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frank_psaila
Frank Psaila

Greece may be financially bankrupt, the EU is politically so

Last Sunday Greece – the cradle of democracy – voted, overwhelmingly, in support of their Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and against austerity measures imposed by the troika

frank_psaila
Frank Psaila
16 July 2015, 8:34am
What once captured our collective imagination is failing to live up to our hopes. What has already been apparent in the EU for a few years now is the self-destruction of a very noble idea of what its founding fathers set out to achieve – a united Europe based on peace and solidarity
What once captured our collective imagination is failing to live up to our hopes. What has already been apparent in the EU for a few years now is the self-destruction of a very noble idea of what its founding fathers set out to achieve – a united Europe based on peace and solidarity
When I was a teenager, the younger generation was lured by the idea of joining the European Union. Becoming part of the EU seemed a terribly exciting idea. It captured our collective imagination. The EU stood for solidarity, compassion, democracy, human rights and security. 

Fast forward to today.

Last Sunday Greece – the cradle of democracy – voted, overwhelmingly, in support of their Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and against austerity measures imposed by the troika – the EU, the European Central Bank and the IMF. In Britain, Prime Minister David Cameron secured a second term in office – with a stronger majority, on the back of calls to hold a referendum on Britain’s EU membership.

As thousands of helpless young men, women and children cross the Mediterranean on rickety boats in search of a better future, the EU seems lost on how to address this humanitarian crisis – with member states, notably Malta, Italy, Greece and Spain having to endure, on their own, thousands of migrants landing on their shores. In Eastern Europe, Hungary, an EU member state, decides to act unilaterally, by building a fence along its border with Serbia. The emergence of populist, at times radical movements in EU member states is, in itself, a stark reminder that there is a growing discontent with the EU and its leaders.

Ask people across the EU what the Union stands for, and you’re most likely to get angry replies. To the younger generation, who did not experience the cold war, the EU appears not as a peace project but as a passive spectator unable to create jobs, unwilling to deal with the increasing flow of migrants and interested only in imposing strict financial regulations and austerity measures. Public debate is largely missing within the EU, with decisions increasingly taken by the political elite and unelected officials in Brussels. And at a time when the world is facing a huge security threat, the EU seems at a loss on how to deal with militant groups who have gained ground in major European cities through the creation of terror cells.

Last Wednesday, Manfred Webber, chairman of the EPP Group in the European Parliament, told Prime Minister Tsipras that he should respect Europe’s basic values: Confidence, dignity, solidarity and democracy.

Mr Webber, Martin Schultz and the rest of their colleagues would do well to pause for a selfie. It would show a very grim, dull picture. I have no sympathy for Mr Tsipras and his populist politics, but EU leaders have only themselves to blame for the likes of Mr Tsipras. Syriza was a revolt against a Europe of austerity – mindlessly implemented throughout the EU with shocking consequences on the lives of millions of hard working men and women. Last Sunday’s referendum was a landslide victory for Syriza and a huge blow for the EU and its leaders. 

The writing has been on the wall for a very long time – but successive EU leaders have conveniently ignored the warning signs. Since the fall of Lehman Brothers in 2008 austerity measures have been imposed across the EU and the eurozone with low and medium income earners and small businesses carrying most of the burden. Greece has been on a freefall since 2008, and instead of taking the bull by the horns, major European banks lent to Greece, irresponsibly, to make profit.

When it was screamingly obvious that things were getting out of hand, Greece was forced to implement austerity measures, with debt shooting up to 180% of the GDP. The bulk of the 240 billion euro bailout money Athens received in 2010 and 2012 went back to the European banks – mostly French and German – that lent it money before the crash. The result was chaos – tens of thousands of people had to endure massive financial hardships and unemployment reached a record high. Tsipras and his populist Syriza party captured the disgruntled-with-the EU voters’ attention with its anti-austerity and anti-EU rhetoric giving them a landslide victory at the polls.  

Both sides are to blame, of course. Years of clientele politics and lack of enforcement on tax evasion are a major factor in Greece’s economic and financial meltdown. However, successive EU leaders are to blame, too. History will certainly show that the EU did the wrong thing when, from 2008 onwards, it placed more importance on austerity measures and fiscal targets rather than implementing much needed structural reforms within its institutions and its eurozone.  

EU citizens increasingly feel that the EU is concerned mostly with sticking to monetary and fiscal discipline and that the EU has lost its soul. Millions of EU citizens are struggling to make ends meet, youth unemployment is on the increase as are precarious working conditions in factories across Europe. Millions of people have no access to public health care while the sharp divide between the rich and the poor deepens. EU citizens feel that they are constantly being punished, through austerity measures, for sins committed by the political elite. Corruption is on the increase, while in countries such as Malta European citizenship is sold to the filthy rich as Brussels turns a blind eye. 

What once captured our collective imagination is failing to live up to our hopes. What has already been apparent in the EU for a few years now is the self-destruction of a very noble idea of what its founding fathers set out to achieve – a united Europe based on solidarity, peace and democracy. Successive EU leaders have strayed from the path set by the Founding Fathers. Adenauer, Schuman, De Gasperi and Monet must be turning in their graves.

In Brussels last Tuesday, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat described the Summit on the Greek crisis as a waste of time while according to media reports German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s patience was running out. Truth is that it is the people’s patience with the EU and its leaders that is running thin. People’s perception is that the EU is indifferent to their bread and butter issues and difficulties. Solidarity and compassion have been replaced with bureaucracy and fiscal measures as countries – such as Germany and France – play first among equals. 

The EU has lost its soul and unless the 28-nation bloc finds the true meaning of them being together, people’s perception of the EU will only worsen with the emergence of more far-right and extreme left movements, the inevitable consequence of its failure.

frank_psaila
Frank Psaila, a lawyer by profession, anchors Iswed fuq l-Abjad on Net TV. He was formerly...
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