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AthensLive

Illustration: Olga Souri / Noucmas

What Will The EU Look Like On The Other Side?

Dimitris Tsingos is a tech entrepreneur and the founder of Athens-based tech start-up STARTECH VC.

How did we get here?

“You had people who lost approximately 50–60 percent of their incomes. On average you would have a loss of approximately 20–30 percent [of income]…it was a very tough time, especially for companies and people in the public sector, who basically saw their wages or earnings being cut right in the middle, like fifty percent cuts. It was insane.”

“And I don’t think that that has mended since. I think that either if you belong to more conservative politics like Nea Dimokratia, or are a leftist, people are very disenchanted by the way the E.U. has treated Greece, and I don’t think this is trauma that can with three, four, five, seven years can change….. [For a very long time] we were under extreme austerity measures, so I think the disenchantment makes one think of the European Union at large in a more bleak manner, and are more distrustful as to what it can achieve.”

“These countries were sued and condemned in court,” the EU official pointed out, emphasizing that there are ramifications for not following EU laws that have been put into place. Unfortunately, such a process took three years. “Justice delayed is justice denied, and of course this has all made the process more difficult for Greece.”

iLiana Fokianaki, director and founder of contemporary art institution State of Concept Athens, delivering a lecture in Ljubljana in 2018.

“I was very unhappy with the way the country reacted to the events of February…the way the Greek government and media were using military terminology [to describe the incident]….This ‘men in uniform protecting our borders,’ dialogue” Tsingos commented, citing the attack on incoming refugees by the Greek coast guard in late February. “This type of language demonstrated by the media is the dominant approach on the matter. This is fascism.”

The European Response

“There has been no solidarity whatsoever. [There is] no understanding of what the European Union is outside of being a financial union that serves [the wealthier states’] own interests.”

“I’m very very concerned that at some point, the diminished economic activity will create this a huge gap in income for the state, which I am not sure what it will lead to. ….Without taxes to fund the state, will the state collapse? I don’t think it will actually collapse. We might see wage cuts in the public sector, which would be very bad.”

Europe’s Changing Role on The World Stage

“There is a lack of recognition of the bloody wealth [of the well-off European nations], it’s bloody really, that sustains white supremacy,” Fokianaki elaborated. “There are these rich wealthy white European nations, and then there’s the rest of the world.”

“Things are not the same as the U.K. leaving, and with the U.S. as an unstable power. The Union will no longer be able to exercise the soft power [as it has before],” the E.U. official continued. “The leadership one would hope to have [in the U.S.A.] is missing. It would be a truism to say we can no longer trust the U.S.,” said the official. “Winston Churchill once said that you can always trust Americans to do the right thing….We see now that the U.S. is taking a very unilateralist approach, which is bad news for everyone.”

“We [The European Union] have issues with the U.S., but when things happen, we go to them!” complained Tsingos, who felt that many countries had ceased to take the European Union seriously on the international level. “That comes with strings attached.”

Athanasios-Antonios Leontaris, a lawyer based in Thessaloniki

“This buying up of political influence should worry us all,” said Leontaris. “We are paying so much in taxes, and most of it goes to Brussels, and that’s fine. There needs to be some sort of bureaucracy there. But I’d like to know that our civil servants in the E.U. are not being unduly influenced by huge sums of money being doled out by lobbyists…simply because Europe is being outspent on influence.”

Greek and an EU flag in Athens during June 2015. Photo: Angelos Christofilopoulos / FOS PHOTOS

What Next?

“I believe that citizens would feel differently about the state of the union if they realized that the E.U. sets the regulations safeguarding standards,medicine, food and fundamental rights such as privacys,” said Leontaris. “We don’t understand a lot about the E.U., and that’s why we don’t feel the E.U has a positive impact. People are making a negative connection between the Eurozone and the European Union.”

“It is very clear to me that health needs to be re-addressed as a concept [by the European Union]. We need to depart from the neo-liberal proposition that health is a service. Health is a human right,” said Fokianaki, who emphasized that a restructuring of the European Union will be necessary in the near future if there is to be meaningful change. “So I hope, and am really waiting for, some sort of movement from the European Union towards this direction, of really solidifying its relationship to health. The [coronavirus] vaccine should be a public good as well, that it’s not something that one makes money off: it’s something all people need to have when it comes, if it comes. We need to have a strategy that is caring for citizens and not for profit.”

“Europe has been in my life almost forever. I am pro-European in my mind, but that does not necessarily mean that I am Pro-E.U.,” says Dimitris Tsingos, expressing his thoughts on the complicated state of affairs. Tsingos emphasized that the union will have to become more centralized if it is to make the critical decisions necessary to direct its future successfully. “If the E.U. does not evolve into a federation, we will have a dark future. It will be dissolved.”

“There aren’t magical solutions,” the E.U. official concluded. The handling of the crisis “might harbor Euroscepticism and alienation from the European project [for some], but others may come to the realization that solutions must be across borders and multilateral in nature.”

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AthensLive is a non-profit, on-the-ground source for stories from Athens and throughout Greece.

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Stavroula Pabst

Stavroula Pabst

Athens, Greece

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