OPINION

The EU experience, 30 years on

A lot has changed since Greece joined the European Economic Community, the forerunner to the European Union, 30 years ago. Europe is not the same, Greece is not the same, and the world around them is not the same.

Most importantly, expectations have changed: The expectations — which were justified at the time — of Greece?s modernization and full integration with the rest of Europe have been defeated — and not simply because of our own failures.

Greece always seemed to drag its feet; it wasted too much precious political time; it squandered community money; it never really managed to catch up with the rest of Europe; it reduced itself to endless navel-gazing.

Meanwhile, Europe gradually gave up on its historical ambitions for political unification. The interests of the more powerful nations, the costly bureaucracy, the opportunistic waves of EU enlargement — all that corroded the collective effort to build a confederation of European states.

Economic policy has been inflexible and incapable of safeguarding societies against the shock of an international crisis. The common agricultural policy eventually worked at the expense of the southern states; and, very crucially, the common foreign and security policy never really materialized. As a result, Europe found itself divided in the face of historic challenges like the end of the communist system in 1989, the war in Iraq, and the global migration waves.

The global economic meltdown exposed the EU?s failure to protect its people against the unchecked activity of credit organizations.

Over those 30 years, Greek productivity declined further. Intoxicated by cheap borrowing and subsidies, without long-term planning and subjected to an unchecked inflow of immigration for two decades, it was the first link on the EU periphery to break.

Debt-ridden Greece — and the similar cases of Portugal and Ireland — is testing the strength of Europe?s political structure — not just the strength of the euro currency.

The vision of a united Europe, as dreamt up in the ashes of the Second World War, has been the most ambitious plan of peaceful transformation in modern times.

It started out as a historic vision for a Europe of peace, unity and prosperity. Two of these, unity and prosperity, are already at risk.