News from the European Family of Nations: Making an Example of Greece
In early 2015, a new, recalcitrant government came to power in Greece. Instead of begging its European partners for concessions, it began by terminating the agreements the previous government had made with the ‘European troika,’ the triumvirate consisting of the European Commission (EC), the European Central Bank (ECB), and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). With pronounced self-assurance, its finance minister then demanded a complete renegotiation of all current and future loans by the political authorities crediting Greece’s national debt, as well as the budgetary measures that the ECB, the euro rescue fund (European Financial Stability Facility) and the IMF demanded as a condition for any further financial support needed by the Greek state to meet its financial obligations and continue to make its vital national payments.
An EU member state, ruined by the economic crisis and the political dictates for managing it, refuses to submit to Brussels’ and Berlin’s restructuring measures, calling instead for ‘European solidarity’
The Greek government invoked the mandate it had obtained from the vote of the Greek people, demanding that its euro partners respect the ‘will of the people’ as Syriza (“coalition of the radical left”) had defined it in its electoral promises: Greece would by no means continue on the path called for by the euro authorities; it would no longer accept any ruthless ‘austerity policies,’ such as slashing public expenditures the Greek government had previously considered to be essential; radically cutting benefits to civil servants, pensions, wages; relaxing employment protection laws; acquiring new revenue sources by means of privatization; and increasing taxes on the masses irrespective of the devastating consequences. Instead, Syriza announced the repealing of already enacted and implemented austerity measures, budgetary cuts, and privatization projects. That is what the party promised its people before the election, that is what it was elected to do, so from its perspective, that is what it owed to its people and its country.
The government in Athens thereby first of all conveyed the desperate situation the Greek state had got into as a euro member. The state was hopelessly indebted; its society was not generating the growth and thus the money the state required to maintain its capitalistic economy, cover the corresponding expenses of its rule, and justify its borrowing. Due to its flagging economy, the state had fallen out of favor with finance capital, whose calculations are crucial when it comes to whether and how business makes use of the population. Hence the Greek state was incapable of securing the creditworthiness upon which it depends. It was bankrupt and thus could no longer service its obligations and make payments. But that is not all, for the bankruptcy of a state also means that the foundation so essential for the rule of a capitalist state has collapsed. The state-organized class society, a working class profitably used by business, as well as the social support with which the state maintains its people as the productive basis of its rule – all this had ceased to work. Its population had failed to function as this productive basis — it was no longer living from, and for, profitable work, it was no longer acting as the source of national growth, but had instead become an unproductive cost burden on the state. Conversely, the state could no longer function as the authority its people turn to when lacking a source of income. The people were thus being doubly driven into poverty: first, by the lack of profitable employment, and second, by the state’s inability to manage the growing social burden, which a state doesn’t pay for itself but rather finances out of the use that business makes of the national labor force.
The Greek state’s solvency was being upheld from abroad, by the euro credit it was receiving from foreign lenders. There’s no question about the purpose and destination of that credit. It was being used primarily to ensure Greece’s ability to service the loans it had received in the past as a euro member but had long since been unable to service.
Along with its rejection of the ‘dictates of the Troika,’ the new Greek government made it clear what mandate of the people it inferred from the nation’s impossible situation. It regarded the crisis into which capitalistic calculations plunged the country as a national emergency, and thus as an imperative to keep the country afloat with all kinds of emergency measures and to restore the state’s financial capacity. In their efforts to somehow guarantee the social facilities of their class society, the new representatives of the people flouted capitalistic calculations in order to maintain the national inventory, which had failed to live up to these calculations and had gone into decay, as well as state activities that weren't being supported by whatever business activities continued to take place. The purpose of these measures from Syriza’s perspective was to ensure the preconditions for Greece’s economic recovery as a location for business. Syriza regarded this emergency program as a dictate of economic and, above all, political reason. And it insisted that its foreign creditors arrive at the same conclusion.
For this, Syriza needed and wanted the euro. So while it stressed its desire to remain in the eurozone, it also demanded more national autonomy when it came to the use of euro credit, and therefore that its partners provide it with credit in the common currency. It presented this request as a soundly and thoroughly calculated budgetary program, but it is not hard to see that these fictitious budget numbers were merely embellishing Greece’s request for economic rescue by the eurozone states. The Greek government admitted as much by calling for a comprehensive debt ‘haircut’ and emergency loans from various European funds — all while promising its creditors that this would revive the Greek economy and was in fact the only way to restore the country’s ability to satisfy its creditors again in the future.
