Europe is entering a phase of intense deliberation on its future. It would be of the greatest importance for our country to take part in the discussion. Not only to break away from continually asking for our partners’ indulgence and support in the problems that we face in the economy, immigration and foreign policy, but also to convince others (and ourselves) that we are aware of the importance of our place in Europe, that we can share our good and bad experiences and set out ideas that could be useful for the union’s development.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker’s visit to Athens this week comes just a few days after French President Emmanuel Macron’s address to the European Parliament, which was followed by Macron’s meeting with Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin. This forces us to look beyond our everyday concerns, toward our future on a continent which, too, is at a crossroads. In Strasbourg last Tuesday, Macron set out precisely what is at stake today. “In these difficult times, the European democracy is our best chance,” he said. “The worst possible mistake would be to give up on our model and our identity.”
Greece could contribute much on this issue. Not because ancient Athens gave the world the concept of democracy but because in our country we have rich, contemporary experience of how precious and how fragile democracy and prosperity are. Only a few days ago we marked the date when the most recent dictatorship was imposed (April 21, 1967). When we are not complaining and blaming others for our problems, we can see that our own political polarization and a lack of serious policies, the undermining of institutions, a tolerance of injustice and illegality, a primary focus on party expedience and personal interests rather than on the common good, can open the way to all kinds of extremism. In Europe’s current crisis, our country is the first which showed how the political center can be shattered and, when the extremes take center stage, how unprepared and indifferent they are to the cost that their obsessions will have on society. Macron’s election in a seriously divided country spared France the triumph of extreme nationalists such as those who govern in Hungary, Poland and elsewhere, within the European Union and beyond. This has given his country and the EU a chance to try to shape their future rather than opt for isolation and inaction, and the inevitable decline this would bring.
Among the main issues and reforms that Macron has set out, and which he discussed with Merkel last Thursday, are the eurozone, banking union, immigration and a “European sovereignty” that will complement that of the EU member-states. “We need to build this EU-wide sovereignty to protect our citizens in terms of internal and external defense and security,” he said in Strasbourg. Some 90 years earlier, in 1930, the Greek statesman Eleftherios Venizelos had welcomed the first thoughts of a united Europe, saying that it was imperative that Greece be part of this, so as to secure it political stability, its economic development and its territorial integrity. This country’s adventures over the past years have proved the wisdom of Venizelos, of Constantine Karamanlis, who engineered Greece’s accession to the European Economic Community and everyone else in Greece and elsewhere who believed in a united Europe and helped Greece win a place in it.
Our country has much to say about how, in the latest crisis, our partners helped keep us on our feet; but we must also talk of how the level of public debate hurt both sides, as well as the mistakes of the bailout programs and what this cost Greece. We need to set out, from our own vantage point, what can make the European Union both more functional and more just. And just as we need to consider our own responsibilities, so too must our partners – not only with regard to their relations with Greece, but for the future of the Union itself.
The relationship between Greece and its partners is not simple, nor should it be limited to that between debtor and creditors. We should realize that everyone brings something to the table. As Merkel said after her meeting with Macron, we need both proposals and compromise. “We each bring some different facets but I think the sum of our proposals will make for a good result in the end,” she said. This is the beginning of a long and fundamentally important discussion.