Humiliating Greece comes at a price

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat’s stance before the longest summit in EU history got underway on Sunday afternoon contrasted greatly with the dovish stand of Italy and France, who pushed for an agreement and resisted the most extreme German demands.

Cartoon by Thom Cuschieri
Cartoon by Thom Cuschieri

Before and during the weekend’s marathon talks on the Greek crisis, Malta was listed by the international media as one of the hawks in the stand-off between Eurozone leaders and Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. 

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat’s stance before the longest summit in EU history got underway on Sunday afternoon contrasted greatly with the dovish stand of Italy and France, who pushed for an agreement and resisted the most extreme German demands.

“We need a solution but not at any cost,” Muscat said, clearly aligning himself with Berlin which went as far as proposing a temporary Grexit and handing over control of €50 billion worth of “valuable Greek assets” to an external institution led by Germany’s hawkish finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble.

In contrast, Italy and France’s social-democrat leaders Matteo Renzi and Francois Hollande excluded Grexit at any cost. By raising the specter of Grexit, Muscat allied himself with Schäuble and made it very clear that Malta would oppose any form of debt relief.

Speaking at the end of the summit, Muscat admitted that Greece “might have been humiliated” but indicated that he did little to avoid what has been described as a “cruel” deal during the protracted negotiations in Brussels.

This position also contrasts with Muscat’s incessant calls for European solidarity over migration, with the Prime Minister repeatedly warning European leaders that “people say solidarity, solidarity, but then nothing happens.”

Sadly, Malta’s greatest contribution during the marathon talks was the amount of tweets sent by Muscat and Finance Minister Edward Scicluna, which were obviously picked up by foreign news agencies. While this kept Malta in the news and perhaps contributed to the dissemination of information, it exposed Malta’s reluctance to disagree with the Teutonic giant and concealed what little meaningful contribution Malta could have given.

Admittedly, Malta is a country whose influence within the EU is limited by its size and economic muscle and nobody expected Malta to take a stand against Germany on its own.

But one would have expected Malta to join Mediterranean neighbours such as France and Italy who at least made Greece feel less isolated and ruled out a Grexit from the very beginning. The Greeks will surely remember who stood by their side when they needed it most and Malta will not be among the list of friends. 

Allying ourselves with Hollande and Renzi and showing solidarity with our Mediterranean neighbours would have made long-term strategic sense and besides, Malta’s hawkish position was also peculiar given the special relationship with Italy, especially in terms of migration, with our neighbours taking in the majority of asylum seekers who previously landed in Malta.   

Furthermore, Greece was one of the foremost supporters of Malta’s EU accession and despite its current predicaments it remains a proud European and Mediterranean nation. Malta’s decision to alienate Greece was not inevitable, after all Luxembourg – which is also a small country – was not afraid of allying itself with France and Italy. 

Apart from geographic considerations, Muscat chose to align himself with conservative and right-wing governments such as Germany, Finland, Austria and the Baltic states instead of aligning himself with fellow centre-left leaders Holland and Renzi.

To add to the irony, while Eurozone negotiators were at loggerheads in Brussels, Muscat and Opposition leader Simon Busuttil were commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Helsinki conference in Malta.

The contrast between former socialist Prime Minister Dom Mintoff’s Mediterranean dimension and Muscat’s disregard for a fellow Mediterranean EU member state in its hour of need cannot go unnoticed, and while one may disagree with Mintoff’s methods, his vision on putting the Mediterranean at the centre of international diplomacy was visionary.   

Mintoff held that there could be no peace in Europe without peace in the Mediterranean and the social and economic havoc caused by austerity in Greece is in itself a threat to Mediterranean security and stability.  

Muscat’s is not a solitary voice, as Busuttil has been equally hawkish in his stand on Greece. While Busuttil was expected to at least oppose the threat of a Grexit he once again missed an opportunity to reach out to voters who are disoriented by Muscat’s posturing on the Greek saga.

The PN leader blamed it all on Tsipras’ brinkmanship and while the PN was following the line of the European People’s Party, Busuttil – whose name is associated with enthusiasm for the European project – has aligned himself with a position which has dealt a severe blow to the European project.  

As things stand, although Grexit has for the time being been avoided, the imposition of socially catastrophic austerity by Europe’s last possible interlocutor, the Europeanist leftist Greek premier, may well pave the way for something more sinister than the exacerbation of poverty and depression.

The last time a country was humiliated and brought to its knees by its European partners was in the aftermath of the Great War, when the 1919 Versailles Treaty stripped Germany of its economic, military and territorial assets. 

If Syriza is driven out of power by might or by right, the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn will inherit the mantle of the anti-austerity struggle and the rise of the far right in Greece could well endanger stability in the Mediterranean and beyond.

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