On 10 July, the FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG carried one of the best articles on the crisis in Greece I have read, a piece by Richard Fraunberger titled “At a Crossroads.” It articulates certain ideas that are as provocative as they are worth pondering:
- “Without a cultural and mental shift, Greece will never advance to the level of a modern European state, no matter what sort of reform the EU pushes for. But this is not the sort of shift that can be decreed. A shift requires awareness and plenty of time.”
- “Greeks hope without thinking, says the Greek philosopher Stelios Ramfos. They take leave of their common sense. For them, politics is like witchcraft. No one is giving serious thought to the question of how the unemployment could be rolled back. The government will take care of it, even if it means creating government jobs. Government and pensions, these are the sacred cow.”
However, I should like to add: Somehow, there is a Greek side to most Europeans. That is why the Greek exit from the eurozone is such a tough question for them to answer. The notion that “the government will take care of it” is rather wide-spread in Europe, not just in Greece and not just among the political left. Sure, the opinion is more widespread among the French than it is among the British, but generally speaking, Europeans are inclined to have faith in government rather than in the forces of the market. The difference being that the notion is particularly prevalent in Greece.
The article goes on to say:
- “Greeks also have a different way of handling rules. While Europe is governed by the primacy of rules, the primacy of breaking rules governs Greece.”
Is it still safe to say that, though? Yes, it is, because the term “rules” is largely alien to the Greek. For them, playing by the rules is at most one of several options for action, nothing more. But has not the Eurozone crisis turned most Europeans into Greeks? Has not every rule in the book been suspended? Can you think of a single rule spelled out in the Maastricht Treaty that has not been breached yet? And do not the rules of the ECB and of the various bailout plans come up for discussion on a daily basis to twist them in a “shrink to fit” approach? Are the rules that were agreed just years ago and signed into law not broken day in, day out?
There is no way for Greece to be saved, because it lacks every kind of requirement. The most important prerequisite would be to understand the truth about one’s own situation. Such understanding is always the first step en-route to recovery. But there is no sign of it at all. What good does it do when the Greek promise to get reforms under way that they themselves reject out of hand? Just in recent days, Alexis Tsipras stated time and again that he considers the reforms a misguided approach even if he just consented to them.
If the eurozone member states cannot even cope with the comparatively minor issue of Greece (2% share in the cross-European GDP), it is perfectly obvious that the supposedly ever-so-effective protective mechanisms, bailout plans and all the rest of it have ceased to work. How will an umbrella that cannot protect you from a slight drizzle because it is full of holes and tears protect you from a shower of rain, to say nothing of a downpour? What if not Greece but Italy or France, for example, had to be “bailed out”? The answer is in the question.
The Greeks are merely holding up a mirror to our faces. The malaise of the European welfare state presents itself here in its most extreme symptoms – the distrust vis-à-vis the market, the erosion of the principles of the rule of law, and a naive faith in the ability of Big Government to straighten things out in some way.