The unrelenting crisis in the eurozone is blamed on the abstruse architecture of the euro, which doomed the currency from its beginning. The Euro project has so far been a complacent leap forward without solid commitment from all its partners. Thus the eurozone lacks the political, fiscal and legal requirements to maintain a single currency.
However, the financial crisis is perpetuated by the lack of political vision of the key partners rather than a short supply of financial instruments. The vision of a united Europe, which gained strength in the nineteenth century and became a moral imperative in the twentieth, has clashed with national egotisms, competition between European states, and the web of local powers and privileges. The crisis has shown that there is no long term plan, only a patchwork of compromises. The markets demand more. They want to be confident and believe that European states are a safe investment.
After all, the ‘markets’ are real people doing the buying and the selling and people who act on the basis of their beliefs. People believed that financial wizardry would guarantee endless wealth; they believed the housing bubble would never burst and could spend without a care in the world. Beliefs rely on facts, but also on a particular vision of the world. Thus, some people believe austerity will wash away our sins of profligacy and ensure sustainable economic growth, while others believe that cuts have been damaging the economic prospects of less competitive economies, which need investment spending.
At times beliefs prevent any consideration of alternatives, or blind us to the real facts. There are beliefs that are solely about the empirical world (I believe the sun will rise tomorrow), beliefs that express opinions (I believe capital punishment is wrong), and beliefs that form our moral identity (I believe in justice). Beliefs can be hopes, desires, dreams – ultimately they are what we are made of.
The beliefs regarding the eurozone crisis have been framed (wrongly) by many in the media and in mainstream politics as a tale about strong economies, based on hard work and intellectual ingenuity, bailing out backward economies, based on rent-seeking and patronage. It is a moral tale of good and bad, prudent and reckless. It is of no use to uncover the many weaknesses of these so-called strong economies, the exploitation of certain conditions to the detriment of others, or the role of the not-so-transparent banking system that pushed cheap credit. After all, we have all believed in the alchemy of the financial system. That system failed and revealed the sins of all: those of the ‘strong’ and those of the ‘weak’. Yet, as the crisis hit the main street, petty nationalism began to surface. The populist media across Europe played on the fears and anger of people. They asked: “why should we pay for the Greeks?” or “why does Germany, who’s done so well out of the euro, demand such sacrifices?”
In a recent BBC documentary, former Conservative Minister and eurosceptic, Michael Portillo asked people in Greece and Germany whether they would rather keep the euro or return to their old currencies. Much to his chagrin, everybody chose the euro. People are not against bailouts as long as they can see it heralding a change. They have lost faith in their representatives for not being straight with them and for being downright incompetent. They are disenchanted with the current union because politicians have been unable to handle the crisis. Like the markets, they too want a long term solution.
Portillo turned to a German interviewee, asking: “why should the German taxpayer pay for Greece”, and was answered: “because we are a Union”. It might be difficult for politicians and a large part of the media to understand this. They have been groomed to think only in national terms. They think ‘Europe’ is ‘foreign affairs’. But Europe is nothing if it is not its citizens. That is why, the day before the Greek elections, a demonstration in solidarity with the Greek people will take place in Dublin (at The Spire at 1pm). Greece has profound structural, political and social problems that have enmired its economy and will take many years to change. Change is needed across Europe to ensure the responsibility of all regions and countries, but we cannot abandon an entire people because their country’s economy is not cast in the same image as that of Germany.
People in Greece are not only facing deep cuts in services, high unemployment and cost of living, but public humiliation. The measure of a civilisation is not its gross domestic product or fiscal prudence, but its moral responsibility. Europeans, especially those in the eurozone, have become used to the euro and are voting in national and local elections on the basis of how candidates have dealt with or plan to deal with the eurozone crisis. Democracy has been left behind in this game of financial hysteria and political pettiness. Yet, we, European citizens, have a right and duty to shape the vision of the Union. It is for us, Europeans, to take responsibility for their future. ‘Because we are a Union’.
First Published on openDemocracy