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Saturday, August 19, 2017
In this column, Roberto Savio, founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News, writes that what lies behind the recent convoluted negotiations over Greek debt is nothing other than a dramatic demonstration that Europe is no longer about solidarity, which was the original European dream, but all about fiscal and monetary considerations.
SAN SALVADOR, Aug 1 2015 (IPS) - In recommendations to German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the end of July, the German Council of Economic Experts outlined how a weak member country could leave the Eurozone and called for strengthening the European monetary union.
German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble wants Greece out because he does not believe that it will ever be able to refund the loans it has received so far, and because he thinks it is question of principle to be strict. In an interview with Der Spiegel a few days after the historical date of Jul. 13, at the end of negotiations on Greece, he said: “My grandmother used to say: benevolence comes before dissoluteness.”
Explaining the recommendations of the Council of Economic Experts, however, its chairman Christoph M. Schmidt expressed another opinion. “To ensure the cohesion of monetary union, we have to recognise that voters in creditor countries are not prepared to finance debtor countries permanently … A permanently uncooperative member state should not be able to threaten the existence of the euro.”
This is the best illustration of Germany’s Europe. Any country which does not fit into the German scenario will have to quit. Europe is no longer a question of solidarity, it is all about fiscal and monetary considerations.
Germany now says that federalism has exceptions – whenever a member of the Eurozone is perceived to be challenging the rules of the monetary union, it will be subject to complete annihilation of its state sovereignty and national democracy. This is the kind of federalism that Germany has now proclaimed.
This German position on its vision of Europe, where political and ideal considerations are no longer the basis of the European project, has triggered a strong response from a normally obedient France.
President François Hollande, who appears to have suddenly woken up, has come out with a call to reinforce European integration through the establishment of a “Eurozone government”, which run in the opposite direction from that of Berlin.
Germany will of course go ahead and pursue its own course, but the Paris-Berlin axis which was conceived as the fulcrum of European integration has now been seriously weakened after Germany’s imposed agreement on Greece on Jul. 13. So we have now a major realignment.
France has been the country which has always blocked any substantial progress on European integration, by continually voting against any radical step towards integration in order to preserve as much of its national sovereignty as possible.
Now it is Germany which is intent on changing the course of integration, from a political project to a fixed exchange monetary system based on creditor countries – a system in which some democracies are more equal than others.
Schäuble has been reported as expressing concern over the European Commission’s increased political role, interfering in political issues for which it has no mandate. And it is a stark fact that the Jul. 13 Brussels agreement has sought to remove politics and discretion from the functioning of the monetary union, an idea that has long been very dear to the French, and now are the French who want more European integration as protection from a German Europe.
We should all realise that the idea of Europe as a political project, based on solidarity and mutual support, is on the wane.
Monetary union is no longer just a step towards a democratic political union, as Helmut Kohl and François Mitterand sought at the reunification of Germany, and the creation of the Euro.
We are, in fact, going back to a more toxic version of the old exchange-rate mechanism of the 1990s that left countries trapped in a mechanism which worked primarily for Germany, and which led to the exit of the British pound and the temporary exit of the Italian lira.
But the euro, as Nobel laureate in economics Paul Krugman says, “has turned into a Roach Motel, a trap that’s hard to escape.” Once you’re in, you cannot get out, and you have to accept the diktat of the creditors.
Another Nobel laureate in economics, Joseph Stigliz, who was Chief Economist of the World Bank, says that the current European policy of austerity at any cost, is like going back to a “19th century debtors’ prison. Just as imprisoned debtors could not make the income to repay, the deepening depression in Greece will make it less and less able to repay.”
Of course, what is never said openly (except by Stigliz) is that in the Greek bailout one central reason for the extremism of the new package of conditions was to teach a lessons to a radical left-wing party, Syriza, and to the Greek people who had had the audacity to reject the calls from European leaders to vote against that party.
It is not by chance that countries like Poland, which were asking to be admitted to the Eurozone, have withdrawn their applications. The euro has become a rallying political issue, with parties from all over Europe asking to withdraw. It has become the first line of action for those who oppose European integration.
Until now, the answer of European governments has been that withdrawal is impossible under the European constitution. But now that the German Council of Economic Experts has come out with a concrete proposal on how to do that, that line of defence is crumbling.
According to many analysts, Angela Merkel is playing with fire. Germany cannot remain a credible leader of a coalition of Northern and Eastern European countries and ignore the realities and needs of Southern Europe. This is unsustainable, even in the medium term.
Meanwhile, the world goes on. Within seven years India will have overtaken China as the most populous country in the world, while within a few decades Nigeria will have a larger population than the United States.
And Europe? Europe will have become the continent with most old people and lower productivity, and will have to face its four horses of the apocalypse:
We can safely bet that those negotiations, which will be based purely on economic issues, will be the kiss of death for the original European dream. (END/COLUMNIST SERVICE)
Edited by Phil Harris
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service.
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