Syriza pointed out the economic absurdity of its creditors’ approach: maintaining the solvency of the Greek state through emergency loans, which only maintain the value of irrecoverable debts, only increased Greece’s public debt all the more. At the same time, the reform measures called for by its creditors further undermined any productive use of the Greek people, preventing any business recovery that could restore the state’s economic capacity and enable it to service its debts. Insisting that this couldn’t possibly be in the interests of Greece’s political creditors, the Syriza government appealed to what it regarded as the creditor’s own economic sense and self-interest.
At the same time and beyond all these economic arguments, the Syriza government demanded that the euro’s leading guardians acknowledge that Greece has a right to implement its own proposed measures. It insisted that the Greek state be respected as an equally entitled member of the community of euro states, entirely justified in defending itself against the wanton disregard of its political creditors, who were seeking to impose unbearable budgetary guidelines on the government, employ ‘financial water-boarding’ by constantly threatening to let it go bankrupt, and misuse its dire financial situation as a means of economic blackmail. Syriza refused to tolerate the insistence of the euro authorities, the ‘troika’, on overseeing every Greek budgetary decision, as well as their attempt to force the government into the subordinate role of just following orders. So as a preliminary to any negotiations on individual issues, Syriza demanded that the ‘troika’ be abolished. Dissatisfied with its mere relabeling as "the institutions," it continued to resist being subjected to the supervision of foreign budget auditors. Varoufakis (the Greek finance minister) and Tsipras (the Greek prime minister) repeatedly denounced the creditors’ disregard for Greek sovereignty and their ‘humiliation’ of the Greek people, i.e., its political representatives. They invoked the nation’s ‘honor,’ the respect owed even to a small country in the union, and demonstrated by their diplomatic conduct their national self-awareness as heads of a “poor but proud” country, demanding respect as equal negotiating partners from their adversaries at the helm of the eurozone. Tsipras and Varoufakis also insisted on this in their efforts to obtain aid outside of the eurozone: upon visiting Moscow, they pointedly demonstrated that Greece, as a sovereign state, would not be deprived of its right to an independent, dissenting foreign policy toward a Russia sanctioned by the EU; and, in light of the EU’s refusal to provide further aid, they took the liberty of seeking out alternative sources of financial support and prospects for cooperation better suited to the Greek nation.
In addition, the leftist Greek government invoked the common European project to justify its right to resistance. State insolvency, the constant struggle of an entire country for economic survival, the lasting destruction of its national basis, the ruin and demoralization of its people, the bullying of its national sovereign: none of this could ever possibly bring about a better future for the European Union. How could Greece or any other poorer European state make any contribution to Europe under such circumstances? How were the peoples of the crisis-stricken countries and their leaders to put up with Europe if they could no longer regard the union as an opportunity and a viable prospect? And how was Europe as a whole supposed to make headway without a common European will? Syriza refused to see the “Greek crisis” treated as an isolated, national crisis: from its nationally biased perspective, Greece was only the first domino to fall, the weakest victim of a pan-European crisis essentially affecting all members of the community equally. For Syriza, therefore, such a crisis could only be managed ‘in solidarity’ — to the benefit of all and to the benefit of Europe’s integration. The freshly elected highest representatives of the Syriza government therefore invoked the concerns and interests of other impaired euro nations, casting them all as being in a common predicament of which the Greek state’s impending bankruptcy was merely representative. Syriza thus sought to persuade its partners to push together for an end to ‘austerity’ and for alternative policies that would put an end to their dire financial situation, their lack of growth, and all the attendant social consequences.
Athens thus called for a new European will, a comprehensive revision of the general line of the EU’s social, economic, and integration policies. Despite having begun as an opposition party suspected of wanting out of the euro, Syriza thereby announced its firm intention to stay in the euro, because it obviously saw no alternative to a pro-euro reason of state. At the same time, however, it fought for nationally acceptable conditions and prospects in a Europe with a euro. This amounted to an act of rebellion.
