Politics

The Most Recent Greek Paradox: The country’s sole ally in Europe? Angela Merkel.
 A Green Jaunt through the Tsipras Government

I was there, as co-president of the European Green Party, along with Mar Garcia, Secretary General of the European Green Party, Vula Tsetsi, Secretary General of the Green Parliamentary Group at the European Parliament, and Gwendoline Delbos-Cortfield, member of the Committee of the European Greens and member of the Rhone Alpes Council.

We arrived in Athens on a sunny Monday. The purpose of our trip was to better understand the inner workings of the newly elected Greek government, and to see how the Greek Greens were faring as junior partner in the Syriza government. It is the first time that the Greek Greens are part of a governing coalition: Giannis Tsironis has become vice minister for the Environment as part of the very important Ministry for Reconstruction, Environment and Energy, which is held by Syriza’s leftist hardliner Panagiotis Lafazanis.
 Like their Mediterranean counterparts, the Greek Greens are not doing very well. Following a brief grace period in 2009 – during which they were able to send a member to the European Parliament – the party is now divided in three, armed against each other. That notwithstanding the government has clearly shown its interest in the Green alliance, especially the European Greens. This was demonstrated by the fact, that we were given meetings with six ministers in two days, including the formidable finance minister Yanis Varoufakis. This was unexpected, to say the least, considering how turbulent and tense things were between Brussels and Athens, and within the government, while we were there.

Of course none of us thought for a moment that we would be able to fully understand the current Greek situation in less than two days. But the Greens have been fighting the policy of “austerity über alles” with tones and content that is quite different from the alternative proposals that are being made by the radical left, and which is more often than not unable to choose a decisive change in tack from failed austerity policies (bla-bla aside), thereby becoming wishy-washy and without any vision for the European debate. For the time being this has not served us well, as we have been stuck between easy left demagogy and the socialist indolent, in either case they are both much stronger than us.

Never enough time

I remain convinced that European federalism founded on a Green transformation of economic production and of society is in the long run a winning option. The match currently being played out in Greece could mark the beginning of the end of the European project, or the chance to salvage the entire thing, not only from a financial standpoint. One thing is certain: fighting climate change and the Green New Deal will not be possible without a strong and united Europe!

One word comes up time and again in our meetings with the various ministers: time.

There is never enough of it and no extra is ever granted. It is like a noose around a neck. We get the same simple message from everyone, including the Minister of Finance, Varoufakis, who – like the images of him printed in the newspapers and magazines – is ever cool and determined. From day one, Greece and the Eurogroup have been locked in a game of battleship on several levels. The Ministers of Finance, E.U. and national civil servants, and the Greek government all know that the best outcome would be to find an agreement on what is essentially peanuts (a couple billion euros by the end of April to avert a Grexit is not much, right?). In reality the Europeans intend to concede zero politically to the Syriza government, for internal political reasons: this crisis has a victim and it is the common practice of National governments and of the Commission to think and act “European,” in a suicide march towards the renationalization of everything, or nearly everything. Even the old standby of unum castigabis, centum emendabis is very much present.

Then there is something that the Greens denounced in a well-known speech by Dany Cohn Bendit to the European Parliament in 2010 [1]: it is completely unreasonable to believe that in just two months time, a new government can put in to place an organized and overarching plan for breaking down vested interests and entrenched powers with the thick blade of the European knife at their throat.

Now, while it is true that two months are scarcely enough to revolutionize things and it is difficult to change a country, it is equally true that not everything that feeds into the almost chivalrous image that Tsipras’s European proponents give of him and of his government are actually a reflection of a new “direction”.

Mutually Assured Destruction

Meanwhile, from Athens, the rigid bureaucratic attitude of a good part of the Eurogroup and of the European Commission appears to be more of a political stare down and a sort of absurd game the risky result of which might be MAD (Mutual Assured Destruction) than a real discussion on concrete measures to be adopted by good faith lenders and borrowers.

The discussion on what will be included in a program looks more like a game of cat and mouse, with cat and mouse switching roles continually. We are all on the same teetering boat. I think there is a real doubt as to whether the two sides have the actual ability to define possible thoughtful measures. I think the thought exists that we’ve moved into a phase of stare down with a hefty dose of “testosterone” and reciprocal aversion. This has been shown by the fact that European civil servants are essentially holed up at Caravel Hotel and that on April Fool’s Day the most common joke was that Varoufakis had announced that, were negotiations with the Eurogroup to collapse, Greece would adopt the Bitcoin.

