Europe talks as stagnation sets in

By Nikos Konstandaras

The European Union’s summit meeting, which started on Thursday and ends on Friday, will deal with hugely important issues pertaining to Europe’s further unification – a common security and defense policy, economic and social policy, immigration and further enlargement. In the past, we would pay little attention to such an agenda, in the understanding that the great caravan of unification was moving along, irrespective of our attention; more recently, we followed every development with great anxiety, knowing that it would have grave consequences for Greece; now we have become cynical, as we have seen fine words reduced to nothing, without the actions that would benefit the Union.

It is clear that the EU today functions as a group of countries where each places its own interests above the whole, where governments care only for their survival and re-election. This is natural and unavoidable, as long as the EU’s nations are not convinced that only through greater cooperation will they gain the most out of their union. Greece’s example is significant: The consequences of a structural problem in the common currency (albeit with all the peculiarities of Greece’s own failings) was treated as a problem that was unique to Greece. This poisoned relations between nations that lent money to those who needed support, ethnic stereotypes were revived, and there was a long delay in creating European mechanisms for dealing with such crises quickly. Rifts that opened remain open.

The decision to create a banking union, where the debts of banks would not drag down countries but would be handled at an EU level, has been on hold for the past 18 months. Even though it was hailed as a breakthrough in European unification, and a lifeline for countries such as ours (which would see its debt lighten by some 50 billion euros), this has stumbled on Germany’s refusal to allow it to apply to current debts. This ignores the fact that Greece’s banks were jeopardized not by what they had done before the crisis but by the policies imposed by the troika.

When Europe’s policies reflect the wishes of one country (or a small group of richer countries) at the expense of Europe’s development as a whole, then we cannot hope for fundamental progress in Friday’s talks. What common defense policy can we have when so many member states are threatened by debts, when Britain, with its military power, may not even be a member of the EU after the referendum that its prime minister has promised? What common immigration policy can develop when each country simply wants to push the problem onto others? How can we support unemployed youth and promote development when, despite any funds allocated to this, the years of deprivation and insecurity have empowered political forces of confrontation and nihilism.

Europe has stood still, for nearly three months, while Germany worked at forming a government. It is now time for Germany and every other EU country to understand that past policies did not work, that they must take quick and radical action, with their eye on our common future. Otherwise, they would do well to stop wasting time and money on meaningless summits.