The leading guardians of the euro and its stability teach some lessons about the euro regime’s incompatibility with the sovereignty claims of those who live off the community’s money and credit
Rebellion, at any rate, was what Greece was accused of. And its pleas were categorically rejected by the primary addressee, Germany. As if on cue, Europe’s leading power in Berlin took Greece’s demands, requests, and refusal to simply accept the creditors’ point of view as an opportunity to make a few things clear. It decreed a few elementary guidelines concerning the euro-community’s money and how its member states were to use it. These lessons were not only intended for the Greeks, but for all euro states.
As far as the ‘will of the people’ is concerned, several German voices – e.g. the former German foreign minister and vice chancellor, Joschka Fischer, a global-policy expert on European power ambitions, as well as finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble and various members of the ruling coalition in Berlin – felt compelled to teach the leftist Greek government about the role of the people in a proper democracy in general and in the European community in particular: the point of making electoral promises is to get into power so one can implement the agenda determined by the country’s capitalistic reason of state. And in Europe, the requirements of the euro and its proper usage are binding for all members, even the Greeks. The policies required for the strength of the euro are not a matter of choice, but – according to Schäuble – dictates of ‘economic reason.’ They represent ‘necessities’ or simply ‘reality.’ In any case, the popular will expressed in elections does not define the agenda; rather the people are responsible for fulfilling the inalterable demands of their rulers. In a unified Europe, this means ensuring the success of the euro, a task to be executed by each nation’s government. Consequently, the newly elected Greek administration not only had to meet the “necessities” already determined — not in Athens — but also to teach its people the fundamental difference between the friendly electoral promises made by an opposition party looking to take power and the predetermined responsibilities it assumes once elected. The inevitable disappointment on the part of the people was the fault of a ‘leftist’ government, which was all the more obligated to deal with this disappointment properly by disciplining its people.
To Schäuble, what Greece’s euro-based reason of state required and who was to define the political consequences for Greece — in other words, the only “sensible” course of action in a unified Europe — were so obvious that he “simply could not understand” the Greek finance minister’s alternative proposals and calculations. So he refused, in suitably clear diplomatic form, to acknowledge any of the Greek government’s objections and demands, demonstrably denying any respect for the standpoint of the Greek government. This was Germany’s second clarification, one that it was not shy to repeat: the sovereignty of an EU member of Greece’s caliber consists in choosing between alternatives about which it has no say at all. Either it can accept the demands of the euro institutions headed up by Germany, or it can reject them and go it alone, i.e., without any further aid. When Varoufakis & Co. balked at this choice, Schäuble reminded them in his best English that they did not have any other choice anyway: “Am 28. Februar 24:00 Uhr is over!” After that, no more credit. He invited Syriza to put its own alternatives up for casual discussion, but accept the fact that no matter what, it had to stick to ‘what had been agreed upon,’ i.e., the radical reform agenda the euro-creditors had imposed on the previous Greek government. The fact that Syriza had just been elected to put an end to that agenda simply did not matter. When the Greek government, faced with the pressure imposed by the guardians of the euro, considered holding a referendum over the reform agenda, they were told to go for it. This would only demonstrate whether the people understood what had to be done or, just like their government, were unfit for the euro. At any rate, none of these considerations impressed the German finance minister and chief watchdog as to whether and how Greece would fulfill its obligations toward the euro.
The third clarification was that as long as Greece desired to remain a part of the European Union, one alternative would be out of the question, which just happened to be the very alternative the Greek government had in mind. A euro regime that goes easier on the people, attaches more importance to the living standard of the masses and the state’s social considerations than to the soundness of state debt, the calculations of finance capital that the Greek state failed to satisfy, and the demands of its euro-creditors — such an alternative would be unthinkable in Europe as it would constitute an abuse of the community’s money. After all, the euro-creditors have a duty to all of Europe’s peoples, who cannot be expected to accept Syriza’s demands since — as the perfidious reasoning goes — their governments are likewise busy impoverishing them in order to satisfy the criteria of a sound currency. The creditors thus prescribed poverty in the wake of a euro regime enforced by Germany; and since the other euro members had agreed to that regime, those imposing the regime on Greece were morally bound to refuse any pleas for social concessions.
