How can intelligent people behave so stupidly? If the Eurozone was trying to complete the destruction of the Greek economy while cheering on social and political instability, no-one could fault its strategy. On the assumption that those are not the goals, it is hard to find insults severe enough to do justice to the Eurozone's idiocy.
It is true that the Greeks are not blameless. The girl at the whorehouse door may be enticing; she is not forcing you to cross the threshold. "Economics" comes from Greek; there must be some modern Greeks who still understand it. Greece needs reform, which should start by banishing another Greek word, kleptocracy, from government. It needs a purge of public-sector waste and idleness. That said, you do not have to be an uncritical Keynesian to understand that austerity is not the sole answer. Greeks ought to be able to work, earn, spend, save, invest. At present, as Matthew Parris has written, Greeks can prosper everywhere except in Greece. That must be rectified. But this will require a new, realistic currency. What about Greece's Euro-denominated debts? Let us decide that the Greeks deserve one-third of the blame for borrowing so much, the Eurozone two-thirds for allowing them to do so – and find a way of adjusting Greece's liabilities accordingly. If you think that sounds too generous to the Greeks, pause for a second. They might be capable of servicing the one-third.
I suspect that something along those lines will eventually happen, but not before a further period of chaos: the further undermining of Greek institutions; the further degradation of Greece's public ethos. It is possible to impose a technocracy upon Italy, because large numbers of Italians respect Mario Monti and despise most of their other politicians. This will not work in Greece. Signor Monti can govern because he has, de facto, a popular mandate. That is not true of his Greek counterparts, and postponing elections would only make matters worse. I would not like to be the Eurozone officials who might be responsible for overseeing the Greek government. The last time that people from Northern Europe tried to do something similar, they were called Gauleiters and they could rely on the SS for personal security. This time, they will have a more sensitive name – but where is the protection? Perhaps that would be a way of stimulating the Greek private sector, if any Greeks would agree to serve as part of the protection teams, which would need to be large. It is more likely that the average self-respecting Greek would be found among the baying mob trying to break through the police cordon to get at the offices where the visitors were cowering. Any sensible Eurozone official might decide that it was time to encourage Greece's high-tech sector, and do his business from 2,000 miles away by conference call.
"Sensible Eurozone official": that must be the oxymoron's oxymoron. But why were they able to land their continent into such a mess? There is no escaping the answer. It all comes down to history, the War and national pride. Anecdotes and personal experience can often bring history to life. There are subjects on which you think that you are reasonably informed. Then you hear a story which sets off a transmission mechanism between the brain and the blood-stream and there is quickening.
I was talking about the War to a friend who lived through it. "Not the War again" the Eurofanatics will protest, at home and overseas. "Can't you ever forget about the War? It's been over for almost 70 years". There are two answers to that. First, 70 years is not long in the life-span of a continent. Second, the War is the key to the history of the EU. Anyway, my elderly friend was remembering how he had led a victory procession through his village, because he could play the accordion. There were feelings of relief, tinged with sadness for those who had lost relatives. But, he went on, it would not be too pompous to claim that there was also a feeling that a great national purpose had been achieved: that we had all been in this together, had pulled together, could rejoice together, could take pride together.
There is one aspect of wartime history which always makes my eyes scent onions. In late 1940, Britain's position was desperate. The army had barely escaped from Dunkirk. We had only just scraped home in the Battle of Britain. In both cases, we had benefited from German mistakes. The USA was still a wide ocean away. So how could we possibly hope to win? Yet the vast mass of the British people had no doubts. It would be hard, but we would get through. We always did. Thank God, they were right. Their stolid, stoical courage and endurance and faith were vindicated. In 1945, we could give thanks for the privilege of being British. Because of that generation's efforts, we still can.
That was not true anywhere on the continent. There, the reprisals were taking place. There had been collaborators; there had been those who helped to round up Jews. Even after liberation, national life was tainted, and what of national boundaries? A fat lot of use they had been against the panzers. From this, there arises a profound divergence. We British can take pride in our history. We can feel confident in our institutions. They cannot. To us, national pride comes easily, which is why we do not often talk about it. To them, this is an edgy topic, hedged about with complexities.
Hence the attraction of the EU. With it, history could start again. The tainted garments of nationalism could be discarded. In the case of the French, it seemed even better. They could be good Europeans, while also leading Europe and thus enhancing French prestige. The impossibility of sustaining that illusion explains the current neuralgic mood among the French elite: it is not just Nicolas Sarkozy (is he part of the French elite?).
The reality is that Britain has never really joined Europe. It is true that we signed up to all sorts of stuff, but we did not mean half of it and we did not understand the other half. As Jacques Delors said a few years ago – the wisest comment ever from a Eurocrat – the British are allergic to Europe. Eventually, on the other side of the present crisis – if there is another side – we will have to renegotiate a limited but sustainable membership of some European entity "A common market" will do as the working tiltle.
In the meantime, the crisis continues, oscillating between farce and tragedy. If the Eurocrats had not cut themselves off from history in an attempt to escape from a blackened past, they would understand the fatuity and folly of treating Greece in this way. But those who cut themselves off from history cannot learn from it. Those will will not learn from history are condemned to relive it.