Syriza must not succeed: The true nature of neoliberal Europe

24 September 2015

Syriza must not succeed: The true nature of neoliberal Europe

The SP is in solidarity with the Greeks, yet voted against a support package. The ‘support’ in question was a neoliberal straitjacket. Slowly the realisation is dawning: ever more people are beginning to see that lies have been told about Greece; ever more people are beginning to see that the European Union has little time for democracy and social politics.


by Diederik Ouders

The chaos in Greece is complete. After an overwhelming Greek ‘no’ in the referendum on the result of their government’s negotiations with the troika, Greece was punished for holding the vote. An even worse package of measures was imposed, with still harsher austerity for the Greeks. Syriza fell apart, with a section of its members and MPs refusing to accept that the government had reconciled itself to the troika-imposed austerity package. Seeking a renewed mandate, Geek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras called new elections, to take place on 20th September. (This was written before those elections, which Syriza of course won comfortably, while the left split failed to reach the 3% threshold – translator’s note).


Tax imposed….. on being alive

To give an example of how absurdly heavy are the austerity packages which affect the poorest Greeks, since 2013 the troika has demanded that income tax be imposed, even on people who have no income at all. Their reasoning goes like this: if you’re still alive, then clearly you must be buying food, and paying for a roof over your head. That proves that you must have at least €3000 p.m. in income – otherwise you’d be dead. So every Greek is assessed for at least this much income. The ever-growing body of unemployed people, with no income, entitled to no benefits, who daily hope that there’s something left to eat at the foodbank, have therefore to pay. Their situation is symbolic of the situation of the whole of Greece. Under threat of Greek banks being allowed to collapse, the country is being forced to carry through the most extreme austerity measures, which it has for some time been unable to do. Syriza came to power because the Greeks knew that. But Syriza must not be a success, because this would mean that Europe would see that there is an alternative to austerity.

The medicine is a poison pill

The SP voted in Parliament against the latest ‘agreement’, which included a fresh loan to Greece in order that the country could pay back its other loans, as well as, linked to this, a hefty austerity package. SP leader Emile Roemer said during a parliamentary debate that ‘the Greeks feel as if they’ve been put through the mangle. They are being forced to impose still harsher spending cuts, to break up still more public services and sell off still more public property. They don’t want that – justifiably! – because they know that this policy will lead to even more distress in their country. But Dutch people also feel like they’ve been put through the mangle, as once again they’re being asked to hand over billions. Not to aid the Greek people, but to rescue European banks and financial institutions. In 2010 the loan amounted to €110 billion. In 2012, 130 billion. And now we’re discussing a package of €86 billion. Despite all these loans, the Greek economy has in the last few years shrunk by more than a quarter. So the medicine for Greece hasn’t worked. I’d go further: the medicine for Greece has turned out to be a poison pill.

The Brussels Diktat: a boomerang

The leader of the Belgian PvdA (Labour Party), (a party of the radical left – translators’ note) Peter Mertens wrote in an opinion piece on a Belgian website, about what he called ‘the Brussels Diktat’, that ‘sooner or later the Brussels Diktat will hit them in the face like a boomerang they built themselves. The Diktat does nothing about the structural inequalities cooked hard into the eurozone from its inception. It does nothing about the crisis of unsustainable debt which has grown from these inequalities. It does nothing about the structural imbalances with which the continent has to struggle. And finally, the hopeless situation in Greece will not see a jot of improvement as a result. The Brussels Diktat has done nothing more than throw a blanket over a forest fire. It’s only a question of time until this blanket too catches fire.’

The euro isn’t working

During a visit to the SP’s parliamentary group in The Hague, NIcolaj Villumsen and Ogmundur Jonasson, from our sister parties in Denmark and Iceland respectively, spoke about what the left must learn from the last few months. Villumsen, a Danish MP and member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, said: ‘The Greek elections were a test for the European Union: could the EU accept that the people in a member state are choosing to do something which doesn’t please Brussels? The EU fell down monumentally in the face of this democratic test. It punished the Greek people for their disobedience with exceptionally severe austerity demands. That Syriza failed to halt the neoliberal austerity policy should not be held against them. The EU treaties within which they are operating are neoliberal and they had Europe’s greatest economic power against them, Germany. And don’t forget that the euro isn’t working. The differences between northern and southern Europe are so great that the only way to have a common currency would be by structurally transferring billions from the strong economies to the weak. That’s really unpopular. The EU, which was supposed to bring peace and unity, has since the euro principally brought tensions. I’m glad that the Danes back then voted against the introduction of the euro.’