And when Greece thought it could go to Moscow and rely on good partnership and expanding economic relations with the aggressor ‘at the worst possible time,’ i.e., in the midst of the confrontation between the EU and Russia, then it merely committed another violation of ‘common European policy.’ Schäuble agreed here with the foreign-policy authorities of the German leading power. After all, Greece is ‘our southeastern (NATO) flank’ and consequently has to align its politics with this strategic role. This gave rise to a fourth fundamental directive: being a member of the European Union means supporting and executing imperialistic guidelines in matters of war and peace determined by Germany and France. National ‘solo efforts’ merely jeopardize the Community’s security.
The politico-economic substance of the German restructuring dictates: Either the euro proves itself a successful means of command over global sources of wealth and thus as a real weapon in competition with the dollar — or it has failed to live up to its purpose!
The real matter at stake in all of Schäuble’s references to “economic sense,” to “what had been agreed upon,” and to his own “responsibility” for the suffering peoples of Europe was Germany’s European campaign, for which Greece was an exemplary case. In the face of all of Greece’s attempts to get the euro authorities to prolong their loans while also conceding a greater measure of autonomy in the use of those loans, Schäuble insisted on the contrary: Greece had to accept that it had no money and had thus already lost the very autonomy it was calling for. When the troika, under German direction, insisted that the Greek government would only be kept solvent if it acceded to all the demands for restructuring and budget reforms, they presented Greece’s recalcitrant leaders with an impossible alternative: euro or sovereignty. The Greek state could continue to receive credit and avert bankruptcy only if it submitted to a budgetary regime about which it had no say, but nevertheless had to execute with its sovereignty over its country and its people. By providing credit aimed at ensuring Greece’s continued debt service and the most essential state functions; by overseeing, in return, the austerity program by which the Greek state would enforce the verdict that its people, its country, and the state itself could no longer live up to euro standards, they confronted Greece with the ultimate consequence of the absurdity that is the eurozone: autonomous states with a common currency.
Not only had Greece lost its credit with the financial markets as a result of the economic crisis; by joining the eurozone, it (like all other member states) had also ceded its financial sovereignty and hence its control over its own national credit-money to the euro-community. The Greek state thereby sought to get hold of a credit-money which, unlike its eternally weak drachma, is underpinned by the economic power of all of Europe, thus attaining a far greater measure of financial freedom. Greece’s plan worked out – until the crisis, that is, when finance capital made clear distinctions between the various euro nations according to their very diverse levels of economic success. This turned Greece’s success with the euro into its opposite. Though it was not the first or the only country to be stricken by the crisis, it was stricken the hardest of all euro countries, losing not only its credit but also its ability to pay. It no longer had any of its own money, and thus it no longer had any money at all. In general, and particularly in a crisis, a state can exercise its monetary sovereignty and procure by fiat the solvency denied to it by the financial world, and which the course of business in the country no longer yields as it generally does in times of growth. In doing so, however, a state ultimately lowers the value of its money. But not even this option was open to Greece. For this state, being a part of the eurozone now only meant having its debts prolonged and its solvency maintained by the foreign euro authorities still willing and able to lend to it. And it meant fulfilling the political demands stipulated primarily by Germany, which by virtue of its success in competition had become the true guarantor of the euro. Greece, whose new government insisted on more freedom in matters of economic policy, was forced to concede that because it had lost out in competition, it also lost its sovereignty over both its money and its budget.
