I love Europe. I am a deep Europhile. I made the decision when I was about 12 to not be a French person born in the region of Versailles, rather a European born in the country of France. There are many things I strongly disagree with when it comes to how the European Union is evolving and whence it is going but I do believe in the union.
But right now, it is facing a test that could well undermine my faith in it and its future altogether: Greece. It’s the test of how much actual democracy the European Union is willing to embrace, how much the machine is willing to listen what its citizens aspire to.
I understand that the European Union is first and foremost an economic union. It was built after WWII to make the countries depend to each other to such an extent that none could not break away easily and declare war to get its way. The vision, mainly pushed by the French and the Germans, was that if you force a country to need a neighbour, problems will have to be discussed with words and patience rather than fought with guns and tanks, which is what we did for millenniums. And what we are trying to avoid again in Ukraine. Yes it takes a lot of time and it’s not “news-worthy” but it’s saving millions of lives.
From the 1950s, we first made sure we had to rely on each other for coal, iron, steel, oil, crops then we extended it to the rest of the economy and together, despite the economic crisis, we are still the strongest economy in the world, whether bankers and investors, Tories and Republicans like it or not.
There is now a will for a political union because it is true that it would make things easier. I am very divided and dithering on this issue for I see pluses and minuses in both cases. Although this political union doesn’t exist yet, what does exist throughout the EU, what is written in all founding treaties, what is a key criterion to enter is to respect democracy, to promote it, to protect it, to defend it at all costs.
Now, the Greeks have decided to vote for a left-wing party. It was not rigged, they just went to the polls and actually voted in the true spirit of all democratic elections. It is actually quite amazing of them because in times likes this, people easily stop voting or/and put the blame on everything foreign then have this middle-class reflex of going conservative and choosing right-wing, racist and xenophobic parties. Hence, the rise of Front National, UKIP and all far-right parties in the rest of Europe, including Greece with the Golden Dawn. This is not something new, it happened all across Europe in the crisis-ridden 1930s and whereas France just managed to save its democracy in 1932, nor Italy neither Germany and Spain could.
Nevertheless, the Greeks pulled a French 1936 and went with hope and change. They chose people who were offering something new, they believed in people whose argument was not to go back to some supposedly better times where “foreigners, Muslims and Jews were not here” but to try yet another way, a way that would embrace all the positive values the West is ever-boasting. Everyone in Europe was only talking about the Golden Dawn but they did not win. Greece did not choose fascism, they chose democracy. They chose to put hope and positive change before anything else. And this is why they are now testing the EU. If you listen to what our leaders say to the world, what the Greeks did is the essence of Europe so in the face of such an election, Europe should be proud to be yet again a beacon of hope.
However, I hear nothing but condemnation and scaremongering. Now, I am not surprised that people such as the Tories in England are the first one on the soap box saying that Greece’s vote is threatening the future of Europe. Frankly, no one across their shores take them seriously anymore. Their euroscepticism and desperate alliances with extreme far-right, Nazi-loving, Holocaust-denying parties have rendered them the biggest threat to the UE and no one except for Britain’s electorate is fooled by their Cassandra song.
What I am shocked with is the reaction of the other leaders who jumped to say that the election was not going to change anything. What is that supposed to mean? I know right-wing leaders in Southern Europe are trying to contain what they call “contagion”, as if voting for the Left was some kind of new plague following its usual path of destruction from the East of the Mediterranean sea to the arctic shores of Norway. I guess for the Right, it is.
However, the reactions from leaders, mainly across Northern Europe, basically means that the voice of the people is irrelevant in the face of economic matters. It doesn’t matter what the people of Greece says, it doesn’t matter how they vote, how we all vote, our fate is sealed: the investors want their money back and they are going to get it. End of! It’s not just patronising, it is plain dictatorial but made acceptable by economic circumstances and definitely not what the EU was built for.
