OPINION

It?s all in vain

It was such a disturbing image — broadcast on television networks across the world — to see Angela Merkel breaking out in ululations of joy while speaking at a party event when she heard the news that Greek Parliament had approved the midterm austerity program. The German chancellor hailed the approval from 154 PASOK deputies and one New Democracy MP of the second memorandum. So what if the heart of Athens was burning and the wounds of Greek society will deepen and continue to bleed because of the measures? The enthusiastic cries of the Iron Frau will remain etched in our minds forever.

The brave and necessary — in Merkel?s words — inhuman austerity measures and the neoliberal reforms of the midterm agreement flirt with the fine line between real and despicable profiteering. Yet it is not yet clear whether Prime Minister George Papandreou?s government is very sure as to how it will go about imposing all these measures. The most likely scenario is that it will adapt reality to suit its own idea of how things ought to be done and the long list of sacrifices will be imposed only on the weakest members of society.

The fifth tranche of economic assistance and the rest of the so-called aid that is being offered will require painful sacrifices from the people of Greece over the next few years, the foreign press wrote. Renowned Financial Times columnist Wolfgang Munchau wrote in his excellent analysis on Monday that the reforms are an ?act of economic vandalism,? as they will deepen the recession to abysmal levels.

Merkel has never been and never will be prepared to give Greece the kind of support it really needs in order to face the nightmare of its financial crisis. She does however appear willing to sacrifice the long-term interests of the European Union in favor of the limited interests of her own party. Sure, Merkel will be held accountable by German voters and by the pro-business Free Democratic Party, which is part of Germany?s coalition government. European solidarity is out of character for the chancellor — as attested by her reactions to the Greek crisis — because she has shown us that she deals with developments in such a way that they ultimately serve her own narrow goals. It?s true that no one can question Germany?s right to protect its national interest; however, in exercising this right in this way, the country is undermining its leadership role in the European Union, because leadership on any level requires flexibility and even some sacrifices.

Of course the Greek crisis did upset the balance of the euro, to a limited extent, but not to the extent suggested by propaganda. However, Germany?s strategy of over-accumulation of wealth in combination with low consumption has an equally — if not greater — destabilizing effect on the shared currency. These are therefore two chronic problems that the eurozone is no position right now to solve. Even when the issue of Berlin?s role in the eurozone?s imbalances is brought up, Germany?s politicians deny it unequivocally. Ulrike Guerot of the European Council on Foreign Affairs has said that in doing so, ?this will ultimately lead to German political and financial hegemony without sublimation. For years, we have run Europe from behind the scenes, but we gave the ownership to the European Commission, to France and the smaller countries.?

Finally, shortly before the prime minister?s speech to Parliament ahead of Wednesday?s vote on the second memorandum, the head of the opposition New Democracy party interjected: ?I understand the prime minister?s need to address his parliamentary group, but I must respond that right now the issue is not about whether we will collapse or not, but whether we will take another fatal step toward the ultimate collapse of the economy — social and economic collapse. The political collapse will be yours,? said Antonis Samaras.

So, after the very dramatic bluff over a consensus government and a bogus cabinet reshuffle, the dirty reform plan made it through Parliament with 155 votes. The Greece of 1 million unemployed is consigned to suffocation and the welfare state is being demolished without mercy. Consciences, values and lives are being rattled. But it is Papandreou that has received a temporary reprieve, not Greece.