In order to force Athens' reluctant leaders to submit to the euro authorities’ budgetary regime, the latter used their own credit as leverage. The fact that Greece no longer enjoyed any credit proved to be a strong bit of leverage when it came to revoking the crucial element of the nation’s sovereignty — its power to determine its own budget and thus to organize its society and exercise its sovereign power at all. This degraded Greece into a mere servant to the euro-community’s directives. Greece’s political creditors demanded that the government implement the reform agenda imposed on it “in return” for any further loans. It would receive credit only if it could prove that it was in fact enacting the budgetary cuts and other measures demanded of it — under the supervision of the foreign inspectors who insisted as stubbornly as ever that Greece ‘do its homework.’ They revoked already negotiated emergency loans due to Greece’s refusal to implement austerity measures. They refused debt relief on the grounds that this would reduce the ‘pressure’ on the Greek government ‘to reform.’ In so doing, they maneuvered the state ever closer to the brink of bankruptcy — in short: they blackmailed Greece into submitting to the budgetary regime imposed by Berlin and Brussels. Greece had to give in or suffer a definitive withdrawal of credit, an inevitable bankruptcy, exclusion from the eurozone and thus from international credit, the loss of any influence within the EU, and probable degradation to a hopeless European poorhouse — with its own currency, to be sure, but with a useless one and a thoroughly ruined country. With the cynicism befitting such a program, Schäuble presented the impossible alternative of money or sovereignty as being entirely up to Greece: if his “dear colleague Varoufakis” wanted it that way, then fine…
Though the budgetary regime that Greece was supposed to execute nominally serves the purpose of ‘restructuring’ and reestablishing ‘debt sustainability’, the substance of this regime follows an entirely different objective and logic. The Syriza government was not alone in claiming that such drastic spending cuts, combined with a continuing rise in Greece’s government debt ratio that would remain forever unmanageable, would never lead to a sustainable relation between economic growth, state revenues, and debt service. The experts came to the same conclusion, and it is no secret to the political actors in the centers of the eurozone either. But the latter insisted that although a debt ‘haircut’ might be needed at some point in the future, it would be ‘unthinkable’ now – especially given the way the Greeks imagined it. The latter would first have to prove their ‘genuine’ willingness to reform and, more importantly, to satisfy their supervisors by ‘visibly’ consolidating their budget. So the point was not to ‘restructure’ in the proper sense of the word. The mission to restore Greece’s debt sustainability had a different aim.
Under the direction of Germany, the most successful European competitor and actual guarantor of the euro, Greece’s leadership had to implement rigorous budget reforms, thus executing the verdict on itself that it no longer represented a contribution to the strength of European money, that the euro could not afford Greece, and that the key euro players were therefore unwilling to continue supporting it in that fashion. According to the standards of success set by Germany, Greece did not deserve the euro; the country was nothing but a burden — and thus a hazard to this money’s stability. The Greek government therefore had to acknowledge its location for capital and its state as the burden they are, and cut down on both of them accordingly.
Germany, the supreme economic power in Europe, imposed a credit regime on Greece meant to restore finance capital’s trust in the euro, a regime that corresponded to the financial world’s verdict that Greece was unsuitable for business. As the dominant euro power, the German government wielded its influence over the community’s credit authorities to stifle all of Greece’s requests to use the community’s credit to ignore finance capital’s verdict in order to preserve its own economy and state. Germany insisted that the euro is not a money that an ailing nation like Greece can make use of as needed. Only to the extent that the euro proves its worth as a means of business access to the entire euro area, i.e., represents capitalistic growth that is successful in principle — notwithstanding the ECB’s crediting of states due to the crisis — and thus its capacity for reliable accumulation, would Europe’s common money satisfy the ambitions of its main political beneficiary. The euro is meant to prove itself as representative of a capitalistically successful, enormous economic area, of globally competitive capital, thus also as a favored instrument for investment by global finance capital. Accordingly, it also represents credit that could at any time be successfully mobilized, as a means of access to all the sources of wealth in the world: as an economic means for functionalizing not only Europe but the world economy for the capitalistic growth of the eurozone’s leading nations. As the political authors of a euro that enjoys global demand, the eurozone states would thereby gain financial power, thus also the power to determine the global terms and conditions of business, a power able to compete with that wielded by the master of the dollar.
Germany’s aim was to maintain and stabilize the credit of the euro states as a means of imperialist power on an equal footing with the United States, i.e., in competition with the dominant world money. According to the German government, the crisis was a danger to this goal, one for which the loser nations judged least suitable for growth by finance capital were responsible. By making an example of Greece, Germany sought to prove in practice that the economically successful and unquestionably creditworthy leading nation would not let Greece’s ruin keep it from enforcing its demand that the euro represent that kind of power, and that euro-credit be used accordingly. Greece had to submit to this criterion for the use of the euro; Schäuble insisted on it, made it a requirement for the ECB and Greece’s euro inspectors as well, and at the same time had the IMF on his side, which — as the international credit agency for insolvent states — insisted on strict supervision and ‘budgetary discipline’ anyway. This is the politico-economic substance of the ultimatum: that Greece needed to choose between money or sovereignty.
