Tuesday’s discussion in Parliament about social security reform was parochial to say the least. The prevailing trends in European economic thinking were intentionally ignored by the protagonists of the debate – Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis. Of course, they are not the first ones to employ such a tactic, as none of Greece’s leaders over the past six years has openly admitted that the succession of austerity programs are aimed at completely razing Greece’s economic system.
According to this logic, labor rights need further reform, salaries and pensions need to be cut even more and investments in real estate need to be discouraged via hefty taxes. Furthermore, the number of self-employed professionals needs to be slashed dramatically so that all that manpower can be absorbed by big private companies. The privileges of farmers need to be revoked and local “oligarchs” prevented from having a role in policymaking, as has been the case so far.
It is all of these measures, however, that reveal Europe’s harder face. Nevertheless, this is the prevailing reasoning and our political leaders must inject it into reality in small doses so they can limit the damage to the social groups that elect them to power.
Mitsotakis was correct to warn of the dangers of another division in the country, though he inevitably contributed to the process; Tsipras accused the opposition leader of leaning toward the other extreme of the political spectrum, even though he represents it himself by his decisions. We saw this sort of thing happening in the past and it always revealed a mistaken understanding of international conditions and a hope that some great power would come to the rescue.
Tsipras is managing the crisis as though in anticipation of an alliance of the South against the North and a greater involvement by the US. Neither of these two things will happen. Mitsotakis, a more conventional type, is adopting the reasoning that is dominant in the eurozone today. So the contradictions of the international system are being transformed into domestic clashes of the most abhorrent kind. It happened during the National Schism and the civil war, and now it is happening again.
The European system, meanwhile, is also in crisis. When German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble talks about a Greek “time-out” from the eurozone, he is expressing his belief that the country would do better by returning to a national currency.
Greece was blind when it entered the European Union and the euro; now it is being willfully oblivious. We believed we were securing our borders and today Greece is at risk of becoming a dumping ground for refugees and migrants. On the other hand, being kicked out of the system would have devastating consequences. Yet Greece continues to let itself be swept up by the momentum of events and continues to improvise.