March 2015        

Take it down from the mast?

Tomás Mac Síomóin

Irish representatives, along with fellow EU neo-liberals, ganged up on Greece in the recent negotiations between the elected representatives of that country and the EU. Their stance, lauded by most of the Irish media, has already made a hollow mockery of next year’s official 1916 commemoration.
     Remember: the men and women of the Easter Rising fought and died for Irish national sovereignty—that ideal in whose name the new Greek government is taking on the EU monolith. Had they known that the leaders of the state founded on their sacrifice would renege on that very ideal?
     The present EU leadership is creating a new economic order in Europe to replace meaningful national sovereignties. Thus an association of Europe’s neo-conservative parties (including the Fine Gael of “We lost the run of ourselves” Kenny), dominant now in most EU countries, encourages Germany’s unrestricted right to enforce its austericidal policies throughout the EU. This EU is thus becoming a hegemonic power that does not hesitate to condemn entire national populations to conditions bordering on slavery. And not only that of Greece, as worsening social conditions in other peripheral EU colonies (Ireland, Portugal, Spain and Italy) show abundantly.
     The case of Greece is illustrative. The present woes of that nation—25 per cent unemployment (more than 50 per cent in the case of youth), widespread abject poverty, vanishing social services, and an unmanageable national debt (176 per cent of GDP, and growing)—hold a mirror up to the bleak future that is in store for Europe’s working peoples if the current German leadership continues to set the EU’s socio-economic agenda. A corrupt Greek government, slaves to the German diktat, and to advance their personal interests, led their country into the EU and hence the present dereliction of their country.
     The former prime minister Konstantínos Karamanlís, leader of the New Democracy party (ally of Angela Merkel’s CDU), assisted by Mario Draghi, then vice-president of the notorious Goldman Sachs International, falsified his country’s accounts and hid the real deficit, with the present devastating consequences.
     Draghi, faithful servant of international capital, was catapulted into the presidency of the EU Central Bank. Poacher-turned-gamekeeper, he insists that the present Greek SYRIZA government, mandated to alleviate Greece’s unsustainable level of debt and restore the country’s ruined economy, must abide by the unsustainable repayment schedules fixed by the Troika for his old pals.
     Merkel claims that the ECB is an independent entity. But she warned that “it should avoid sending out signals that might weaken the resolve to implement reforms.”
     “Reforms” is code for austericidal measures. The “resolve” she mentions is that of Germany, not of Greece. Her warning is an order, not a suggestion, to be carried out in spite of its negative consequences for Greece.
     Thence the brutal EU paradox: the perpetrators of disaster demand to be compensated by its victims. As we know to our cost in Ireland . . .
     The plot becomes even clearer when we consider the following. Just like the war criminal Henry Kissinger berating Chileans for “irresponsibly” electing the socialist Allende government, the German minister of finance, Wolfgang “Dr Strangelove” Schäuble, said: “I pity the Greeks. They have elected an irresponsible government.” The subtext is clear: “And, by God, we’ll make them pay for their irresponsibility.”
     Thus, the cards were stacked against the SYRIZA negotiators from the start. The Irish, Portuguese and Spanish negotiators rowed in behind the German diktat, berating SYRIZA for objecting to the imposition by international capital of humiliating conditions on Greece.
     The substantive issue of Greece’s huge odious debt wasn’t even on the table. Likewise, its government had to commit itself to allowing privatisations already in process to go ahead, and make a number of other concessions.
     However, SYRIZA’s effort was by no means a total failure. According to the German economic commentator Norbert Wäring, “Athens got the promise that no self-defeating, excessive austerity would be asked of it any more, the assurance that it could devise its own economic and social policies, as long as they did not impact negatively on the interests of its partners, rather than having to execute and leave in place all the measures accepted by the former government and strongly rejected by the people. These are huge improvements for Athens.”
     Guaranteed universal health care, the stepping up of controls on fiscal evasion, the gradual introduction of a guaranteed basic income, the stabilisation of public servants’ salaries, a reduction in the number of government ministries from 16 to 10, the elimination of perks, no criminalisation of minor debtors, guaranteeing the provision of public services in already privatised utilities, the next labour reform to be made in conjunction with the OECD to incorporate the best European labour practices, along with urgent humanitarian measures to combat the effect of a growing proportion of the population that lives in absolute poverty—these were all popular gains. And the SYRIZA government has four months to consider Greece’s options, whether its future is best served by remaining in the EU, for example . . .
     Meanwhile, far from the glare of publicity that attended the negotiations between Greece and the EU and from any public scrutiny, EU politicians and functionaries negotiate in our name a new Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership between the EU and the United States. Under its terms, countries that oppose “the legitimate interests of business” would be prosecuted. National governments would no longer be able to regulate markets in the public benefit. What we now call “democratic elections” would become merely testimonial, symbolic of the good (or bad) old days of the sovereign state.
     If the dead of 1916 could dream, this would surely be their nightmare. Official celebrations of their work and sacrifice by those who betray their ideals can only be acts of the purest cynicism.

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