Germany is struggling to assert itself as the political guarantor of the euro-community’s money and the indissoluble unity of the European club of states
The German finance minister stated quite openly that Europe didn't need Greece to establish the euro as a world money, and that it might even be better if Greece would exit or be expelled from the eurozone, since it barely made any economic contribution to the euro as a location for capital and was in fact a growing burden. And the longer the Greek government refused to accept the consequences of Germany’s euro project, the more insistent Schäuble became. From the beginning he left little doubt that he would support Greece’s continued membership in the eurozone only if Athens succumbed to Germany’s demands, and that Greece’s stubborn refusal was ‘getting on his nerves.’ At any rate, concerns over a ‘Grexit,’ Greece’s threat to withdraw from the euro, and a ‘Graccident,’ an involuntary bankruptcy of the state, failed to make any impression on him. They definitely did not move him to modify any of his demands; he refused to ‘be blackmailed,’ as he and the majority of German public opinion liked to put it. He underlined his intransigence by pointing out that the European credit system had already been stabilized. After all, most Greek debt was long since out of the hands of banks and investors and with public euro institutions, so the risk of ‘contagion,’ i.e., of finance capital again questioning the creditworthiness of other euro nations, had been essentially averted or at least brought under control. Although this amounted to an involuntary admission that Greece was in no way an isolated and exceptional case, the political message was that the possible costs of a Greek default, including the imminent consequence of a new European sovereign-debt crisis, would not prompt Schäuble to make any further concessions. Greece could remain in the eurozone only if it verifiably completed the ‘homework’ its creditors gave it in accordance with the stipulations of the German finance minister. And it wasn’t enough for Greece to hesitantly give in, merely make promises, and replace Varoufakis as a negotiating partner. This was the substance of Germany’s insistence on ensuring that the euro remain ‘good money.’ That is why it didn’t fear ultimately losing Greece — on the one hand.
On the other hand — German politics having a kind of good cop/bad cop routine — chancellor Merkel stressed that Greece absolutely had to be kept in the eurozone, since the euro is “far more than a currency.” It is “the strongest expression of our will to truly unite the peoples of Europe amicably and peacefully.” The departure of Greece would be a major loss, if not in narrower economic terms, then in the broader political terms of holding the European Community together. Striking a high tone, she pointed out the higher purpose of the dispute over Greece’s remaining in the euro: the expansion of the power of the European union of states. This aim reaches beyond Schäuble’s insistence that the euro be a globally demanded means of capitalist business; it represents the political precondition for a powerful world money. By pleading for a community of peoples united in their will to the euro, Merkel, rather than acknowledging the will of the nations involved, insisted that Greece had to remain in the eurozone, regardless of what those nations had to say about it. Membership in the euro, the crucial bond between the members of the European community, would no longer be a voluntary matter left up to individual national calculations. Once a state has adopted the euro and thereby communitized an elementary foundation of its sovereignty, i.e., surrendered sovereignty, it can no longer get it back. Once a nation is in the eurozone, it stays in the eurozone, no matter how poorly it might fare thereby. The chancellor made this principle the guideline of German policy in the current disputes, rejecting all petty calculations and demands that Greece exit or be expelled from the eurozone merely because that would supposedly benefit Germany economically. Beyond all the various disputes, what mattered to Germany in the conflict with Greece was proving that the euro union is indivisible; that its members have no alternative to the euro, that by joining the euro community, they have committed to accept all the consequences that, according to Germany, the euro entails. No damage a nation might suffer due to the euro can change the fact that euro membership is irreversible. On the contrary, the irreversibility of euro membership forces a nation to submit to politically decreed budgetary rules, to a regulatory regime headed by Berlin. That was Germany’s position.
That meant giving the Union a new character. According to the German agenda, the irreversibility of Greece’s surrender of sovereignty was tantamount to a demonstration of power by a European sovereign. Though the latter is not a formally empowered ruling executive, it nevertheless exists in the form of the authorities that credibly enforce the binding nature of the euro community. The agencies that forced Greece to submit to supranational decisions — with Germany formally having equal say, but as the undeniable boss — were to act as a substitute for such a pan-European sovereign, for a sovereign power that politically guarantees the euro and as such enforces rules for operating the economy and issues directives for the political use of credit.
