Jul 30 2015

The Brussels diktat: and what followed

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By Etienne Balibar, Sandro Mezzadra and Frieder Otto Wolf

Alexis Tsipras won the battle on a question of principle – the need for a new Europe – even if he lost the war that ensued. What are the implications for the Greek left and for Europe?

Does the unjust and forced ‘agreement’ between the Greek government (now facing the task of ratifying the agreement in the Vouli) and the other states in the European Union (not all of whom feel the necessity for such a sanction) mark the end of one era and the beginning of another? In many ways yes, but almost certainly not in the sense indicated to us by the ‘Summit’ report. In reality, the agreement is fundamentally unenforceable in economic, social and political terms, though it will be ‘forced through’ by a process that promises to be at least as brutal and even more divisive than the extremities we have seen over the last 5 years.

It is therefore necessary to try to understand the implications of the agreement and to discuss its consequences, avoiding all use of rhetoric but not of engagement or passion.

Alexis Tsipras 2013 In order to do so we must first look at how the negotiations unfolded (those opened by Alexis Tsipras’s return to Brussels on the back of his ‘triumph’ in the July 5 referendum – which, for good reason, has not ceased to fuel incomprehension and criticism among his supporters in Greece and abroad), and secondly we must look at what these negotiations tell us about the positioning of the various European forces.

We must define the stage that the crisis in the EU has reached (a crisis of which Greece is both the symptom and the victim) in terms of three strategic domains: firstly the debt situation and the effects of the austerity measures; secondly the division of Europe into unequal zones of prosperity and sovereignty; and finally the collapse of democratic systems and the resulting rise in populist nationalism.

But first, it is vital that we include an ‘assessment’ of the Brussels agreement: ‘as seen from Athens’ (from the Greek people’s point of view) and ‘as seen from Europe’ (which does not mean as seen from Brussels, whose institutions clearly have no awareness whatsoever of the current European climate). Continue reading

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Jul 27 2015

The UK’s EU referendum and the EU’s legitimacy crisis

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By Kirsty Hughes

“Is a UK that retreats in isolationist but somehow progressive splendour really feasible? Surely, European countries must cooperate in the face of the deep challenges and opportunities we face.”

It is a tough moment to make a positive case for the EU. The bullying treatment of Greece, based on destructive and discredited neo-liberal policies and beliefs indicates that the EU has lost its political, moral and economic compass.

Nor is this crisis of legitimacy in the EU just the product of the last few months. The impact of the global economic and financial crisis on the EU and eurozone, resulting in the euro crisis, has been sorely mishandled for the last seven years – with political, democratic and economic failings.

UK Flag Wavy A European Union that views with passivity and equanimity the catastrophically high levels of unemployment, and especially youth unemployment, that persist across several member states due to the crisis, is an EU that has lost its way and forgotten its purpose and values; it is one where the behaviour of the eurogroup countries, and the treatment of Greece as a protectorate, is poisoning the EU’s very raison d’etre.

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Jul 23 2015

Europe’s Gravest Threat: Doctrines Diverged

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By Max Hänska

Europe’s fiscal and economic crisis has revealed rifts in, what is often assumed to be a common understanding of the ‘European Project.’ Nowhere did the fact that different nations understand the ‘European Project’ quite differently come to a fore as explicitly as during 17 hour negotiations over a 3rd ESM programme for Greece—and particularly, in what different European nations view as the gravest threat to their common project.

As Euro Zone leaders negotiated through the night from July 12-13 the differences over what was at stake were laid bare. For some, including France and Italy, the possibility of any member leaving the EMU, a Grexit, put the entire ‘European Project’ at stake. Losing even one member would set this common project on a trajectory of dissolution and undermine the principle of solidarity upon which it was founded. Moreover, how would the world see the EU if it failed to assist one of its smallest and weakest members? Such views hold that there is nothing essentially sacrosanct about the constitutional framework of treaties that established the EMU—rather, if this framework is not working, then political choice must override it. In particular, if maintaining the EMU requires fiscal transfers, then so be it, treaty allowing, or not.

