Three reflections on the potential non-Grexit

By André Barrinha, Lecturer in Politics and International Relations

The Eurozone is and should be a solidarity-based postsovereign project – There are good reasons for this. It has been proven by history that sovereignty in Europe can be problematic. Europe (EU member states) is living its longest ever period of peace: more than half a century without an armed conflict. Unfortunately, the ghosts of the past can quickly resurface. As seen in the recurrent allusion to World War II metaphors in this Grexit crisis, we are still recovering from 1945.The Eurozone should be a further step towards a post-sovereign Europe. As Chris Bickerton shows here, the Eurozone is (or should be) about solving Europe’s financial and economic problems, not Germany’s or Greece’s; if one has to use the sovereign card (whether it’s Merkel or Tsipras) then there’s something wrong with the Eurozone (which there is). But again, the solution is to reform it, not to withdraw to a sovereigntist position. The Europe of sovereign states is not the Europe of solidarity. One of the reasons for the extremely poor handling of the Eurozone crisis since 2010 has been too much sovereignty; too many short-sighted national (and private) interests competing in what should be seen as a Europe-wide problem. Issues that are solved neither with harsh treatments nor with referendums…

Referendums (or referenda, for the purists) are a democratic eccentricity in representative democracy – There’s something quite appealing in asking big questions for the electorate to vote on. It is about giving voice to the ultimate sovereign: the people. It is the highest example of democracy in motion, or so we are led to believe. In a representative democracy, however, those decisions should be made by those elected. They have the power and the responsibility to do so. A political leader that calls for a referendum is acknowledging, first and foremost, that he or she has neither the capacity nor the courage to take a decision; that he or she rejects the responsibility it was given by the electorate to decide. A referendum is always the acceptance of one’s political limitations; a refusal to represent. Unfortunately it seems almost fashionable to call for referendums in Europe these days. Referendums are used to approve treaties, a plethora of social issues (from abortion to same-sex marriage), or as bargaining tools (Boris Johnson has recently suggested that the UK should have not one, but two Brexit referendums…). Questions are often related to highly complex issues and referendum results are not always followed by those that asked the question (as was the case of the current Greek government). Other European leaders would have possibly followed the same route Tsipras followed given similar circumstances. The issue here is not whether he should or shouldn’t have called for a referendum; the issue here is that the referendum was seen as an option. Governments and parliaments should decide. They were elected to do so.

We urgently need to revitalise the European project – In my view, the EU is not a luxury of rich nations; it is an historical necessity for the Europeans. For the current generation of politicians, however, the only benefit that comes out of Brussels is showing that one has reached a good deal for our country. Other than that, the EU is more a source of problems than solutions: too much bureaucracy, too much regulation, too much meddling in national affairs. There no longer is any prestige associated with being a European leader or thinking in terms of the future of Europe. The agreement reached today was a result of this mind-frame. The political implications of what happened last night will take some time to clarify. It is, however, quite obvious that more austerity will certainly not revitalise the European project. It is unlikely that can happen at all with the current European leadership. Ideological blindness, private financial interests, national stereotypes and professional politicians with limited capacity or appetite for thinking beyond the next electoral cycle seem to progressively push Europe towards its disintegration. Mitterrand and Kohl, for all their flaws, now seem figures of a distant past, while our current leaders lack a clear vision for our European future.


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