Emile Roemer: The Greeks must decide it

28 June 2015

Emile Roemer: The Greeks must decide it

In the last few months the question has often been posed: should Greece quit the euro? My answer is always the same: the Greeks will decide that for themselves.

After this weekend, that moment seems to have moved closer. Next week the Greeks will give their opinion, via a referendum, as to whether they are for or against the austerity agreement.

Since the beginning of the crisis the Greek economy has collapsed. 25% of the wealth has evaporated. One in four Greeks is unemployed and amongst young people the figure is as high as six out of ten. Extremely harsh austerity – many times greater even than in the Netherlands – has dismantled health care. Figures for poverty are rocketing, as is the number of suicides.

Billions in loans in recent years have not helped Greece. That’s not so hard to believe. Europe has primarily, with the money for Greece, rescued its own banks. These have, as a result, withdrawn from the country and governments have taken over their debts. Meanwhile the problems have not been solved, as Greece can only emerge from this catastrophe if some prospects of improvement arrive. A real solution: fewer right-wing reforms, less tax avoidance and more hope, optimism and revenue, so that the economy returns to the discussion.

That hope is not on offer from Dijsselbloem & Co. Worse still, instead of such hope, the Greeks have been handed a new austerity agreement which would drive the society, the public sector and the economy still further down.

This weekend’s crisis lays bare the fundamental problem of the euro. It is a struggle between European institutions which are allowing themselves to be led by the financial markets and a population which is demanding democracy and human dignity. The struggle for market and currency is colliding with the Greek struggle for humanity and democracy. The Greek people have opted for a social course, but Brussels cares nothing for election results. First the currency, then the people. That’s how things go in this Europe.

I can well imagine Tsipras’s choice. He has not, against the will of his constituents, agreed to impose an austerity agreement. Quite correctly, he has not left his voters in the lurch but instead has given them a voice. So a referendum is a logical decision. You might well wish that there were more such democrats in Brussels, and a great deal fewer technocrats sitting around the table.

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