Europe's problems solved?
If the EU wishes to end the current crisis, the writing is on the wall
Greece’s recent election was expected to do more than decide who was at the helm in Athens. The outcome was also anticipated to play a major role in plotting the future course upon which the entire ‘Euro ship’ would set sail. Whilst Greece is certainly no stranger to momentous historical occasions, is the current EU crisis really Greece’s story to tell alone?
Study the historical trajectory of the EU project across the landscape of cause and effect and Greece is not so much the epicentre of the current European economic crisis, but rather one of its many fault lines. Nor are average Greek citizens the orchestrators of European economic disintegration, as much as they will be on the frontline of any such fall-out; and never in a heavily interconnected globalised system such as our own, could Greece possibly qualify as the sole catalyst for economic Armageddon. If anything, Greece has served as the portent for such oblivion.
Talk of a Euro-apocalypse, however, seems to have been cautiously put aside for the moment. With a coalition of “national salvation” now formed in Greece and a plan to potentially modify the country’s so-called ‘bailout package’, it seems that Greece, at least in the immediate short-term, is set to remain in the Euro zone. However, if Greece is truly part of the EU family, is it an equal partner, or a child to be paternalised? One can excuse the average, law-abiding Greek citizen for leaning towards the latter. Whether Greeks reconcile the EU’s measures towards their country as an act of ‘very tough love’, or resent these measures as something more cynical - where Greece becomes a strategic pawn to avoid a wider spread contagion effect - in either case, it appears Greeks have had to forfeit their voice. Some, however, may point to Greece’s recent election and suggest that the Greek voice was indeed heard loud and clear. However, this is to misunderstand the message Greeks sent via the ballot box. A vote to stay in the EU is not synonymous with a vote in favour of continued austerity.
And yet unless Greece can successfully renegotiate the terms of its “bail out”, bitter austerity measures are indeed set to continue; dangling over the beleaguered heads of its people like the sword of their mythical ancestor Damocles. Unless of course, the murky world of international finance is willing to accept the flowers of classicism as valid repayments for services rendered. Unfortunately, this seems highly unlikely. Nevertheless, Greeks looking to restore a sense of self-pride can at least take heart in the fact that whilst Greece currently has an economic debt to Europe, Europe will forever have a cultural debt to Greece, a small consolation, but a consolation nonetheless, particularly for a frustrated and humiliated people; who now in their fifth year of consecutive recession and with more than one in five people unemployed, have not had a lot to smile about of late.
Greece undoubtedly has major domestic structural issues! Tax evasion, nepotism, cronyism and overblown bureaucracies, have been a feature of Greek social and political life for far too long, however, they are not exclusively indigenous to Greece or for that matter to Portugal, Italy, Ireland, and Spain (P.I.I.G.S). For every evaded P.I.I.G.S tax dollar, there is the small government/no tax platform of modern economic neo-liberalism. For every job the P.I.I.G.S send to family and friends, there are the Occupy Movements and protests across the world, but particularly in the West; that have called for an end to their own ‘Old Boy’ networks and for the creation of their own meritocracies. For every overblown P.I.I.G.S bureaucracy, consider the military spending conducted by some nation-states. Are military industrial complexes not overblown bureaucracies too?
The point being, the EU crisis is not just an economic problem, it is also a much deeper philosophical one as well, at the heart of which is one crucial question - do societies exist to serve the globalised economy, or does the globalised economy exist to serve our societies?
Perhaps here it’s timely to remind ourselves that the very word at the crux of this philosophical puzzle – the ‘economy’ - interestingly has its foundations in the Greek language. Granted words naturally evolve and the obvious retort will inevitably be that the modern English vocabulary does not necessarily have to reflect the literal etymology of its more often than not, Greek or Latin origins; however, under the current EU crisis, unpacking the root of the word ‘Economics’ makes very interesting food for thought. ‘Economics’ derives from the Greek word ‘oikonomia’, i.e. “the managing of a household”, from ‘oikos’, meaning “house”, and ‘nemein’, meaning “manage”. An ‘economist’ (‘oikonomos’) therefore is a “manager, administrator, steward”. With this in mind two critical questions emerge: (1) How ‘oiko-nomical’ has Europe been in “managing its household”? And (2) how will future European generations judge Europe’s “stewardship” of itself? The following five key issues and considerations perhaps offer some clues:
1. Greece is accused of living beyond its means. Pot! Kettle! Black! As Al Jazeera’s Marwan Bishara astutely revealed, in a recent Empire episode entitled ‘Europe: To Be or Not To Be’, in 2003 it was Germany and France that first exceeded the deficit ceiling outlined in the EU’s own Stability and Growth pact. Incidentally neither country was disciplined. Add to this the actions that led to the 2008 Global Financial Crisis and it is apparent that the entire world is living beyond its means. As a modern civilisation we are addicted to the concept of ‘more’ and appear to lack the imagination to think beyond a globalised economic system, which has increasingly come to resemble a casino, more than anything else.
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