For others, including Germany, the constitutional framework of treaties is sacrosanct. In this view the treaty framework is the mortar that makes the ‘European Project’ of cooperation and shared sovereignty, between diverse nations, possible in the first place. It sets out the rules and procedures through which members share responsibility and take collective decisions in governing their common affairs. To those who share this view sacrificing basic principles on which the common project was founded, is too high a price for keeping Greece in the EMU. In particular it is believed that the principle that the EMU is not a transfer union, and that each member state must ultimately fund itself, must be preserved. The thinking goes that the ad hoc suspension of this framework of rules (which would be required to keep Greece in the EMU) will set the common project on a trajectory where the very principles that govern and make possible cooperation and shared sovereignty are gradually eroded.

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Jul 20 2015

Identity politics and kin-state relations from the bottom-up in Crimea and Moldova

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By Eleanor Knott

In 1991, Moldova declared itself an independent state as part of the dissolution of the Soviet Union. In 2014, the recognised Ukrainian territory of Crimea was annexed by Russia. Here, Eleanor Knott discusses identity politics and kin-state relations in Moldova and Crimea, and writes that in order to understand what ethnicity and citizenship mean in the context of people’s everyday lives, bottom–up, people-centred research is crucial, yet underutilized.

I recently contributed to a special issue, “Whither Eastern Europe? Changing Approaches and Perspectives on the Region in Political Science” which explores the disciplinary relationship between political science and Eastern Europe as an area studies region, 25 years after the collapse of Communism. In my article, I argue that political science needs to engage more with an everyday, people-centred bottom-up approach, as opposed to a top-down state-centred and institutional approach. In particular, I argue kin-state relations research, which analyses relations between states and external co-ethnic communities, has predominantly analysed these relations and tensions from the perspective of the states involved. This has overlooked the bottom-up perspective of kin-state relations, in terms of what it means to identify as a member of a kin community, i.e. a community claimed by an external (kin-)state as co-ethnic.

This article was drafted, following the fieldwork I conducted in Crimea and Moldova in 2012 and 2013, in the months preceding the height of the Euromaidan violence in Kyiv when Crimea remained an autonomous region of Ukraine. Since then, Russia’s annexation of Crimea, has unalterably shape post-Soviet politics and relations between post-Soviet states and Russia, and Russia, the EU and US. In this sense, the main argument of the article became the importance of studying bottom-up politics, engaging people who live in these contexts, not just to put people back into political science but also offer a point of reflection in a period of shifting political and geopolitical contexts.

“Moldova is (not) Romania” (Ellie Knott, Chisinau, Moldova, June 2012)

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Jul 15 2015

The defeat of left-wing populism and the dangers for democracy in Greece

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By Benjamin De Cleen

The negotiations between the Greek government and its creditors have dominated European politics in these last months to such an extent that politicians and press alike seem to have largely forgotten about the populist radical right, and certainly the Greek Golden Dawn. All eyes were focused on the unequal struggle between Greece’s creditors and the left-wing populists of Syriza (Syriza’s right-wing, conservative and nationalist coalition partner ANEL, i.e. Independent Greeks, received very little attention). Resistance to neoliberal economic policy has been beaten for now, or so it seems, even with Syriza still in power as I write this. This crisis can go in many directions. But what is clear is that the defeat of the democratic, inclusive and pro-European left-wing populist Syriza and the imposition of even harsher austerity measures on a country suffering a profound economic crisis might strengthen the radical right and perhaps also other forces that constitute a danger to democracy and stability in Greece.

After the 2014 European elections, as on numerous occasions before, populism was identified as a big threat to democracy all over Europe. The label populism was applied to parties Right and Left, from UKIP to the Front National and from Podemos to Syriza. All of them were castigated by mainstream politicians and commentators for making unreasonable and unrealistic promises to the people, for playing on the people’s emotions in times of economic crisis rather than trying to get out of the crisis, for being irrational, and, ultimately, for threatening democracy. Radical Right and radical Left were amalgamated under the label ‘populist’ and presented as part of one and the same threat to liberal democratic politics.

