For the true face of the , look no further than the war now being waged on Greece by its troika of euro creditors. No people have suffered more from the eurozone crisis than the Greeks. The victim of rapacious European banks, a corrupt elite, and a half-baked, lopsided currency union, Greece has paid a pulverising price for the financial crash and eurozone meltdown.
After bailing out Europe’s banks, the European establishment handed the job of punishing Greece to the European Commission, central bank and IMF. Five years later, ravaged by a US 1930s-style depression and 25% wage cuts in the service of , the Greeks rebelled. In January they voted for the leftwing Syriza party to halt the troika-imposed programme destroying the country.
Five months on and the Syriza government is being ground down by an implacable European elite. Elected on a platform of ditching austerity while keeping the euro, the prime minister Alexis Tsipras has been forced to retreat by the Brussels moneymen and their political masters. One by one, Syriza’s red lines have been crossed, from debt cancellation to privatisation.
But the troika wants more: pension cuts, VAT increases from food to electricity, faster debt repayments. Syriza fired a warning shot by , but the crunch is coming later this month and Tsipras has warned that failure to agree a rescue package would spell “the beginning of the end of the eurozone”.
The signs are that Germany and the troika are prepared to face the Greeks down. Despite overwhelming evidence that crippling austerity has led to a mushrooming of debt that can never be repaid, the EU elite will not even hear of a realistic write-off. must pay up or its liquidity lifeline will be cut and it will be forced out of the eurozone.
What’s become clear in recent weeks is that the masters of the . From the Brussels perspective, Greece must cave and be seen to cave. Otherwise, other eurozone states that have suffered the troika treatment will get ideas. Even if the day of reckoning is postponed, Syriza must be seen to fail if the rise of other anti-austerity parties such as Spain’s Podemos is to be halted.
Tsipras has cards of his own if he wants to play them. He can trigger new elections or call a referendum. Capitulation would destroy Syriza, and Greeks are divided on whether the government should bend the knee. It could still default and leave the euro. Grexit would certainly be painful, but less so than destructive austerity without end.
It could also lead to an unravelling of the eurozone. But for large parts of southern Europe in particular, restructuring this cockeyed currency union, which has entrenched economic stagnation, is anyway essential. The Greek radicals hoped they could change . But their experience has underlined how deep is the elite’s resistance to genuine reform.
It’s not just that the rich EU states don’t want to pay for the fiscal transfers essential to make currency union work. They have given austerity and a shopworn neoliberal economic model the force of treaty in the interests of Europe’s banks and corporations. And far from bringing people together, the eurozone is driving Europeans apart.
But what’s true of the eurozone is also true of the wider European Union, where privatisation, deregulation and lack of democratic accountability have been built into successive treaties. That’s epitomised by the secret EU-US negotiations over the TTIP trade deal – a debate in the European parliament had to be called off on Wednesday because of the scale of opposition – which would .
It’s a long way from the days of former commission president Jacques Delors, when the European Union was sold to a British labour movement, punch drunk from Margaret Thatcher’s onslaught, as a “social Europe” that would deliver social and employment rights to sweeten the pill of the corporate-controlled single market.
Even some of the modest protections that were eventually delivered (the most dramatic was the guarantee of four weeks’ holiday) have since been watered down by the “free market” judgments of the European court of justice. But the corporate juggernaut has thundered on, driving the Brussels agenda.
If radical progressive change were on the cards in Britain – or any other European state, for that matter – the EU treaties enforcing free markets, privatisation and corporate privilege would be a serious obstacle. As it is, British governments have consistently used their influence in Brussels to intensify corporate “liberalisation” and protect the City interests which played such a central role in bringing the economy to its knees in the crash of 2008.
And when David Cameron kicks off his negotiations on Britain’s EU membership ahead of the planned in-out referendum, they certainly won’t be focused on democratisation, the protection of public services from private takeover, or the scope of state intervention in the economy. What he’ll be after instead are restrictions on EU migrants’ rights to claim in-work benefits, a few more treaty opt-outs and, as London mayor Boris Johnson made clear yesterday, an end to the that are actually popular in Britain.
Once a half-presentable package of regressive reforms has been assembled to appease the Tory party, it will then be put to a public vote, accompanied by a barrage of big business-led scaremongering about the economic consequences of voting no. With the entire establishment and both main opposition parties signed up to a blank cheque yes vote, there are likely to be no mainstream demands for progressive EU reform. And short of another breakdown in the eurozone, it’s hard to see such an orchestration delivering anything other than the endorsement Cameron wants.
But it’s essential that the case for radical change in Europe – and a break with its anti-democratic, corporate-controlled structures – is not abandoned to the right. The experience of Greece and other troika-blighted eurozone states has hammered home how far the EU is from the benign oasis of progressive internationalism its supporters claim.
As things stand, however, voters in Britain will next year be offered the choice of a yet more corporate-controlled EU, shorn of social protections – or . In the interests of both Britain and Europe, that needs to change, and quickly.