Punished for democracy

The Icelander Ogmundur Jonasson has been a trade union official, a television reporter and a minister in the left government which rescued Iceland from the enormous financial crisis into which the country had fallen. He had great admiration for Syriza’s people: ‘They brought the negotiations with the troika out of the backrooms and involved the people in them via a referendum. They are being punished by the troika for so much democracy. Iceland has climbed out of the depths partly because we have our own currency. This luxury is something the Greeks don’t have. I can’t from the outside tell the Greeks what they should do; even inside Syriza disunity has led to a split.’

In shock

Villumsen also sees positive sides: ‘Many left parties in Europe are in shock. They still believed that the European treaties gave enough space and even possibilities to conduct a socially-oriented policy. Greece has opened their eyes. What Greece wanted was reasonable, humane and intelligent. And that’s also according to the best economists. But socially-oriented policies aren’t allowed by Brussels. Left parties must realise that Brussels will use all of its power to smash alternatives. That’s what happened in Greece. The Left can now develop a new, realistic strategy.’ Jonasson: ‘I see a lot of positive developments. Look at the US where the socialist Bernie Sanders is doing well. Look at Great Britain, where the left-wing Jeremy Corbyn has captured the Labour Party. Look at Podemos in Spain. At the electoral success of the Kurds in Turkey. And don’t forget that the left in Europe is also looking at the SP, the party which is growing steadily. More and more people are seeing the truth about neoliberal Europe. And they see that our ideas and ideals are good.’

‘This is not my Europe’

The Greeks deserve support. The SP stands in solidarity with the people of Greece, who are buckling under years of harsh austerity. The SP is also refusing to play along with the game in which Dutch is set against Greek. Emile Roemer, during the debate on the support package, had this to say: ‘This government is putting the Dutch as well as the Greek population up against the wall. The Netherlands could pay out a loan which the Greeks can’t sustain. It would then be only a question of time before we will be standing here again to debate a further loan for Greece. This isn’t money for the Greeks, it’s money for the banks. This doesn’t give the Greeks any further help, but sets the country back. This is no agreement; this is a straitjacket. A Europe in which democratic countries treat each other in this way is not my Europe.’

Lie: Greece is unwilling to introduce reforms and isn’t cutting spending.
Fact: According to the OECD, Greece is in the recent past the reform and austerity champion: 25% fewer civil servants, 18% cut in pension payments and cuts in health spending amounting to 40%, to name just three figures which would lead to panic in the Netherlands.
Lie: The Greeks pay no tax and are unwilling to do anything to ensure that big corporations pay normal taxes.
Fact 1: Greece was presented by the OECD as the best pupil in the school when it comes to effective tax collection. Halfway through 2013, the country established a special service with a staff of 125 which collected an extra €73 million in that year alone, more than half a million per employee in half a year.
Fact 2: It gets even worse. Greece was certainly willing, but was prevented by the troika. In the latest negotiations before the referendum the troika demanded that the Greek government cancel its plan to have firms with a net profit of more than €1 million pay an additional tax. That would, apparently, be bad for economic growth….
Lie: The Greeks are taking money free-of-charge from the Dutch taxpayer.
Fact: 90% of the money goes to northern European financial institutions. The Greeks don’t get a sniff of it. Worse still, economists from the Leibniz Institute for Economics in Halle, Germany have calculated that the Greek crisis has saved Germany €100 billion, as it means that Germany can borrow extremely cheaply. Even if Germany doesn’t get a cent back of the loans it has extended to Greece, Germany will on balance profit. The economists expect that the Netherlands too will gain advantages.
Lie: If Greece’s debts were to be partially waived, everyone will want to do the same and they’ll be able to borrow money easily.
Fact: Ukraine recently had a debt of €32 billion ‘forgiven’ by the IMF, and a fresh loan of €36.1 billion approved. If Greece even asks for such, newspapers and periodicals fill up with politicians and columnists crying scandal. Have you heard a thing about Ukraine’s debt write-off?  

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