This article was co-authored by Patrícia Vieira and Michael Marder.
The opposition of the Eurogroup to the Greek government’s plans to hold a referendum on July 5 on the proposals of its creditors reveals, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the European Union is not a democracy. It is a heavily bureaucratic order that rules by decree and imposes its authority onto smaller, weaker member states. Many of the policies it undersigns emanate from non-elected financial institutions that do not represent the will of the Europeans. In other words, it is moving ever farther away from the democratic aspirations that energized the European project and beckoned with a promise of freedom and prosperity for its citizens.
The Greeks have been infantilized
Particularly disheartening was the statement by the German Finance Minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, that, by holding a referendum, Greece was tacitly putting an end to negotiations. The very framing of a popular vote on the bailout terms as a “nuclear option”, which could explode the entire edifice of European collaboration on financial matters, is indicative of the establishment’s allergy to true democratic procedures with their oft-times uncertain outcomes. For what could be more democratic than a popular vote, where the people as a whole can determine what they consider to be their best interest? Why should the Greeks be prevented from deciding upon their future, if not out of the Eurogroup’s desire to dictate the country’s destiny and seal its fate as a destitute nation, mired in growing levels of debt, in order to continue filling the creditors’ pockets with euros?
Throughout the lengthy process of negotiations, the Greek government and, by extension, the Greek people have been infantilized, cast in the role of capricious children, who do not wish to follow the rules of the rational parental authority of the Troika. For instance, the symbolic refusal of male ministers – including the Prime Minister – to wear ties was interpreted as a sign of their frivolity by the likes of the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Junker, rather than a political statement that rejects the “business as usual” technocratic management prevalent in Brussels.
Along with other Southern European countries, Greece is persistently depicted as a society in an immature condition, its members unable to realize what is good for them in the long run. Syriza’s initiative to change the disastrous pattern of European policies vis-à-vis its country is seen as a teenage rebellion, too idealistic to take into account the demands of “the real world” that are presumably identical to the Troika’s decrees. The exclusion of the Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis from the Eurozone finance ministers’ meeting on Saturday afternoon smacks of a punishment meted out to an undisciplined child who refused to comply with the norms established by its wiser parents. It is as though the Greeks, among other citizens of indebted EU states, are unready to govern themselves and make sovereign decisions that will impact their lives and livelihoods.
A Europe of business interests
The concrete economic proposals for raising funds, drafted by Alexis Tsipras’ government, have been rejected not because they are unrealistic, but because they do not conform to the hegemonic vision of his European “partners” regarding who should be shouldering the price for the crisis. While the authorities of Greece wish to spare its people more hardship and suffering, the institutions that comprise the Troika aim to impoverish the country still further by cutting the already meager pensions and raising the sales tax, which is the least progressive form of taxation, in that it is uniformly imposed on millionaires and unemployed workers alike. The outlines of the impasse are thus exceptionally vivid. On the one hand, there is an aspiration to build a Europe of and for its citizens, while, on the other hand, there is an ambition to maintain the Europe of business interests and to continue enriching the obscenely wealthy few.
This standoff has culminated in the concerted effort we have been witnessing over the past few days on the part of European Union authorities to blackmail Greece: Either the country complies with the unsustainable requirements of its creditors, causing the lives of its citizens to deteriorate further as the country sinks deeper into debt or it faces the collapse of its economy by being forced to default on its payments and leave the Eurozone. Between the devil and the deep blue sea, as it were, the government’s answer was to restitute sovereignty back to the Greeks and ask them to express their collective opinion. That course of action was construed as a cardinal sin in the eyes of a Europe leaning ever closer to a totalitarian organization of political life.
The refusal of the Greek government to comply with the decrees of the Eurogroup, which it has rightly characterized as humiliating, is far from an adolescent revolt. Its intention to hold a referendum is an attempt to restore the very democratic ideals that the EU espouses, at least nominally. The present clash between the Goliath of the Troika and the Greek David is, in the last instance, not over the details of a financial deal, nor even over a broader economic plan for an isolated member state, but over the precise seat of sovereignty and the choice of a de facto political model in the EU for the years and decades to come.
Battle for the heart and soul of Europe
If Greece is removed from the Eurozone through unilateral political wrangling that refuses to listen to the voices of the Greeks themselves, the entire project of a democratic European Union comes tumbling down. At stake in the decisions to be made on the Greek situation are the future contours of Europe: whether we are going to have a union of bankers and financiers or a union of peoples. Greece and its government stand at the forefront of this battle for the heart and soul of Europe.