The citizens of Greece should have the right to say “Yes” to European solidarity, or “No” to unreasonable austerity, which is only unreasonable because it has proven to be disastrous. But first and foremost, they should have the right to say either “NAI” or “OXI”, without the fear of being misunderstood! And if it’s really the European Union’s future at stake in this referendum, there doesn’t seem to be any other choice more pro-European than a sound “OXI”! By Alexandros Semeloglou
So D-Day has come, once again. It’s clear that the decision the Greek people has to make will not be an easy one. The weight of the responsibility coming with the referendum to be held today is much greater than one can expect them to bear. 37 pages of a text full of technical terms regarding fiscal policies as proposed to Greece in the last Eurogroup is incomprehensible to most people, and while it guarantees confusion, it is open to various interpretations.
But not only its content is open to many interpretations, depending on one’s interests, wishful thinking and hopes, expectations and goals. Contradicting the Syriza government’s intentions and paraphrasing, the actual question presented in this referendum, an impressively large majority of European politicians have highlighted what a possible “No” outcome could bring about; namely a Grexit. Since last Saturday, when Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras announced his decision to hold a referendum, and let the Greek people decide whether to accept or reject the suggestions of the country’s creditors, high officials in Brussels, heads of member-states and finance ministers of the Eurozone unanimously declared that they will perceive a “Yes” as a “Yes to Europe”, while stressing that “No” would mean “No to the Eurozone”.
Given the attachment of the Greek people to the single currency – despite its fallacies revealed since the beginning of the financial crisis in 2008 – and the electorate’s mandate for an end to austerity in the Eurozone during the national elections held in Greece only in late January, the statements of the country’s partners in Europe prompted suspicions. Their verbal positioning is perceived by many Greeks as a raw intervention to their national politics and an attempt to prevent what is considered to be the absolute expression of direct democracy: a referendum.
If one adds the assumption that Eurozone leaders, conservative in the majority, try to discredit the socialist Greek government because it is inconvenient for their own political agenda on the national level, the true state of European democracy becomes even more questionable. However, an attempt to comprehend a possible “Yes” or a possible “No” of the Greeks to Eurogroup’s economic plan for their country, shouldn’t be merely narrowed down to interpretations, so let us stick to the facts for a moment.
Voters will hold in their hands a ballot paper asking them if they want to implement a program similar to the one that put many of them out of work. It is hard to see how one can expect them to vote “yes”, still.
After five years under the external rule of the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the IMF in a controversial guest-star role, the Greeks tasted the bitter austerity medicine imposed to them as the appropriate solution to revive their economy. The results turned out to be catastrophic: 25% in GDP decline, an unemployment rate of 26% – a record high in Greece’s modern history – with roughly 60% of the young people without a job. The Greek people can’t and won’t wait until the “institutions formerly known as the Troika” officially acknowledge their failed approach to the country’s problems. Voters will hold in their hands a ballot paper asking them if they want to implement a similar program in the coming years. It is hard to see how one can expect them to vote “yes”, still.
Greeks have at least two reasons to stick to their “No”: A “No” to a failed austerity that is tearing apart the Eurozone and a “No” to a misinterpretation of what the European Union stands for; a trend currently very popular in Brussels and often described as “solidarity with rules” by politicians whose idea of Europe seems to be limited to neoliberal concepts of competitiveness and a single currency, which apparently, exclusively serves a powerful economic elite, the so-called investors if you prefer.
Only very recently, German Chancellor Angela Merkel formulated an opinion, which appears to back Germany’s strict stance on the Greek debt crisis: “A good European is not one who seeks a consensus at any cost. A good European is rather one who takes into consideration the European Treaties and respective national law, and in doing so, helps that the stability of the Eurozone won’t get damaged”, she said.
Law-makers are aware that legal treaties and laws are often subject to interpretations as well. But if the current problem of Europe is the open space for misunderstandings on what Prosperity, Security and Human Rights mean, officials in Brussels should have to explain to the Greeks why the European Union’s fundamental ideas appear to be incompatible with their proposals.
But even if they won’t, a good European, in accordance to the Chancellor’s definition, should be convinced that a “Yes” vote that equals austerity would likely enhance such incompatibilities. While at the same time, one could argue that a “No” is a call for Europe to return to its core ideas, those that shaped its initial promises after the most disastrous war ever experienced in this continent; a “No” to punitive policies that disregard European fundaments such as peoples’ rule and welfare states.
Either with “Yes” or “No” on Sunday, all parties need to be at the table the following day and work on a solution that takes into account the European Treaties and the national laws, in order to ensure the stability of the Eurozone. Those who treat the membership to the EU and to the zone of the single currency, as not being irrevocable, should take into account what Chancellor Merkel said and be ready to take responsibility for the damage of the Union’s integrity now or in the future!
If one would read the question of this referendum as it has been formally postulated, there seems to be no space for misinterpretations. However, if European leaders want to see a possible rejection of regressive policies as a rejection of the EU, one can’t be sure anymore whose interpretation of this Sunday’s outcome would pose the biggest threat to Europe and the stability of its single currency.
Greece’s citizens realise that the road will be hard and their future less prosperous than it used to be, no matter if they decide for a “Yes” or a “No”. Nevertheless, they are entitled to claim support from their partners in order to ensure their European perspective. They should have the right to say “Yes” to European solidarity, and “No” to unreasonable austerity, which is only unreasonable because it has proven to be disastrous. They should have a say on shaping the new Eurozone rules that Europe will have to reconsider very soon, one way or another. But foremost, they should have the right to say either “NAI” or “OXI”, without the fear of being misunderstood! But if it’s really the European Union’s future at stake in this referendum, there doesn’t seem to be any other choice more pro-European than a sound “OXI”!
Image “Yes and No ads in Athens”, courtesy of Reuters/Christian Hartmann, released under Creative Commons
Image “pro-No Protesters in Syntagma square”, courtesy of Nikolas Georgiou/Zuma Press, released under Creative Commons