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The Case of Greece


In 2010, the Greek state faced bankruptcy for the first time, and once again in 2015. According to the experts, there is no mystery about how the ongoing collapse of a European member-state on the Southern periphery could have happened. The country and nearly all of its inhabitants have “lived beyond their means” — and they do not seem to show any willingness to change that. The citizens refuse to pay taxes, the politicians make no effort to collect them, instead obtaining the money they need to govern the country with the help of blatant balance-sheet cosmetics in Brussels. They then use the money to pay pensioners, teachers, and superfluous civil servants, and promote an economy that runs mainly on the corruption and laziness so typical of Southern Europeans. That is essentially how one is to picture the way Greece has run its economy and more or less continues to do so.

The first part of the message is that a lack of discipline has taken hold in Southern Europe, artfully disguised for over a decade. It afflicts both the Greek people and the state, who violate nearly all the rules of the European Economic and Currency Union, which are generally respected by the other members of the “European family.” Secondly, therefore, it is obvious that this state just had to go bust at some point. It is a mere anomaly in the EU, and the fate it suffers is the fate it deserves for its at best peculiar, at worst criminal machinations. This is why, thirdly, Germany has every right to impose austerity on the country, even against the resistance put up by the Greek government, in particular by the intransigent leftists of Syriza. By threatening to exclude Greece from the euro club, forcing it to obey a rigorous credit regime and imposing austerity on the state, Schäuble, Merkel & Co. are merely trying to bring the reluctant Greeks to “reason”…

This is not entirely just. First of all, nobody in Europe has ever really deceived themselves about the particularities of Greece’s budget policies. The reason why Europe’s leaders refrained from taking too close a look at whether Greek finances in fact conformed to the Maastricht criteria — a kind of leniency which, as has now become clear, not only applied to Greece — was strategic. The aim was to annex the Southern periphery to a growing European bloc and make it politically sustainable and reliable in accordance with the acquis communautaire, the body of common rights and obligations binding on all EU member states. Secondly, it may be that Greek politics and the Greek economy work somewhat differently than in other EU nations, especially in the more successful ones. But to claim that Greece and its crisis are somehow foreign to Europe is wrong for the simple reason that Greece undeniably is a member of the European Union. And, incidentally, it is not the only country the euro crisis has pushed to the brink of bankruptcy.

Thirdly and most importantly: It is Europe that is ruining its “southern hemisphere.” After taking advantage of Greece as a market and as an object of investment, the leading nations of the union are impoverishing Greece and Co. with their overwhelming debt. More precisely, they are being pushed to pursue a policy of impoverishment, which impoverishes the population, but has not improved the state’s balance sheets, rather the contrary. The democratic highlight of this brilliant market-economic performance is the leading European powers’ insistence that the Greek state can only be “rescued” after it has agreed in advance to submit unconditionally to all the conditions the European state lenders impose on it.

Of course, Europe is not ruining its Southern periphery for fun. The leading European powers instead aim to rescue their money, i.e., its effectiveness as a means to command work and wealth in Europe and beyond. So they organize “safety nets” and “financial assistance” to boost the confidence of finance capital in the debts, of which there are already too many. In order to ensure the stability of their financial masterpiece, they do not merely rely on the impression made by large sums of money in the financial world. They combine the creation of multi-billion-dollar debts with a political regime over their partners, which given the latter’s poor credit rating must have misused the good, common currency. The harshness of this regime is meant to encourage the confidence so crucial for debts to be called credit and employed as capital.

Throughout the affair, democratic rulers certainly have not failed to make good on the accountability they owe their voters. They even offer them two different explanations for their rescue efforts. On the one hand, they present a humanitarian, and thus correspondingly deceitful, rationale: assistance and European solidarity are needed to cope with the Greek catastrophe, even though it is self-inflicted, i.e., has come about by the Greeks having lived at our “expense.” On the other hand, they refer to the nation’s core interests: Greece must be helped in order to rescue “our” good money and, furthermore, to preserve European unity.

This comes much closer to the truth about how and by whom Greece has been made the anomaly it has been treated as over the last five years. Europe’s leading nations aim to rescue both their money and their peaceful conquest of the continent by using capitalist wealth and relying on the objective constraints it entails. More precisely, Germany, the union’s undisputed leader, has obligated its partners to obey its directives concerning a “reasonable” meaning Germany’s monetary and lending policies. This is to ensure that Europe gets through the crisis and takes another step forward. Germany’s ruthless economic exploitation of its partners serves a greater cause: it seeks to bring about a European world power with an international standing that measures up to that of the USA — copying the latter’s tried and true imperialist method of functionalizing autonomous sovereign states right up to the point of ruin.

The included articles are taken from the German quarterly political journal GegenStandpunkt, which seeks to explain both the crisis of the euro and the competition between the partners in the euro zone. At its center stands Germany, which has put Greece and its bankruptcy at the center of a program of “common crisis management.” The articles analyze step by step Germany’s efforts to deal with Greece as an exemplary case in its struggle to realize its European project — a Germany that is to “emerge from the crisis stronger than ever” as an economic and political superpower in and with Europe.