Normality and exceptionalism

Normality and exceptionalism

It was to be expected that Jean-Claude Juncker would express satisfaction with the Greek adjustment program and the country’s progress; on the eve of Friday’s Eurogroup meeting, the European Commission and the Greek government wanted to send a positive message to citizens without drawing attention to the many years of supervision that lie ahead still. It was also natural that Juncker would employ warm words of encouragement to repay the honor of being the first Commission president to address the Greek Parliament. Throughout the crisis the veteran European politician has been a friend of Greece and there was no reason for this to change.

But why did Juncker have to refer to Greece and “normality” in the same sentence? “Greece is close to a return to normalcy,” he declared in the French text of his speech to Parliament. In a joint news conference with Alexis Tsipras, he said: “Before the end of this summer, Greece will be a country as normal as all the others in the eurozone.” The prime minister said the same: “Very soon, Greece will return to what we call European normality.” Most likely Juncker understands normality as each country having the same rights and obligations as others, while for the Greek prime minister it means primarily freedom from supervision.

A quick look at just Thursday’s news, however, shows that for Greece “normality” is its own peculiar exceptionalism. In which other country would there be such confusion between the prime minister and government ministers on a matter as important as whether the navy would be leasing two frigates from France? Where else would an internationally respected scientist resign suddenly from the national agency that he had been appointed to run a few weeks earlier, after the government that appointed him undermined the agency and his role? In how many countries do political hoodlums rove the capital without fear of arrest, causing damage or occupying private and public property, including that belonging to foreign countries? Where else are people convicted of very serious crimes allowed out of prison early whereas others are treated unjustly? Where else would a government brag about exceeding its revenue targets as it imposes excessive taxes on one group so as to subsidize others without doing much to promote production?

We have come to consider dangerous situations and behavior as “normal.” “A return to normality means regaining our sovereignty within the eurozone but does not mean a return to the past. We will not repeat the mistakes that led to the crisis,” Tsipras said. One of those mistakes was the custom of saying one thing and doing another.

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