Referendum in Greece: Europe at its worst

It could not have gone worse, says political scientist Piero Ignazi: the most pessimistic predictions have all turned out to be true. Worse than that, they are past every limit. There is, in fact, no limit to the worse.

The European leaders are following the ‘(self-)destruction’ of Greece with Olympian calm. Leaving the floor to the ministers of the Eurogroup, the various prime ministers are still as if we are dealing only with another minor accident.

Instead, we have plunged headlong straight over the precipice, without stopping at the edge of the abyss. We simply leapt over it. We will see in due course with what procedures and norms we will come out of it, but we will no longer be able to say that the EU is the same as before.

With this epilogue to the Greek crisis, the European Union has missed the last train to the final station of its ideal project, the last call to raise once again the flag of the ideality of the European edifice.

In other words, to warm hearts and minds. Falling back on the argument that the problem child from Athens should have done his homework to perfection humiliates the history of the European project.

With hair-splitting obtuseness, the new EU engine with German drive has dictated that Greece must stick to agreements that entire legions of economists, practitioners and experts at international institutions, beginning with official studies by the IMF itself, consider detrimental to the recovery of a country’s economy and to its accounting liquidity.

Though this be madness, yet there is method in it, and it reminds us of the cupio dissolvi, or self-destructive impulse, of so many tragedies.

Marching toward destruction because it has been so decreed, as many tragic events in history remind us, is typical of a detrimental political culture that has ‘imposed infinite sorrows’ on the Europeans.

Mutatis mutandis, the logic applied to Greece in recent years reproduces the same self-destructive compulsion of the past. The fetish for rigour joined with the pleasure of punishment, as Foucault teaches us, overcomes all rationality.

It is no surprise if feelings of detachment, distrust and even disgust have increased exponentially in recent years in the face of this scowling and ‘wicked’ Europe.

Of course, while the economic benefits of a country’s membership of the Eurozone were widely distributed in a win-win situation, dissent was confined to the margins of the Kerneuropa, or ‘core’ Europe, among the perplexed Danes and the proud British.

And the generous impulse to open the Union up to the Eastern countries in order to guarantee peace, security and the wellbeing of the brothers who were lost for half a century added new lustre to European ideality.

The founders’ dream of building Europe to avoid the resurgence of nationalisms and war, went forward by sharing strategic economic resources with the aim of promoting mutual trust, found new lifeblood ten years ago. The warm welcome to the liberated people beyond the Wall breathed new life into the European project.

All of this has been squandered within a few years. The mismanagement of the crisis in Greece, the violent reawakening of national egoisms proclaimed by mediocre politicians and the persistent democratic deficit, notwithstanding a few new prerogatives conceded to the Strasburg parliament, advanced the Eurosceptic position.

Even in Poland, a country that has benefitted more and better than any other from entering the European Union, we now find a president who is a fierce enemy of Europe (balancing out Donald Tusk, the useless president of the EU: useless both on account of his inexperience, and because of the obscure functions of that role).

What is the point of proposing new measures for a stricter fiscal-economic integration (such as those outlined in the all in all commendable report of the ‘Five Presidents’), if a small and poor country is kicked out of the Eurogroup?

The European leaders did not understand that the Greek question had an infinitely greater value than the handful of billions spent saving from suffocation a country that had fallen thirty years behind in its standards of living, thanks to the bad treatments prescribed by the Troika.

The real issue at stake was the capacity or incapacity to face up to the hardships of ‘the last’. In the past, a more distinctively catholic approach of ‘understanding and forgiveness’ resolved many critical situations, avoiding deepening divisions.

Now a kind of egoism typical of – and actually belonging to – bankers has prevailed over the political leaders’ ability to mediate. The latter cannot just allow themselves to give way to financial algorithms.

They have a very different role: that of setting objectives and envisioning a future. But what future have the political leaders of the member countries put forward for us in the last years? A future of inflexibility and rigour without any higher end, without vision. Just to balance the books (to someone’s advantage, of course), and nothing more.

The ‘Europhile’ lifeblood is drying up as a direct consequence of the absence of real political leaders, of statesmen. When the Euro becomes the source of all evil in the eyes of the vast majority of public opinions across Europe this means that something is missing from the project.

In its early days, thanks to leaders of great experience and vivid memory, the single currency was endowed with the symbolic power of an element of cohesion and brotherhood. Not only and not so much a technical matter, but the materiality of sharing a common existence and a common destiny.

But when the first difficulties caused by opportunists during the changeover (outstanding was the economic advantage offered at the time by the right-wing Italian government to all self-employed workers) were followed by the additional, objective, macroeconomic problems of the greater crisis, then Europe became a fatherless child.

The Europhile front was not able to raise its voice above the harsh, often irrational, if not downright grotesque, criticism coming from so many populists; it was not able to answer in kind or to communicate the innovative, prospective import of the single currency.

They overlooked them, trusting that the economic recovery would eventually do away with these protesters. But now that the crisis is not waning, feelings of hostility are on the rise.

If then we add to the general unease the arrogance of the rich who are not capable of giving a shot in the arm to their poor relatives, then the gap of trust in the EU widens out of all proportion.

Let us be honest: if we take to the streets, what can we federalists and Europhiles say to confront the Eurosceptic, and by now purely Europhobic, populists?

Which non-technical arguments (but these too eventually wear out) can we use to claim that the European edifice is indeed a great thing, the future that entire generations dreamed of? Even the spectacle of the sea of corpses that the Mediterranean is gradually turning into cannot restore our pietas.

Even a radical secular thinker cannot refrain from regretting the benefits that the Catholic and, more generally, confessional culture brought to the early stages of the construction of Europe. Economic individualism, the degenerate son of liberalism, now turns into nationalist egoism.

The political leaders of this Europe have let us down because they are denying us our future: the cynical and indifferent face of the rich appears, as it turns away while Greece is abandoned just as the boatloads of desperate refugees are left to sink in the Mediterranean.

These leaders look to us like those men of Weimar Germany in bowler hats and tailcoats portrayed by George Grosz’s satirical pen.

The enemies of the European project have it easy against this caricatural, but partially lifelike, representation of the real European Union.

And we Europhiles and federalists remain speechless because the national leaders and communitarian institutions do not lend us any support (with some exceptions, of course: and I am not referring to Mario Draghi by accident).

From now on, with the failure of Greece, everything will be more difficult. Let us not be fooled into thinking that we can return to business as usual. The stigma of egoism and closure will be long lasting.

Translated from the English by Nicolò Crisafi/Eutopia

Factual or translation error? Tell us.

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