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Jul 13 2015

The real sins of Varoufakis: why Greece is being punished for refusing to play by the Eurogroup’s rules

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By Christopher Bickerton

Talks continued through the night in Brussels, with Eurozone leaders eventually reaching an agreement on Greece. While negotiations were always likely to be tough, the original discussions between Greece and its creditors did not break down because of an unbridgeable ideological gap, but instead reflected a reaction to the negotiating tactics pursued by the Greek government under finance minister Yanis Varoufakis. By breaching the etiquette of the Eurogroup’s decision-making process, Varoufakis generated entrenched opposition among Greece’s creditors for which the country is now being punished.

Why did the original negotiations between Greece and its creditors collapse, to a point of virtual no return, when both sides had repeatedly said they want the same thing: for Greece to stay in the euro?

The conventional wisdom is that the policy gap between the two sides was simply too great. Elected in January, the Syriza-led government sought to reverse years of austerity under the slogan of no more bailouts. Its flamboyant finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis (who has since stood down), spoke of an economic transformation in Greece, taking on the long-standing power of the country’s oligarchs. His renegotiation with the Troika was part of this broader agenda.

Yanis Varoufakis with Finland's Finance Minister Alexander Stubb, Credit: EU Council Eurozone (CC-BY-ND-NC-SA-3.0)

Yanis Varoufakis with Finland’s Finance Minister Alexander Stubb, Credit: EU Council Eurozone (CC-BY-ND-NC-SA-3.0)

Facing Greece was a German-led bloc committed to more austerity and structural reforms. Within this bloc were countries – Ireland, Portugal – that had turned to the EU for their own bailouts and had undertaken the cuts and reforms asked of them. They were implacable in their belief that Greece should do the same.

But this view cannot explain why both sides came as close as they did. The often-forgotten truth of the last few weeks is that Greece and the Troika very nearly secured a deal. From the outset, the policy differences between them were minor, largely because of Syriza’s moderate demands.

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Jul 10 2015

Is the BRICS Bank an alternative for Greece?

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By Konstantinos Myrodias and Panos Chatzinikolaou

This article concerns Greece’s potential accession to the New Development Bank established by the BRICS and examines whether BRICS Bank provides an alternative for Greece to rescue its economy in such a crucial moment of negotiations among Greece, the EU and the IMF.

Is the BRICS Bank an alternative for Greece?

Brics Over the past few weeks speculations have been circulating over Greece’s potential accession to the New Development Bank established by the BRICS-Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. Russia’s invitation to Greece to become a member of the BRICS bank comes in a delicate point for the latter, since its new leftist SYRIZA-led government is attempting to strike a deal with its European counterparts in order to avoid a potential bankruptcy that would have tremendous impact on the country and the Eurozone as a whole. Is Russia’s invitation to Greece just a mere coincidence? Have the BRICS decided to save Greece from collapsing, enhancing Eurozone’s sustainability? At a time like this, where West- Russia relations bring back Cold War memories, such an explanation seems to be a truly superficial one.

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Jul 9 2015

The Greek Referendum: Popular Verdict or Foregone Conclusion?

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By Eleftherios Antonopoulos

It is easy to blame the yes campaign but hard to account for its 38.69 per cent in a snap referendum framed as foregone conclusion

In the early morning hours of Saturday June 27, Greek TV programmes were interrupted by an address of the Prime Minister. Alexis Tsipras had announced the abrupt end of the country’s negotiations with the institutions and asked for a popular vote on the latest proposal on the negotiating table, which he framed as an “unacceptable ultimatum”. Within a couple of hours a run on bank ATMs broke out, prompting the government to impose a bank holiday on 28 June.

For political analysts a potential plebiscite that would be held in a state of financial emergency posed an extraordinary case. For the economy of this essay, three aspects deserve more explanation.

Greek referendum 2015 map

Results of the Greek bailout referendum on 5 July 2015. Percentage of No votes (CC BY-SA 4.0)

First, there are several irregularities surrounding the first referendum to be held in Greece since 1974. Hardly ever has an EU member state held a referendum allowing only a five day campaign period. Legal opinion was divided, with constitutional lawyers stressing that the Greek constitution forbids a referendum on monetary issues. The Secretary of the Council of Europe also suggested that holding a snap referendum was falling short of international standards. Most crucially, there was ambiguity from the government on the definitiveness of the decision to hold a referendum adding up to the confusion of the public, the media and opposition groups. The Greek Council of State following an appeal, only deemed the referendum constitutional on Friday the 3rd of June.

