Following Gianni Pittella’s (leader of the Socialist and Democrats group in the European Parliament) comments this week, when he said of certain European governments and the IMF that “They want the patient dead. They want Grexit, because they did not succeed last year […], I’d like to quickly add another perspective, one connecting the two hottest membership issues in the Union right now.
The treatment of Greece in the hands of Europe last summer (and quite possibly this coming summer too) is already an argument for Brexit in the lips of the left-wing camp backing the Out side in this June’s referendum. It is a point that holds sway beyond that, as in my experience it transcends the left and right divide: quite a few conservatives have expressed concern over the EU’s undemocratic behaviour in private conversations, especially those who place a lot of focus on sovereignty.
But there is another point worth considering when contemplating the implications that Greece’s treatment carries into the debate in other countries, a point that most commentators and analysts have missed. The expulsion of Greece from the Euro, would signal to the British electorate that their worst fears about the EU are true.
To put that down in a few simple points, let’s look at what that move would mean: The first, easy conclusion, is that Europe’s vision for the future of the union is a one-size-fits-all solution that leaves little room for financial maneuvering and political sovereignty. Yes, the current British government might not be exactly opposed to a lot of the economic dogma coming from Berlin via Brussels, but that might not always be the case and no serious country can allow for this to be so.
The second, a natural conclusion of the first, is that the EU is in fact committed to the “ever closer union” mantra in ways that might make the whole political spectrum in the UK uncomfortable. The expulsion of Greece and possibly other countries down the line (if that door opens it won’t close just like that), will definitely mean that the EU is looking to create a closely-knit centre, run by a small constellation of countries around Germany.
The third one, and this is something no one is really considering because of our short-termist political discourse, is that the union described above, would be a very fragile beast. Something no one is really considering in Europe right now (at least not publicly) is the post-Merkel era.
One of the ways this seemingly uber-successful chancellor has held on to power, is by eliminating challengers to her leadership. At least from afar, when she’s gone (and this time might not be that ‘afar’), it’s very hard to see who will contain the reactionary elements in the make-shift alliance her finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble has gathered around him inside the EU in order to push through with his strict vision of what can only be described as sadistic monetarism. It seems like there is no one there, and this should be added to her long list of failures.
The post-Merkel era will almost certainly be chaotic, with the far-right gaining across the EU and more centrist governments taking the usual road of pandering to extremist sentiment in order to avert oblivion. With this in mind, it’s hard to see how the argument that the EU stands for unity and common purpose might survive.
A final point is that patience has its limits. Europe has failed to show a united face in multiple occasions (with the UK sharing some of the blame). As a response, with shambolic solutions to the financial and refugee crisis making Brussels look at the very least weak and slow, people are turning to far-right snake-oil peddlers promising sovereignty-strong politics with Putin and Erdogan as role models.
A democratically minded people will be right to feel aversion to the structure responsible for this turn of events. While I’m still undecided on both these issues (Brexit and Grexit) and their long-term implications, I’m almost certain that they are interlinked. There’s no way, in my mind at least, that you can have one without the other.