Sunday 6 November 2011

The Greek crisis of November 2011


It seems to have been one miniseries after another for the last fifteen years since O.J. Simpson (why did anyone outside the US follow that one?) and Monica Lewinsky (the innocent news stories of the peaceful 1990s) to the horrors of September 11th and, much more frightening, Lehmann Bros. This year brought us the murders of Osama and Gaddafi. And now the Greek crisis and the Greek referendum that never was but which might have destroyed the world. No novelist would dare invent any of it.

When I was growing up I priggishly thought my era boring. It wasn't (the Iranian revolution, the invasion of Afghanistan, Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher boring, not to mention further back Idi Amin?) and it is  far too exciting nowadays, even without the Cold War. Especially without the Cold War which was not very exciting, even for those suffering under Communism. Truly our age deserves the name  Hobsbawm called the Cold War era: The Age of Anxiety. (How very much less anxious everyone was in the 1970s, oblivious to health and safety risks, not worried about getting on, able to think about child molesters without blind panic, unpanicked by the hydrogen bomb.)
If  the Greeks stay in the Euro the result is deep depression for Greece for years caused by debt and an overvalued currency. If they left the Euro their new drachma would mean a huge devaluation, the collapse of the Greek banking system and great social unrest. What a terrible hubristic mistake the Euro was. The EU can never compete with the US as a global power and can never be democratic - these are two a priori design faults, but these can be tolerated by electorates more interested in money than individual or national freedom. The Euro was a completely unnecessary mistake.

The typo in the RBS note Thursday on the Greek referendum seemed prescient - "We thus view this as a major negative for Greece and the rest of the momentary union".

Stephanie Flanders of the usually Europhile BBC is always very good. She is also the daughter of the great Michael Flanders of blessed memory. She said on Friday:

"It's a bit rich for France and Germany to talk about Greece holding the rest of Europe to ransom, when the eurozone is in the process of doing the same to the global economy. And with the rest of the G20 not in a position to play the kind of hard ball with France and Germany that Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Nicolas Sarkozy played with the Greek prime minister on Wednesday night."

Quite. That meeting no doubt was what in the language of diplomacy is called a free and frank discussion.

But does anyone have a solution to the Euro crisis - the Eurosceptics or the federalists or the ones who just want to keep the show on the road? I think the UK should probably leave the EU and possibly (though this will not happen) Greece be expelled but what solution is there for the rest of the EU? The break up of the EU would be bad and the success of the European project would be worse. Neither of these outcomes looks particularly likely but years of relative economic decline, falling birthrates and mass immigration will mean very soon the world of European cultural hegemony will seem a distant quaint memory like pre-1914 Europe does now.

Interesting to read what Matthew Parris wrote a couple of days ago:

"Our Tory euro-rebel MPs are wide of the mark: Brussels is not the cause of our economic woes. Brussels, too, is wide of the mark: the irrationality of the international money markets is not the cause of those woes either.

"As our strange times unfold, more and more do I believe that the story of the politics and economics of the Western world has become the story of evasion. We in the West are looking for escape routes from the obvious, looking for someone to blame, something to postpone the unavoidable. We look away from what stares us in the face: the imperium of the West is over, never to return. Our predominance is gone. Our inheritance is diminished. We are being humbled, and will not be raised up again."

Europe's problems are we are spending too much money and not having enough children,  no longer believe in our religion or our civilisation and that our continent will soon be ruled by strangers. 

The true believers in the Euro project believe that without the euro the EU will fall apart and without the EU Europe will be embroilled in wars. Noether is remotely likely and they proceed from the premise that the EU kept the peace in Europe since 1945 which is not true. The Cold War and NATO kept the peace in Europe, as I always knew at the time, and so did prosperity and free trade agreements. No developed countries around the world have been involved in wars with one another since 1945. Japan and Taiwan have not gone to war.

The EU is a great achievement but it has two insoluble and probably fatal problems: the Euro, which might have been a good idea confined to France, Germany and Benelux, and the democratic deficit. 

In many ways the European project was a top down Leninist project and like Leninism it possibly sounded good in theory (or not) but took no account of human realities or the importance of nations. The USSR fell apart in the end not because of economic failure - the Belarus regime presides successfully over economic failure - but because the subject peoples wanted to leave. Communism  ignored the importance of nations and ethnic groups and this was perhaps its biggest mistake. Which is why working class patriots in East Germany Hungary Azerbaijan  etc died fighting the worker's state. Romania with her national communism a slightly different case of course. Ceausescu was not considered a Russian stooge.

(Had Stalin's constitution not asserted that republics were free to leave the USSR might still be there, albeit probably reduced to its Slav core. Is he a patriot for me asked Francis Joseph when someone was described to him as a patriot. The citizens of the republics were patriotic for their republics rather than the USSR and no one was interested in the international working class.)

There is and can be nothing democratic about the EU except that democratically elected national legislatures rubber stamp what is agreed by groups of civil servants or ministers and ministers are ultimately responsible to their electorates but electorates have very little freedom now. There is nothing democratic because Europe does not have a demos. 

Democracy is only possible if you have a sense of community, a demos, and this can happen with a new country but not with a group of ancient countries. It just cannot - even if it were desirable. A shame that we do not have a democratic Austria Hungary but that is gone and its going was almost inevitable in an age of mass democracy and newspapers. A federal Europe would considerably less democratic than late Hapsburg Austria (which had universal suffrage unlike Hungary and started the First World War). 

The solution for the democratic deficit in the EU is more democracy, more referendums, more subsidiarity, more diversity and less international law. That would mean a common market not a federation, not the EU. 

Instead very corrupt recently Communist countries are sending ex-Communist commissioners (I almost accidentally wrote Commissars but that would be a cheap joke) to  make laws for Western Europe. 

John Stuart Mill - no conservative - said something true which applies to the EU as well as to the multiracial societies of Western Europe:

"Among a people without fellow-feeling, especially if they read and speak different languages, the united public opinion, necessary to the working of representative government, cannot exist."

There are many arguments in favour of the EU but those who make them should recognise that it can never be democratic. Until we have a single European country -  at the Greek calends. 

P.S. There are more Porsche Cayennes registered in Greece than taxpayers declaring an income of EUR 50,000 euros or more, according to research by Professor Herakles Polemarchakis, former head of the Greek prime minister’s economic department. It would be funny were it not very unfunny indeed.

Had the referendum been called there is no reason to suppose the Greeks would have voted for austerity and by implication the euro. That’s the trouble with referendums. Electorates often get the answers wrong. Had the Greeks voted for austerity it would have been in order to remain in the EU which gave them the subsidies and cheap credit which have been fatal to them. But had they voted against,  maybe they would have not have bene wrong at that, either for Greece or for Europe.  We shan’t know.

No comments:

Post a Comment