The handling of the Greek crisis was tragic from the start; that is why Greece today still cannot escape the debt trap and why the European Union itself is in danger. It may seem absurd that the greatest political, economic and social experiment of our time should be jeopardized by a country whose population and economy are but a fraction of Europe’s whole, but the mistakes committed initially by the governments of Greece and Germany, the EU’s structural weaknesses and the rifts between member-states were all evident at the start.
The “primal sin,” the cause of later ills, was that member-states’ governments were not willing to see the European Union as their common home, where each member had rights and obligations and the whole was much greater than its parts.
Therefore, Greece could borrow on the markets as if it was an economic superpower but was left hanging on its own when it ran into trouble. Instead of the EU member-states having prepared to deal with such an eventuality “in the family,” forcing Greece to take its medicine and getting it back on its feet without making a big show of it, they chose to make an example of Greece, presenting its woes as a modern parable, its people as beggars eyeing the money of taxpayers in other member-states. Later, mechanisms for dealing with such problems were adopted but the seeds of division had taken root.
The pillorying of Greece, its political system’s inability to handle a difficult situation, the appeal to the International Monetary Fund, and voters’ anger in other countries, gave impetus to nationalism in Greece, Germany and elsewhere. The EU’s general weakness, the increasingly evident hegemony of Germany and the unprecedented rudeness of exchanges between officials of various countries released forces of bigotry. In Greece we witnessed the first great displays of distrust in the national and European elites. Now we see similar dynamics across Europe, from Britain to Hungary – and in the United States. Whatever problems countries face, some cast blame on the elites and their foreign connections, on immigration, on the international system of governance. Thus they gain influence, and sometimes power, at the expense of unity.
Donald Trump has already provoked a rift between the United States and Europe, and would like to see more division in Europe. And yet, at a time when, as German Chancellor Angel Merkel put it, Europe’s fate is in its countries’ hands, it is a symptom of the great European malaise that instead of closing the Greek problem as quickly as possible, the governments of Greece and Germany are still fighting; the one unable to adopt reforms, the other obsessed with a failed policy. And the dangers multiply.