Alexis Tsipras, the Greek Prime Minister, is rumoured to be on his way to Brussels, apparently to seek a last-minute deal on Greece’s debt. If so, it will be interesting to see which side buckles more – the Greeks, undergoing the chaos of capital controls, or the creditors, who are currently finding out exactly the meaning of the old J. Paul Getty quote that “If you owe the bank $100 that’s your problem. If you owe the bank $100 million, that’s the bank’s problem.”
Either way, deal or no deal, the Greek crisis is an economic, political and above all human disaster. The race is therefore on to allot the blame – was this brought on by socialism or the mania of EU integration at all costs?
The former – pursued by Greek governing parties of all stripes – is undoubtedly a root cause of the crisis. For years, politicians in Athens have promised ludicrous subsidies and spending levels, protected unaffordable welfare and public sector perks, and contorted the economy with bad regulation. Also for years, the Greek people enthusiastically voted for such an approach, despite the fact that it was obviously too good to be true. No-one wanted to admit that the Emperor’s privates were hanging out all over the place. Eventually, the authorities exceeded even their own standards of foolishness by submitting an application to join the Euro which, at best, rested on massaged figures in order to meet the economic criteria for entry. Syriza is just the latest chapter in the annals of disastrous Greek socialist government – they are the final expression of a ruling class and an electorate which have constantly opted for jam today, with no thought for the consequences.
But Eurofederalism is clearly to blame, too. After all, the Greek Government might have mismanaged the economy, and then submitted an inaccurate application to join the Euro, but that didn’t mean Brussels had to approve Greece joining the Single Currency. That they did so despite the obvious problems, and despite the economic rules they themselves set, was a very public demonstration of their project’s real nature – that it is driven by an ideological obsession with building a country called Europe, and that all the rhetoric about economic good sense is merely lipstick smeared on the face of the gorilla.
The original warnings of eurosceptics – that the economies of the EU are too divergent to function well on one currency, that it is important for a nation to control its own interest rates, and that Euro membership would mean abandoning democratic control of one’s own fiscal policy - were pooh-poohed at the time (including by various people who are now campaigning for an In vote in the UK referendum), but they have now been illustrated all too vividly in the suffering of the Greek people.
Those who like the EU project are rushing to blame the irresponsible socialism of Greece and the Greeks for this crisis. Those who dislike the EU project - and others who want to defend the viability of socialism – are rushing to blame the integration-obsessed elites who wield power in Brussels and Strasbourg. The truth is that both are right – neither socialism nor EU integration is good for you, and in combination they are downright poisonous.