Either result in the referendum meant Greece would suffer. Even if substantial debts are now written off (by the Eurozone or the IMF), or if they reintroduce and devalue a new Drachma, or they take a ‘holiday’ from the Eurozone, or whatever the response to referendum is, the economic carnage will not end anytime soon. In terms of its economic fundamentals, Greece is still in serious trouble, and it is now run by the equivalent of Jeremy Corbyn and Russell Brand. The human suffering which is the oft-overlooked heart of this crisis is far from over.
That also means the EU carnage will continue. While eurosceptics can’t take any pleasure from the suffering of individual Greeks, we can justifiably feel differently about the very public angst of Juncker et al. The Eurocrats who have so badly mismanaged the whole of Greece’s membership of the Euro continue to fail to get their heads round the idea that “their people” don’t accept their medicine. These are powerful, rich people who are unable to conceive of the idea that less EU integration might be good, popular or feasible. In the UK, there will be plenty of people who look at what is going on in the EU as evidence of its failure as an idea.
Tspiras clearly wants a deal – but Southern Europe could be his problem. We know that the Germans are deeply suspicious of agreeing a compromise with Syriza, whose entire popularity is built on the idea of not honouring agreements. But the sacking of Yanis Varoufakis this morning is effectively Tsipras’ blood sacrifice to them, to demonstrate his willingness to be flexible. I wonder, though, if it comes to the point of Germany considering special treatment for Greece, how will Spain, Portugal and Italy react? After all, they’ve taken the pain to pay their dues, and they are not free of problems themselves (look at their youth unemployment rates: Spain – 49.3 per cent; Portugal – 33 per cent; Italy – 41.5 per cent). Will they accept Greece being allowed to ditch some of its responsibilities – and how will they sell such a deal to their own voters? Success for Syriza would be an inspiration to people like Podemos in Spain.
This is another blow for British Euro-enthusiasts. Most of those who are limbering up to lead an In campaign in a British referendum have a distinctly weak track record on the question of the Euro. This video from Business For Britain reminds us who some of them are and what they said then. Only last week, Richard Branson told Andrew Marr he wishes we were in the Euro right now. They cannot be allowed to forget that when they appear to share their wisdom on our EU membership.
We’re witnessing a rebirth of leftwing euroscepticism. “Where are all the leftwing eurosceptics?” I asked in The Guardian about 18 months ago. From a movement that once vigorously argued for national democracy, albeit for that democracy to be used to pursue policies we might dislike, the last 30 years have seen the left captivated by the idea of pursuing their goals undemocratically through the EU institutions. It was a dirty trade off to make. This crisis (along with the debate over TTIP) has generated what looks like the stirring of a reborn suspicion of undemocratic EU practices on the Left. That’s interesting, but it might not be entirely helpful – some of the people involved are undoubtedly loony.
Beware ‘In’ campaigners trying to take advantage of the Greek crisis. If Greece does leave the Euro – by choice or at the insistence of the other members – then expect a swift scramble to try to draw a false equivalence between Grexit from the Single Currency and Brexit from the EU. “Europe will be forged in crises,” said Jean Monnet, the architect of the EU project, and its advocates are enthusiastic advocates of the theory. Greece is bankrupt, over-regulated and plagued by mass tax evasion, while Britain is the jobs powerhouse of Europe, still more free market than most of its neighbours and generally law-abiding, but don’t expect that to stop some trying to suggest that a Grexit would be identical to a Brexit.
This could produce Cameron’s big opportunity. As we have repeatedly argued, there is zero chance of meaningful and lasting EU renegotiation without embedding it through treaty change. The Prime Minister used to say the same thing. Cameron recently accepted that treat change was unlikely, so he altered his position, requiring a not-very-coherent ‘irreversible lock‘ rather than full treaty change to guarantee any reforms he might secure. It’s not a great place to be. But, like the sudden change in attitudes to Maastricht brought on by the Danish referendum, perhaps the Greek vote could change the prospects for Cameron’s renegotiation. They may demand treaty changes themselves as part of a deal with the Eurozone. The EU’s leaders would be desperate to avoid such a step, as it would mean referenda in France, Holland, Ireland and elsewhere, but it cannot be ruled out given what they have been willing to go through for Greece thus far. If the treaties are opened to try to keep the Eurozone together, then Cameron’s consent would be required to secure unanimous agreement on whatever changes were made. That would hand him a trump card – and the domestic pressure on him to play it would be vast.