Debating Greece

The petty and bitter would argue that following Sunday night’s German election debate between Chancellor Angela Merkel and her rival Peer Steinbrueck, the age-old question of exactly who is governing this country has been answered. In fact, a good 12 of the 90 minutes of televised sparring between the incumbent and her Social Democrat rival were dedicated to Greece. A Greece that hangs on to every word from foreign lips to find out about its future and which is dependent on foreign hands to help it along the way – like it or not.

No one agrees with the future that Greece has been designated – it is nothing more than a worse version of the present – not even the strongest of the two governing parties, even though New Democracy won the twin elections last summer on conflicting statements regarding a renegotiation of the Greek bailout and a different policy mix. Yet despite the rhetoric back then, we are now on course to our designated fate.

Whatever differences may separate the two candidates vying for the German Chancellery (probably just about as many as those that separate the Greek Socialists from their neoliberal counterparts), they are still united by their wish to serve their country’s best interests. On a very tangible level, this interest is expressed by the 40 billion euros or so that eurozone crisis has offered up to the German economy via lower borrowing rates.

Of course no one – not even Germany – wants to see the crisis persisting in the bankrupt countries of Southern Europe, where unemployment figures keep rising and the welfare state keeps evaporating as “fiscal adjustment” programs are implemented.

Wars can be targeted and limited in scope, but crises cannot. National borders cannot contain their spread.

Without any signs of regret, Merkel insisted on the righteousness of the treatment she and German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble have prescribed for Greece: austerity, structural reforms and, maybe, a new bailout. Any new bailout would of course confirm the failure of the two programs that have already brought Greek unemployment to 27 percent as the promise of a fairer taxation system remains largely ignored.

Steinbrueck’s counterproposal, for a Marshall Plan-style solution to the Greek crisis, did not seem to move the chancellor, who knows that her policy mix has its supporters, even among the Social Democrats.

The truth is that the idea for such a plan ought to have come from the Greek government rather than the German candidate, but this would basically mean that the “success story” it likes to trumpet on about is a lie to a dying patient.

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