A further proof of this reciprocal aversion came in the form of the very tepid and even blasé reaction to the announcement of a new plan, which takes on board some privatization [2] but does not require cuts to pensions. The reaction likely resulted from the thinking that this is political jockeying and that it can wait a few days – but that is by no means a certainty.

In any case, is it reasonable, in a context of an administration that was brought to its knees by years of misgovernment and six years of austerity, to expect a perfect reform plan in just two months from a government with intentions to make a clean break with the past?

To be fair, which current government in power has had an “impeccable” government plan in place after just a few weeks? Some of our most candid interlocutors have told us that Council of Ministers’ meetings are not even being held regularly. Each minister is just keeping the nose to the grindstone, with a good dose of fear.

Raising the stakes

Of course there is the prospect of failure. Most think that it is impossible for the current Greek government to succeed. New Greek policies might behave like a ball being dropped distractedly in a porcelain shop, the person who drops it, by shear incompetence or superficiality, wreaking unspeakable havoc. It does not take us long to understand that members of the Tsipras government, in the name of urgent measures, are preparing to make some very negative decisions, that will really raise the stakes on the country’s recovery.

There are many examples: from those running off to Brussels to secure funds to build new 5 star hotels[3], to those who advocate for continued environmental deregulation[4], to those at Lafazanis’s Ministry for Reconstruction and Energy who tell us with a sweet smile that more than a billion euros must be spent to build a new coal plant, that an agreement is needed with the Russians for gas and oil drilling, that gold mining in a tourist area should be undertaken, wind energy should be used sparingly so as not to depend on the Germans too much (what’s more, renewables are so expensive), and that other amenities that offer nothing are needed.

Dangerous alliance

And we haven’t even made mention of the dangerous alliance with Anel and its controversial leader, which was entered into, as they say here, with the idea of catching the strong conservative base, whereby swaying support away from Samaras. Of course, there have been statements and actions that have gone along, which have had a negative impact both inside and outside the country. Intellectuals and the opposition have already sounded the alarm of dangerous nationalism and even new forms of connivance with old power.

With all of this having been said, what credibility and faith can we have in bureaucrats (politicians), who write ludicrous things like, for example, that measures in favor of the homeless that have been voted unanimously by an elected parliament are “unilateral measures” that run counter to agreements with the Eurogroup? Are the people making these statements really members of the European civil service that is meant to represent our common interests? And does Pier Carlo Padoan, the Italian minster for Economy and Finances, who also represents me, really see things this way? The sad reality that we see head on in Athens is that yes, Greece has limits and weaknesses, nonetheless, the national governments and the European Commission have no intention of changing tack. Moreover, the Juncker Commission, with the exception of a few attempts at moral suasion of the President, has been reduced to a simple Secretariat of, not so much the European Council, but of the Eurogroup a body which was not even provided for in the treaties.

So, surprisingly enough, given the general indolence of civil servants and governments alike (obtuse cries full of prejudice from the Nordics, the inconclusiveness of the French, the intransigence of the Germans, the Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy – who, for fear of Podemos, is worse than the Nordic politicians –, Italian Prime minster Matteo Renzi who is working discreetly behind the scenes, but who has not been able to change much) even to Athens the only possible savior seems to be the one and only Angela Merkel.

She’s the only one who, when all is said and done, seems to treat Tsipras as a peer. The only one who seems to be conscious of risks and at the same time able to actually be able to take the measures to effectively act, despite the catastrophic errors made by her and those who thought they were speaking and acting on her behalf. This perception of things – be it true or false – is only in part surprising. It is not much of a consolation because it is by no means insurance against future disasters. It is however the cheerless admission that, in the vacuum of right and left in the Europe of recovery, words and platforms are just not enough.

Either we roll up our shirt sleeves and find the real consensus and strength that we need to change course, or otherwise, we will have to count solely on the wisdom of those who hold power, and who have no intention of giving that power up.

 

References

[1] Cohn-Bendit, Daniel “Vous êtes tous fous!” May 2010 –https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AhMTc0h5JZM

[2] http://www.theguardian.com/business/live/2015/apr/01/greece-bailout-deal-eurozone-officials-pmi- growth#block-551c1da4e4b08caf50c1ea06

[3] Even if Minister Stathanakis tells me discreetly that that part has been scrapped prior to planning.

[4] http://www.wwf.gr/crisis-watch/crisis-watch/economy-development/11-economy-development/environmental-rescue- package-in-the-hands-of-the-new-greek-government

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