‘The struggle should not be left to the Greeks alone’

18 July 2015

‘The struggle should not be left to the Greeks alone’

How intransigent are the Greeks? How lazy? These go together rather, witness the reform proposals which Tsipras and his team themselves put forward. Behind the scenes of the refoprm proposals, repayments and a possible Grexit, a struggle is being waged against subjection to Brussels and against absolute poverty – and for democracy,

By Rob Janssen

Syriza, the party of Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, is in common with the SP affiliated in the European Parliament to the United Left group, the GUE/NGL. So SP Euro-MP Dennis de Jong has once or twice been able to take a peek at some of his Greek colleagues’ ‘internal material’. For example he recently saw a Syriza proposal that included increased taxation on the biggest Greek firms, aka the proverbial oligarchs. But nothing came of the plan. It could not be implemented because the troika, made up of the European Commission, the European Central Bank (ECB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), would not allow it on the grounds that it would not deliver sufficient revenue. ‘Bizarre’, is how De Jong describes this.’ Where the Greeks try to change things and bring forward a suitably radical proposal, the European establishment opposes it. Take the fight against corruption, an important issue for the SP too. This same troika had in the recent past established a special taskforce to address the problem, specifically for Greece. But this taskforce has achieved nothing whatsoever, because they were unwilling to invest in jurists, judges and suchlike. And the Greek minister is now saying ‘Yes, I want to tackle fraud vigorously, but how can I do that if my services and my officials are being fired as a result of austerity?’ In short, you now at last for the first time have a Greek government which wants to settle accounts with this culture of corruption, and Europe is not giving them the chance to do so.

So De Jong gets pretty angry when he hears tales of ‘these lazy, profiteering Greeks’. The point is, he says ‘that this Greek government won’t go along with what its predecessor certainly went along with, namely the idea, advocated by the financial institutions, of Greece as a laboratory for neoliberal experiments where knives would be taken to – to take a couple of examples – the trade union movement and social provision. In Greece there are of course people who can’t work, and in Greece too old people have to be able to live. Generous pensions, you reckon? Well, it was Tsipras himself who announced measures to limit early retirement’.

Top priority

Against the background of all these emergency meetings and crisis meetings of the Eurogroup, the umpteenth discussion with Merkel and Juncker, the Greek referendum and a possible Grexit, Dennis de Jong formulates a single top priority. ‘As Europe we must, whatever it costs, avoid leaving millions of people to their fate. And absolutely separate to any political considerations. What I mean is that the Greek people are so close to us, their country is so nearby. Do we really want to see it left without social provisions, without work? Do we want people suffering from cancer there to no longer be able to receive treatment because they don’t have any money left to pay for health insurance? Such situations are already arising, however. You might expect the EU not to permit one of its member states to sink into deep poverty. Unfortunately I haven’t heard Juncker say anything which tends in this direction. Instead, he’s shutting off the money tap ever more tightly.’ Even the funds which Greece receives for the reception of refugees could be at risk. ‘This is pure blackmail by the European Commission,’ concludes De Jong.

But blackmail to what end? To force the Greeks’ hand, is De Jong’s view. This was his conclusion last month when the so-called ‘Five Presidents’ Report’ came out, one of the five being Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker. In order to ‘complete’ the European economic and monetary union, this ‘report’ argues, matters such as wages and the labour market must come even more closely into line with the Brussels agenda. Subject to Brussels, then, and even more so than is already the case. ‘The European establishment is scared to death that Greece will quit the EU,’ says De Jong. ‘Because if the country were to be a success without the euro and thus demonstrate that you can say no to the Brussels diktat, this would create a precedent for countries such as Spain, Portugal and also Italy. But the same goes if they fail to fulfil neoliberal demands; this could also inspire other countries. That’s why Tsipras has been treated so harshly by the establishment. So it’s high time that we stopped leaving the struggle for democracy to the Greeks and allowed our own voices to be heard. In reality we’re fighting the same battle – for democracy.’

Rob Janssen writes for the SP monthly Tribune, where this article first appeared, in the original Dutch.

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