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Jul 7 2015

Grexit remains unlikely, but time is against the Greek government

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By Lorenzo Codogno

Eurozone finance ministers met today (Tuesday 7 July) to discuss the Greek debt crisis following the country’s ‘No’ vote in its bailout referendum on 5 July. While a Grexit remains unlikely, the risks have clearly increased since the referendum and the financial and economic situation in Greece may further deteriorate before a solution is in sight.

Following the ‘No’ vote in the Greek referendum, there is deep uncertainty over what the possible scenarios are now for Greece. This article addresses some of the key questions prompted by the result. Firstly, what was the referendum all about? The question was certainly not easy to interpret for the average Greek voter, but the overall message was clear. On paper, it was a vote on the creditors’ financing package. More broadly, it was a confidence vote on the Greek government and its attitude in the negotiations with creditors and towards the conditionality required on Greece to get financial support. At face value, however, it was not a referendum on the euro.

Jeroen Dijsselbloem, President of the Eurogroup, speaking before the meeting on 7 July. Credit: EU Council Eurozone (CC-BY-SA-3.0)

Countries must give up sovereignty as they enter monetary union, and it will become even truer as the Eurozone moves toward ‘ever closer integration’. Moreover, the current governance implies an incremental withdrawal of sovereignty as a country proceeds into a formal infringement procedure, implements a Memorandum of Understanding and gets financing. A country cannot impose its own rules at the expense of the others, especially if it has a very high debt versus the rest of the Eurozone.

The current debate goes far beyond the Greek situation. It goes straight to the heart of what European integration is all about, and thus it will have long-lasting implications for the future of the Eurozone. This reasoning would lead me to a long discussion, while the purpose of this commentary is to pinpoint possible near-term developments.

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Jul 5 2015

So this is how it all ends…

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By Vassilis Paipais

 

greek-debt[1]Since almost the outbreak of the Greek debt crisis in 2009, speculation began as to whether this would be a turning point announcing the end of one of the longest periods of peace, stability and democratic normality Greece ever witnessed in its near 200 years history; a period that goes by the name ‘Metapolitefsi’ (regime change). The latter term designates the period from the restoration of democracy in the summer of 1974 until…well, it seems that until now we were not sure of its end date. However, in all probability we now know -to paraphrase John Lewis Gaddis- that we are experiencing the death of a regime that promised to deliver a great deal but eventually led to Greece’s ruin and appears likely to go down in infamy, disgrace and national humiliation.

 

Things did not look so gloomy in the summer of 1974 when Constantinos Karamanlis arrived in Athens’ airport invited by the military junta in a desperate effort to avert a looming national disaster. The tragedy eventually did happen: one third of Cyprus succumbed to the Turkish invasion, with Karamanlis being unable to do much about it. The period that was inaugurated by the voting of a new constitution in 1975 marked the beginning of a new era and a new ethos in Greek politics. The Greek Communist Party (KKE) was legalised, Greek political exiles were able to return and the country set out to restore political unity, re-establish democratic rule, and heal its wounds. Despite the favourable omens, however, the new regime established by Karamanlis, suffered from constitutive deficiencies that undermined its long-term prospects and its ability to progress into a mature democracy with strong institutions, healthy fiscal practices and consensual political culture. Karamanlis himself recognising the polarised nature of Greek politics and the deeply-ingrained populist sentiment of self-victimisation pervading Greek society adopted a bifurcated strategy that revealed both his vision as well as his political Machiavellianism. On the one hand, he went to great lengths to secure the country’s accession to the EU signed in 1979. To his mind, that would ensure both democratic stability and political legitimacy for the new regime, not to mention the prospects of economic prosperity and geopolitical security that the entry to the EU promised. At the same time, however, mindful of the dynamics of Greek politics and the lack of a mature political culture, he did not refrain from the old die-hard populist practices that would become endemic in Greek politics in the years to follow. In an effort to secure absolute control on the country’s politico-economic establishment and avert the rise of populist Pasok, he nationalised Greek public service companies and inaugurated the habit of hiring party members or party favourites in sensitive public sector positions. The seeds of what would become the scourge of Greek political life, clientelism, cronyism and petty-party politics, were quite early sown.

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