COMMENT

Greece and the eurozone

By K.I. Angelopoulos

In the wake of two world wars last century, which left tens of millions of people dead, the preservation of peace within a large and prosperous community of European nations became the aspiration of virtually every European. Such a prospect provoked intense interest in the United States of America, which - anticipating the creation of a Europe along the lines of the US model - actively encouraged cooperation between European countries in the economic and, later, defense sectors. This was especially true during the first few years after World War II under the leadership of President Harry Truman. However, the gradual establishment of this community of nation states posed a difficult challenge, which today appears far more difficult still. With little economic, political or cultural influence in the globalized environment of the early 21st century, today's European Union does not appear capable of making steady progress along the road to unification, involving as it does a large group of 25 member states with differing outlooks. On today's complex international stage, the richer members of the EU are fiercely defending their own individual interests, especially as the goal of political unification has essentially been frozen in the wake of the Union's enlargement last year (a move which had US support). The EU's hasty addition of 10 new members having a different political background from the old EU15, and with the organization suffering a significant democratic deficit, provoked a disaster in the recent French and Dutch rejections of the European Constitution and revealed major gaps in the union's ambitious federalist venture. Meanwhile, the distance between the technocrats in Brussels and the EU member states continues to grow in this union of multiple speeds. Moreover, the prospect of Turkey's accession has raised fears among many Europeans, both within political parties and low-income social groups. Today, the older member states are refusing to shoulder the responsibility for enlargement and are arguing among themselves about how much they should pay for it. Such an attitude has created the impression of a European Union that is dazed and confused. All evidence shows that the heart of the Union is not functioning properly. Nevertheless, the EU has one strong point: the eurozone. However much it may lag behind the USA, the United Kingdom and Japan, this remains its singular achievement. Inequalities between different countries within the eurozone will, of course, persist. Greece aspires to a central eurozone role, yet is not among its strong players: Its production base is small, its competitiveness is low, its debt levels are high, and under the European Commission's scrutiny, it lags in many sectors like the organization of its public administration, education, research and technology, and the allocation of land use. If Greece is to secure for itself a decent position in the European division of labor, it must first put its own affairs in order.

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