OPINION

Europe held

Now let?s see what we do. After months of insults from the markets and the international media, divided, scared of the reactions of their citizens, Europe?s leaders surpassed themselves. They took a step that could be a leap in the march toward a stronger union — perhaps a federated Europe. The fear of a Greek bankruptcy and contagion of the crisis created the need for a solution that would safeguard the credibility of the eurozone and would assure European citizens and the markets that the European Union is determined to succeed. And so, on the one hand, Europe?s leaders recognized the complexity of the Greek problem and took measures to deal with our debt but also to spur development; on the other, they made very clear that Greece has to stand on its own feet.

?The Greek situation is different from that of other countries; that?s why it requires an exceptional response,? said European Council President Herman Van Rompuy. European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso made clear that the lower interest rates and extension of debt payments require ?full implementation of the Greek macroeconomic adjustment program. It is of course a two-way street. Prime Minister Papandreou gave in very clear terms his assurances in this respect.? With regard to private sector involvement in Greece?s second bailout, Barroso stressed: ?Importantly, we are crystal-clear that PSI is for Greece, and Greece alone. It is an exceptional solution which we exclude for others. It is a unique solution.? The expression on European Central Bank Governor Jean-Claude Trichet late Thursday night showed just how difficult it was for him to overturn ECB policy on private sector involvement.

The message was clear: The EU is prepared to go into unchartered territory, to overturn basic principles, in order to protect its weakest member for the good of the whole. That member, though, is an ?exception,? and if it does not pull its weight it will have to carry the burden of failure on its own. Greece?s impasse created a great dilemma for all the Europeans: Do we fortify all that we have achieved or do we accept the defeat of the dream of union and each country goes its own way? Fortunately for Greece, the European experiment is too important to be lost because of its weakest member. The fact that the euro?s architects did not foresee the inconceivable lack of maturity of Greece?s politicians should not be a deadly blow to the greatest political, economic and social experiment in history — a union of 500 million people united only by their wish to share common democratic and humanistic principles. It is no coincidence that the EU?s development has coincided with the longest period of peace and prosperity that our continent has ever known.

However much they may be pressured by electoral concerns, political leaders cannot ignore such a responsibility. After many months of negotiations, disagreements and uncertainty, they came to Thursday?s agreement. Time will tell whether the measures will be enough to save Greece and the euro, but the certain thing is that the leaders of the eurozone showed their intentions and took steps toward a closer union. They decided that the European Financial Stability Facility will evolve into a kind of ?European IMF? that will lend money to countries in need and will be able to buy their debt. In supporting Greece they showed their determination to remain united and they adopted an ambitious plan to develop our country. ?We will mobilize EU funds and institutions such as the European Investment Bank towards this goal and relaunch the Greek economy,? they said in a joint communique.

Our relief that our debt may become viable and the hopes raised by a ?new Marshall Plan? for Greece will soon give way to our usual skepticism as to the motives of our partners and the fear of more fruitless sacrifices. As long as efforts to revive our country crash into the systemic rigidity, the selfish inertia and the tragicomic egotism of our public life?s protagonists, there will be no hope. We have been granted a second chance. We saw how the first was wasted. But Europe held. And it is supporting us. It?s time for us to stand on our feet.