Elections in France and Greece have left those countries in very different positions. Europe, in all of our splendid diversity, can only look on and wonder which situation most accurately presages our fate.
France has given François Hollande a mandate to demand additions — or changes if you prefer — to the EU fiscal treaty to try to encourage growth and job creation. The absence of these measures is the focus of considerable and appropriate opposition. Their omission is a central plank in the campaign in Ireland to have the required constitutional amendment rejected on May 31. Inclusion of such measures would be a game changer and, even more importantly, it would reassert that the EU represents far more than just economic union. It would begin to re-establish the primacy of the great, peace-sustaining European social project over even the most important number crunching. It might even begin the overdue reassertion of governments’ control of the destructive excesses of tooth-and-claw markets.
Greece has had its election but the consequences are far from clear other than to say the country is in such a precarious position that German and European authorities have warned that unless a coalition that supports the EU/IMF bailout is formed then the country faces bankruptcy and all of the mayhem that would follow.
This is the place, the one between a very heavy rock and a very hard place, that anyone committed to democracy hopes to avoid. The Greek electorate has spoken but it seems the country’s financiers — EU and private — want to be certain their interests are protected. The realpolitik suggests that if the Greeks decide to reject those conditions then they will be left to rely on their own resources. Because of corruption, indifference to rotten politicians, and a culture of non-compliance with tax codes Greece has spectacularly, just like Ireland, failed to live within its means for decades. Already, parts of Athens, one of the seats of European civilisation, are described as more Third World than European. Withdrawal of EU/IMF support would accelerate that decline into a new Dark Ages. It would also raise fears about contagion across Europe again.
The French vote ends the Merkel/Sarkozy/austerity hegemony and makes yesterday’s reassertion by Taoiseach Enda Kenny that the May 31 vote will not be deferred very difficult to understand. Surely it would be better to support French calls for a positive counterbalance to unavoidable financial discipline by deferring any decision on the treaty until it is so altered?
There is a sense that this is a decisive moment for the EU and the tottering euro. The stakes are too high to allow political hubris muddy the waters by sticking to an arbitrary polling date.
We should defer the vote, vigorously support France’s humane demands or run the risk of joining Greece at the very edge of the abyss, dragged there by the extremists of the right and the left.
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