimous, and the President can’t just convene a meeting of the Eurozone and exclude a member state. And he said, “Oh I’m sure I can do that.” So I asked for a legal opinion. It created a bit of a kerfuffle. For about 5-10 minutes the meeting stopped, clerks, officials were talking to one another, on their phone, and eventually some official, some legal expert addressed me, and said the following words, that “Well, the Eurogroup does not exist in law, there is no treaty which has convened this group.”

So what we have is a non-existent group that has the greatest power to determine the lives of Europeans. It’s not answerable to anyone, given it doesn’t exist in law; no minutes are kept; and it’s confidential. So no citizen ever knows what is said within. … These are decisions of almost life and death, and no member has to answer to anybody.

NewStatesman: And is that group controlled by German attitudes?

Varoufakis: Oh completely and utterly. Not attitudes – by the finance minister of Germany. It is all like a very well-tuned orchestra and he is the director. Everything happens in tune. There will be times when the orchestra is out of tune, but he convenes and puts it back in line.

NewStatesman: Is there no alternative power within the group, can the French counter that power?

Varoufakis: Only the French finance minister has made noises that were different from the German line, and those noises were very subtle. You could sense he had to use very judicious language, to be seen not to oppose. And in the final analysis, when Doc Schäuble responded and effectively determined the official line, the French FM in the end would always fold and accept.

7.- El catalizador griego http://www.alainet.org/es/active/80771; La lección de democracia del “catalizador griego” http://www.alainet.org/es/articulo/170722 ; The Greek people reveal the real nature of the European Union in its full nudity http://www.alainet.org/en/articulo/171064.

8.- https://www.jacobinmag.com/2015/07/tsipras-varoufakis-kouvelakis-syriza-euro-debt/

9. – Leo Panich and Sam Gindin: Treating SYRIZA Responsibly http://links.org.au/node/4507

(Translated for ALAI by Jordan Bishop) . 28/07/15
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*Alberto Rabilotta is an Argentine – Canadian journalist.

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