Democracy and the Greek crisis: Breaking Europe’s Stunned Silence

No longer does anybody in Brussels dare to resist orders from Berlin. Do we want a Europe run by decree? It’s time for debate.

The bosses discuss how to go ahead. Foto: ap

Some events are so severe one cannot bear them out for long. The Euro Summit of July 12 and 13 was such an event. In one oppressive and feverish overnight meeting, Chancellor Angela Merkel and Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble left their mark not only on Greece, but on the whole euro zone. Threatening to „temporarily“ exclude Athens from the euro, they imposed the toughest conditions in the history of the euro crisis; a history already laden with pressuring and dictates.

Since then, changes in Greece have been alarming – from a proud country that dared a defiant „ochi“, to a mindless colony of the resurrected troika. It’s not only Greece; the whole of Europe seems to have been left paralysed. The 19 euro countries have agreed to a deal in which they themselves do not believe. The International Monetary Fund has become involved in a „rescue“ which is already known to be doomed, but which nobody dares to refuse. Europe is in shock, a leaden mortis has enveloped the euro zone.

No more clearly can this be seen than in the European Commission and its president Jean-Claude Juncker. Having stepped up to bring the EU onto a socially acceptable course for recovery, Juncker today no longer even dares to present an impact analysis for new austerity measures for Greece. The man who wanted to conduct a „political commission“, and in June presented himself as a confident mediator is today begging Berlin for approval of the new memorandum.

The Euro Group has transformed, too. Called into existence by France in order to lay the foundations for a growth-oriented „economic government“, today no political debate with this informal conglomerate is possible. Greece’s former Minister of Finance Yanis Varoufakis tried, and failed resoundingly. Under Schäuble’s uncanny direction, the Euro Group is merely a club of small shopkeepers attending to it that German „stability“ rules are complied with.

National economic findings play as negligible a role as democratic practices. On the contrary; in the Euro Group of 2015 it is good form to disregard the results of elections and referendums, and to prepare decisions based on secret „non-papers“, unavailable for public debate. With his submission prior to the Euro Summit of the „time out“ for Greece, Schäuble honed this approach to perfidious perfection.

Against this background, it is no wonder that many get the feeling that this is no longer their Europe. The southern Europeans in particular are losing faith in democracy, as no less than the employer-focused „Institut der deutschen Wirtschaft“ discovered. However, discontent is also on the rise within Germany. Even as Merkel and Schäuble celebrate record approval ratings, 56 percent of Germans think the Greek crisis has been mismanaged.

Dieser Beitrag ist die Übersetzung eines Kommentares des Brüsselkorrespondenten der taz, Eric Bonse. Deutschsprachige Version.

While the Euro Summit may have averted the largest immediate danger of a Grexit and its chaotic consequences, the most important asset up until this point – European political consensus – was broken with, for citizens as well as politicians. For the first time in EU history, Merkel and Schäuble overtly threatened a member country with expulsion. In another first, they openly defied France’s interest in keeping Greece in the euro, and refused to debate on a „Grexit“. This will bear consequences.

One need not go as far as Shahin Vallee, previous advisor to the former Council President Herman Van Rompuy. The Frenchman warned that the Greek deal could destroy the euro by undermining the trust between Germany and France. One also need not see things as bleakly as Greece’s Varoufakis, who insinuated that Schäuble’s true goal was to discipline France. It is nevertheless clear that the Euro Summit marked a rupture in Franco-German relations.

The European Commission will now need to dress for the cold. Schäuble will not be satisfied with simply reining Juncker in and deterring any „interference“ in the affairs of the creditors. Next, he wants to even curtail the responsibilities of Brussels’ authorities to monitor EU treaties and competition law through, for instance, the creation of an independent competition regulation authority. He appears to want to seize this opportunity to break up power in Brussels.

So seen, the German walkover in Greece could be simply the prelude to a much larger battle. If Berlin were to succeed in pressing Paris to the margins and weakening Brussels, then „German Europe“ will have triumphed. Nobody could then oppose Germany’s future wishes – with the exception perhaps of British Prime Minister David Cameron, whom Merkel and Schäuble still require for their power games. „Plan the Grexit, prevent the Brexit“ is the name of Schäuble’s game.

Only the next two years will tell whether that strategy pays off – the leadup to the referendum in the UK, and the presidential elections in France. Germany, too, will hold elections in 2017. The EU is therefore about to see the most important months of its history. During them, the union will decide whether it disintegrates, whether it pulls itself back together or, with seemingly no alternative, whether it will submit to the outcomes of German leadership. It is high time for debate in Europe – particularly in Germany, where the strings are being pulled.

That debate is simply not getting into gear. Following the debacle of the July Euro Summit a state of post-traumatic shock has set in not only in Brussels, but also in Berlin. A state which has stunned all reasoning into a stupor. That is too dangerous – it endows Schäuble and the apologists of German Europe a power that they do not deserve.

Translation: Hans Kellet

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Europäer aus dem Rheinland, EU-Experte wider Willen (es ist kompliziert...). Hat in Hamburg Politikwissenschaft studiert, ging danach als freier Journalist nach Paris und Brüssel. Eric Bonse betreibt den Blog „Lost in EUrope“ ( Die besten Beiträge erscheinen auch auf seinem taz-Blog

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