Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Democratic Greeks fight the German and French Bullies

Gavin Hewitt, the Europe Editor of the BBC News, has written an incisive article today about what is at stake with the Greek Prime Minister's call for a referendum on the EU austerity proposal.

He draws a sharp distinction between the PM's call that democracy play its part in the birthplace of our modern democracies, and the rush by the leaders of the major EU countries to defend diktats by those powers:
Europe's leaders often fear the people. They do not like the messiness of democracy intruding on their project. "Referendum" is a dirty word in Brussels.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has said "giving people a voice is always legitimate but the solidarity of all eurozone countries is not possible unless each one agrees to measures deemed necessary". In other words, the needs of the eurozone trump democracy.
Sarkozy had to lead with a token tribute to the legitimacy of democracy, but he quickly tried to push that concept aside to say a Deal is a deal even if the people are not consulted.

Sarkozy, Merkel and Cameron  do not like democracy applying to the lesser powers in the EU. They prefer to operate as if the principles of diplomacy that applied in the 18th and 19th centuries still applied today: the small cliques running the powerful nations  cut deals and forced them upon the smaller nations, using the economic and military force to make it so.
PM Papandreou kicks back

But the wily Greek PM has outwitted them in a way which smarts – by appealing to a higher value:
Mr Papandreou has seized the democratic high ground. It may be a tactic born out of necessity rather than belief but the truth is that the Greek people - in significant numbers - have turned against austerity in exchange for EU loans...

"We will not implement any programme by force," he said, "but only with the consent of the Greek people. "This is our democratic tradition and we demand that it is also respected abroad."
European and American financial bodies hoped that a palace revolt within the Greek cabinet would oust the PM, and everyone could relax because the little powers would once again obey the big powers. But this did not happen:

Now even within his own cabinet some regard this as a reckless gamble that has spun the eurozone back into crisis. That is why they were arguing until 3 AM. But in the end they backed him. They could have gone for elections but they judged - probably correctly - that they would lose power.

There is a vote of confidence in the government on Friday. The seats held are shown in this diagram:

The government's majority is paper thin, but the opposition is fractured.

The latest austerity program is a necessary one (tough, but unfortunately being implemented in too short a timeframe, and without any sweetener for the Greeks):

Papandreou will most likely survive the confidence vote and then the referendum battle will be on. Canadians will be watching with interest, because we have lived through referenda that have allowed the people to voice their views, and in many cases the people have given the boot to the political and social elites.

The PM will show his adroitness by framing the issue in stark – and totally realistic terms: A vote against the austerity program is a vote for Greece to leave/be ejected from the EU, no more and no less:
The likely question voters will be asked is whether they support the Brussels bailout deal. The Greek prime minister will turn it into a referendum on whether they want to stay inside the eurozone.

Polls suggest that 70% of Greeks want to keep the euro. The PM will say that a No vote will lead to default, bankruptcy and chaos. It will be a powerful argument.

He has calculated that it will box the opposition into a corner. If they vote No they will be seen to be risking Greece's place in the eurozone...

In the end, the vote will come down to choice. The Greek people must decide whether membership of the eurozone is more important than retaining control of their future. Many will see it as a healthy debate.
There is an undercurrent of concern about the way in which Sarkozy and Merkel have exercised their power in the Eurozone. They are regarded by some as bullies, simply laying down the law. Both these leaders need to take a lesson from an American president: Walk softly but carry a big stick.

So far, Sarkozy and Merkel seem to be more keen to simply wack others in the EZ with their big sticks, than to sugar coat the necessary pills.

We can expect some dramatic changes in tone from both of them in the next few weeks, as they realize that the members of the EU do have power.

The power of one veto.

I love it ...
Long live democracy!


  1. Democracy is beautiful but I fear what you might be getting when, not if, the Greeks reject the bail-out. They want to keep the Euro because it is a strong currency and it props up the completely inefficient, fraudulent, and lazy lifestyle the Greeks have been living. They are being asked to pay the price of their "Freedom 55" dreams and they won't. It's back to the Drachma and back to poverty.

    The Greeks have a choice between 20 years in prison and the firing squad and they are demanding the guns.

  2. The Greeks will most probably back the austerity measures. If you listen carefully to or read the statements in the press by those opposing the PM's call for a referendum, you will notice that most of them are furious because he is asking the citizens to put up or shut up. And most of those reports show that citizens realize they will be forced to choose between agreeing to the austerity program or leaving the EU. They dislike being put on the spot; they want their government to try to renegotiate the austerity deal, but France and Germany don't want to do so.

    However, the PM's gamble has some upside: the referendum takes place when the details are settled. This gives the PM a stronger hand in negotiating more give (re timing, a bit new money for some stimulus or increased or prolonged unemployment benefits etc) than is now on the table.

    And the French and German governments have to weigh up cutting the PM some more slack or watching their stiff rules force the first member out of the EU.

    Eventually, when the dust has settled, Greece will stay in the EU and Merkel and Sarkozy would have been taught a salutary lesson about dealing with the smaller members of the EZ.


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