The Greek Debacle


Perry Anderson in Jacobin:

Five years of mass unemployment and welfare cuts later, Greek debt had merely soared still higher. Syriza won office because it promised, with much fiery rhetoric, to put an end to the submission of Greece to the rule of the troika. It would “renegotiate” the terms of the country’s wardship in Europe. How did it hope to do so? Simply by pleading for kinder treatment, and cursing when it was not forthcoming — pleas and curses alike appealing to the loftier values of Europe, to which the European Council could surely not remain deaf.

Incompatible with these outpourings, mingling supplication and imprecation, was, all too plainly from the start, any thought of desisting from the euro. There were two reasons for that. Provincial in outlook, the Syriza leadership found it difficult to make any mental distinction between membership of the EU and of the eurozone, treating exit from the one as if it were virtual expulsion from the other: the ultimate nightmare for any good European, as they held themselves to be.

They were also conscious of the fact that Greek standards of living — lubricated by low interest rates brought on by the convergence of spreads across Europe; topped up with Structural Funds — had indeed increased in the Potemkin years of Simitis, leaving warm popular memories of the euro, which did not connect subsequent miseries with it. Syriza made no attempt to explain the connection. Tspiras and his colleagues assured all who could listen that, on the contrary, there could be no question of abandoning the euro.

With this, they gave up any serious hope of bargaining with the real — not their dreamland — Europe. By 2015, the threat of a Grexit was economically much weaker than it would have been in 2010, because by now the German and French banks had been paid off with the bailout nominally going to Greece. Despite residual alarmist talk elsewhere, the German finance ministry has for some time, and with good reason, dismissed any dramatic material consequences from a Greek default.

But for the European ideology, to which all eurozone governments subscribe, the symbolic blow to the single currency — indeed, in the typical language of the day, the “European project” itself — would be grievous, a setback it was felt critical to avoid.

More here.