You cannot go and dismiss millions of people democratically voting for a change in their everyday life, for wanting their suffering to stop, just because it disagrees with your way to deal with problems. And if you do, don’t come and complain that people are not voting anymore. The message various leaders have sent for the past three weeks, not just to the Greeks but to their own citizens is: your vote, puny people of Europe, is irrelevant in the face of the economic machine.
Worst still. They try to justify it by saying that the Greeks need to “take responsibility” for the mistakes their leaders made in the past. Greece spent decades having very little to choose from when it came to politicians with a big corrupted clan on the Right and a big corrupted clan on the Left but they voted anyway so now, we don’t want hear anything. You were stupid enough to believe them, you will pay for it. It doesn’t matter if you decided to go for a change, you will still pay for it. Even if it means, you can’t feed your kids.
This is where my faith turned out to be resting on sand for me. I understood Europe as a beacon for democracy and it turns out to be nothing but yet another tool for carnivorous, extreme capitalism where millions of innocent people who are trying to just live their lives, feed themselves and their kids must be sacrificed to protect the assets of a few and allow them to seek and exert revenge. The EU is now accomplice to making its own entire countries, millions of its own people suffer, starve and cry from babies to dying people regardless just because a few want a proper return on their investment.
Now they are even some talks of pushing Greece out. The implications are huge: for Greece itself who will have to suddenly be fending for itself after 30 years in a deeply integrated, continent-size economy, it means having to go back to its own currency after 15 years using the Euro, it means having to rewrite all the treaties…For the EU, it means that a country that has not gone with fascism but chose democracy is being kicked out just and only for not agreeing with right-wing, economic orthodoxy.
Personally, I am baffled by such threats. Not just because they are a million miles away from what the everyday Europeans want but also because other countries have never faced anything like that despite flirting with fascism or threatening the very existence of the EU.
If you take the UK, for instance. The Tory government has spent the last five years claiming high and proud how much they hated the EU, how willing they were to get out of it, launching insults after insults on anything European. Today barely 30% of the UK want to stay in the EU. Their politicians have joined forces with people even the Front National would not consider, they have been vetoing major treaties and decisions that could have saved us time and hassle dealing with the crisis just because “in exchange” they are demanding all the treaties to be revised. They even want to get rid of one of the first fundamental rules of the EU: the right to free movement.
You’d think that such a country would be on the verge of being kicked out. Well, no. Everyone o the continent I have been talking to is willing to have it kicked out. We, continentals, are all fed up with the UK and its school-playground behaviour when it comes to working as a team but all our leaders are bending over backwards, spending hours in pointless negotiations, millions of Euros in specialised lawyers to maybe tweak the treaties so we can us all, 27 countries, find a way to accommodate one of us, who has clearly said he would not work with us. And why? Because the UK doesn’t just agree with the right-wing, capitalist orthodoxy, it created it, it’s promoting it world-wide. The UK is the biggest advocate for the policies the EU is using “to punish” the people of Southern Europe.
Today Greece is on the verge of being kicked out of Europe for choosing democracy over fascism, for putting the suffering of its people first, for daring to ask for a change, for having opened a door to an alternative. Europe must find the strength to remember that this is why it was created in the first place. Forsaking Greece is forsaking every single European citizens, it’s denying that their voice matter when it comes to be, work and live together, it is saying that Europe is not democratic, it is proving our enemies right, it is burning democracy in the altar of the economy. It’s making the 1930s again.
There might be a will in our leaders for Greece to get out but when you talk to the people, they don’t feel the same way. People have empathy before calculation, it doesn’t make them irrelevant or worthless. For me, denying the choice the Greeks have made is indeed the death of the European Union as a democracy but despite what the powerful people say today, History will judge and show that it’s not because of Greece rather because of our elected leaders have betrayed us by making the conscious decision to listen to the people only after serving the interests of capitalist agents.
If they do want to save the EU, they have to put democracy first and listen to the people. Not ignore the economy but understand that it’s supposed to serve us, the people, first. If they did listen, they would find out that there is one way for Greece: to stay and to be carefully listened to. That’s what we, the people, want.