Can Europe Make It?

Young and European? We are Greece, we are the 99%

When will a true European democracy based on the people, not the states, finally emerge?

Fabien Berger
10 July 2015
Actors hold Philosophical Euro 2012 Greece versus Germany match in Athens.

Actors hold Philosophical Euro 2012 Greece versus Germany match in Athens. Demotix/ Matteo Pellegrinuzzi. All rights reserved.Today, there are multiple similarities between a young German and a young Greek: they both must pay off an economic, social and ecological debt which is global and multifaceted. The situation is the same for all young people in Europe. Quoting the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ movement, it is actually “99%” of young Europeans who can say “no”, “nein”, “non”, “oxi” to the neoliberal vision of Europe, which is based only on the market laws and regulations imposed by the “1%” of conservative Europeans. And that’s exactly what the people of Greece did on Sunday July 5 during a referendum proposed by the Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, when they voted against the measures imposed on their country by global and European financial institutions.

Nobody can really predict the consequences of this vote on the future of Greece in the Eurozone, despite a tremendous quantity of preachy articles. What we can say is that the Greek ‘no’ not only rejects the propositions for a ‘reforms for cash’ agreement made by the European Commission, the European Central Bank (ECB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), together called the ‘Troïka’, but it also means that the people in Greece are questioning the entire current European intergovernmental system. Such a technocratic model has been built without the agreement of the people of Europe and, most of all, without its youth, which is turning away from voting and public debate.

Already in 2005, the top-down vision of the European Union (EU) was questioned when the treaty for a European Constitution was rejected by referendums in France and the Netherlands. But such democratic expression has only been possible at the national level and it is actually the intergovernmental structure of the EU itself that counterposed in reductive terms, the “yes” of Luxembourg and Spain over and against the “no” of France and the Netherlands. Ten years later, Greece’s people have also come to disagree with the vision of Europe imposed by Brussels. This 10-year period has seen a growing misunderstanding of EU mechanisms, which can no longer be decrypted by European people. This is slowly undermining democracy and political stability in Europe. When will a true European democracy based on the people, not the states, finally emerge?

Even though some politicians (often reported on in the media) tend to oversimplify the question asked in the referendum to a simplistic opposition “for or against the EU”, the vote in Greece last week shows, once again, that the current European institutions are failing to bring forward a new political vision for the future of the EU. The current economic approach of the economists from the Troïka, including a constant and limitless demand for growth, has never been so far from the social and democratic expectations of European people. But are we ready to give up on the European project, which is, above all, a project of peace, and leave it to accountants obsessed with irrelevant indicators such as GDP?

The Greek debt is an accounting problem that requires accounting solutions. Such solutions have already been applied in the past when German debt was reduced up to 60% by its creditors, mostly the US, in the London Debt Agreement, signed February 27, in 1953. Unfortunately, the current creditors of Greek debt (mostly other Eurozone states, the ECB and IMF) cannot rely on a strong and stable period of economic growth in the region (unlike the US in the 50’s). Today, Greek people, instead of developing their country, bear the cost of this systemic debt and have to live under constraining economic measures in order to repay it.

Debt recognition is absolutely necessary and the institutions in Greece must adapt to balance the public budget. However, in the current low-or-no growth economic situation in Europe, how can a young Greek build a future when all his financial capacities are always reevaluated by creditors in other countries, at the mercy of the mood of economists who congratulate themselves on each micro-point of growth?

In addition, modernizing the state in Greece should be done along with the modernization of other states in Europe and the European institutions as well. The current fiscal competition between member states is fratricide, especially when some of them even facilitate tax evasion! Once again, the young Greeks, Germans, French, Italians, Spanish, Portuguese…  those “99%” who are committed to social justice and democracy have more incentive to unite beyond national borders in order to reject current European institutions that are not only no longer representative but actively protect the interest of the “1%”.

Europe is far more than a free trade zone. Otherwise, it would make more sense for Greece to align itself with Russia or China instead of its own continent. The European project is above all political and cultural. It has been shaped by the last decades but it is anchored in thousands of years of common history. This project can and must be continued.

But it can no longer rely on a bureaucratic institution with mechanisms that are incomprehensible for most of the European population. The construction of the EU is still not complete and the way ahead of us is long: citizenship and immigration, energy and pollution, liberty and security/defense, consumption and resources … this requires far more than the current negotiations over Greek debt, which are only effective for maintaining the neoliberal vision of the EU, an approach that manifestly not only benefits too few European people but also undermines political stability in Europe, threatening peace in the region.

Youth in Europe, thanks to free circulation in the Schengen area as well as university exchange programmes like ERASMUS, can pave the way for a true European solidarity. The construction of Europe and its democratic values will not happen in a think tank or a commission in Brussels, but in the streets with its people.

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