That also would answer the question of which country is ultimately in charge of the euro and its political use; which country, if any, is the reliable political authority and political master of the collective money. That is a question that only arises with regard to Europe and that Germany now felt compelled to answer in the crisis. This question did not arise at the founding of the currency union; at least it was not posed as such by the nations that were convinced that a common currency founded on pan-European growth would serve their own respective economic interests. This question only arose once these national calculations no longer worked out in the crisis, with finance capital critically appraising the euro states, whose levels of success were quite different, in terms of their own individual capacities for growth. Some were denied credit, others – especially the most successful and largest euro nation, Germany – were found to be all the more capable of growth and growing financial power. Finance capital thus granted them that power. As a result, the winning and losing nations started making conflicting demands on the common monetary and credit policy. The financial markets, which always, and especially in a crisis, place great value on how reliably a state can command its money and the terms of its use for business, therefore not only raised the question of the euro’s economic value, but also of the state of the political command over the euro. In other words, the question was no longer only what economic power the euro actually represents, but also which state power, if any, credibly vouches for the community money, determines the conditions of its use, and successfully enforces them.
The concern that Greece’s withdrawal or expulsion from the eurozone might once again raise doubts in the financial world about the creditworthiness of other euro nations also reflected the concern of the German government that Greece’s departure could cause finance capital to lose confidence in Germany’s power to keep the euro community together. Germany therefore felt called upon to dispel such doubts; after all, the political leadership of this crisis winner took it for granted that Germany’s increased economic capacity as the ultimate guarantor of euro credit should also be the euro’s political guarantor. By claiming the role of the power that backs up the euro credit-money with a unified and capable political command, Germany’s political leaders claimed merely to be living up to their nation’s ‘responsibility for Europe and the euro.’ Only then would Germany, the leading euro-nation, achieve the aim which, more than any other euro member, it had made its cause: the euro’s quality as a world money is only as good as the political power that vouches for it. Only then would the euro become an imperialist, truly world-market-class currency. Given the loss of the euro’s economic justification in the crisis – i.e., capitalist growth on the basis of euro credit – a guarantee by state power was needed more than ever, preferably on the same scale that the American world power guaranteed its currently dominant world-money, the dollar.
Germany was thus utilizing its economic might to demonstrate its political might: Berlin established itself as the truly dominant European power, which not only guaranteed the quality of the community’s currency, but also the — indissoluble — unity of the community itself. Berlin clearly had the policy-making prerogative in the institutions that act as the formal substitute for a European sovereign over the euro and thus over the European cause in general. It exercised this prerogative with the economic power at its disposal and made use of its financial power to discipline the competing demands of other European states. Germany thus wielded the community’s credit as a weapon for enforcing new rules of procedure in Europe, which were aimed at ensuring once and for all that individual national calculations and demands have no bearing on the political management of the euro. Germany thus insisted that unless national budget policies were subordinated to the requirements of a powerful world money, Europe would not work out.
That is the principle for which Germany has made an example of Greece. After all, this “lesson” was by no means intended for Greece alone. First of all, the German government’s show of strength was meant to give the financial markets the certainty that when they do their business in the euro, they are doing business in a money that is under the binding, strictly business-oriented direction of the most powerful euro state, and is thus as reliable as the dollar. In Germany’s fight for a binding euro-regime, it also measured itself with the other world-money powers. But above all, Germany addressed its lesson to its partners in the eurozone and the EU. Germany confronted them with the consequences of the Union’s progress and with the price of an exit, obligating them to continue the national restructuring efforts they have reluctantly embarked on in order to rescue their national creditworthiness in line with German directives. At the same time, by focusing the problem on Greece, Germany sought to co-opt the partners it needed to isolate Greece and offer proof that Athens is not merely being subjected to a German decree, but to a common euro policy shared by all the other euro states that have made the requirements of the euro the guiding principle of their nation’s policies. That was also the intention behind Germany’s diplomatic-moralistic reference to the sacrifices made by other euro nations when refusing to make any concessions to Greece. Berlin had in fact succeeded in furnishing this proof in the Greece case. Its euro partners demonstrated their self-discipline by indignantly rejecting attempts by Greece to build a united front of ailing states, viewing this — from their self-serving competitive standpoint — as an attempt by Greece to not only torpedo the creditworthiness that they had struggled to regain, but also to incite their sorely tried peoples against the difficult path of economic recovery.
The nature of the progress that Germany was insisting on making is obvious. Germany’s rise to the position of economic and political master of the euro is an imperialist victory, one that goes far beyond its balanced budget and status as a ‘world export champion.’ It is a new step along the path to European unity, in which Germany has managed to a certain degree to peacefully conquer its neighbors and subordinate them up until the point where it hurts.