Saturday, 20 December 2014 / TRUTH-OUT.ORG

The Tragedy of Greece as a Case Study of Neo-Imperial Pillage and the Demise of Social Europe

Sunday, 13 October 2013 00:00 By C.J. Polychroniou, Truthout | News Analysis

Striking farmers market vendors hand out fruit and vegetables for free to consumers in Athens, Greece, May 15, 2013. The handouts were part of a protest against the government's plan to liberalize closed professions. (Photo: Angelos Tzortzinis / The New York Times) Striking farmers market vendors hand out fruit and vegetables for free to consumers in Athens, Greece, May 15, 2013. The handouts were part of a protest against the government's plan to liberalize closed professions. (Photo: Angelos Tzortzinis / The New York Times) In early 2010, Greece, a weak and peripheral economy in the euro area, went bankrupt but was subsequently "bailed out" by its euro partners and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Ever since, the small southern Mediterranean nation and birthplace of democracy has been a guinea pig for the policy prescriptions of a neoliberal European Union (EU) under the command of Germany and its northern allies, with the IMF serving as a junior partner. A public debt crisis has been used as an opportunity to dismantle a rudimentary social state, to sell off profitable public enterprises and state assets at bargain prices, to deprive labor of even its most basic rights after decades of hard-fought struggles against capital, and to substantially reduce wages, salaries and pensions, creating a de facto banana republic. It has been done with the support of a significant segment of the Greek industrial-financial class and with the assistance of the domestic political elite, which since the onset of the crisis has relied heavily on dictatorial action to carry out the commands of the country's foreign creditors.

Now Greece is on the verge of collapse. The nation's output has experienced a cumulative decline of 20 percent; the official unemployment rate has climbed to almost 28 percent, with youth unemployment for the ages of 16-24 close to 65 percent. More than 30 percent of the citizens live near or below the poverty line, and the debt-to-GDP ratio has increased from approximately 127 percent in 2009 to over 180 percent in the summer of 2013 (even after a major "haircut" that took place last year among private holders of Greek sovereign debt). Because of the draconian budget cuts in the name of "expansionary austerity," the public health care system lies in ruins, with some hospitals lacking the proper medical equipment to perform certain operations or the drugs needed to treat cancer patients and private pharmacies refusing to provide more drugs until the state pays them the hundreds of millions of euros it owes. Public schools are in shambles; many schools throughout Greece cannot even afford heating oil.

In addition, there is a huge migration wave (particularly among the educated), crime is rampant, and suicides spread like the plague, not to mention the sharp rise of the neo-Nazi party of Golden Dawn, which, until the recent murder of an anti-fascist, anti-racist rapper at the hands of a paid assassin of this criminal organization and the government crackdown that ensued as a result, had emerged as a vital reactionary political force, openly challenging whatever democratic values are still left in today's economically beleaguered Greece.      

In sum, three years and a half years after the EU and IMF, the "twin monsters" of global neoliberalism, came to the "rescue," Greece has been transformed from a developed economy into an emerging economy, posting unemployment and poverty rates that are normally associated with so-called "third world" nations, and is permanently stuck in a vicious cycle of debt, austerity and depression.

Welcome to the economics of social disaster and the new European era of imperial pillage.

To be sure, long before the recent IMF admitted its errors in the first Greek bailout program,[1] most economic observers knew the plan wasn't going to work. It was a "bailout" plan more in line with the desire to inflict punishment on a "profligate" southern member state participating in the euro area and the need to protect European banking interests and less with a well-thought-out strategic plan for providing a solution to a financial crisis in a peripheral country, which essentially amounted to a structural crisis in the institutional design of the European monetary system as a whole.

Astute and politically attuned analysts could see that the so-called "bailout" plan was in tune with the mindless neoliberal social engineering that has driven the agenda of financial global institutions (IMF, World Bank) in the past 35 or so years irrespective of geographical area and domestic economic and social needs. Indeed, the undertaking of an extreme neoliberal socio-economic experiment has been the defining mark of the contemporary political era, pursued with the same zeal and fanatical devotion by free market fundamentalists as was the spread of the gospel of Soviet communism under the Comintern. And just like Soviet communism, global neoliberalism has produced a dystopia that is causing increasing economic downturns and employment crises, financial shocks, poverty and social exclusion.

The Greek "bailout" was an imperial plan by design. It denied a bankrupt country the opportunity to restructure its debt, instead offering its government a massive loan package (110 billion euros) that carried a usurious interest rate (5 percent) and included onerous demands: a rapid fiscal consolidation program (intended to reduce deficits and the accumulation of debt) that hadn't been seen in policymaking circles since the harsh economic adjustment program imposed by Ceausescu on the Romanians in the 1980s (to repay foreign debts that consisted largely of IMF loans provided for geopolitical reasons) and a related set of economic policies based on long disproven assumptions (e.g., labor standards undermine competitiveness, flexible labor reduces unemployment, austerity boosts business confidence and generates growth, and privatization saves money). Accordingly, the structural adjustment and austerity programs implemented in Greece by the EU and IMF featured sharp cuts in wages, pensions and social benefits; sharp increases in taxes; labor market liberalization; the blanket privatization of public assets and state-owned resources; and public sector layoffs.

Essentially, the "bailout" plan was as rotten as the Greek political establishment. But it takes two to tango. Little wonder then why Greece's international lenders have relied all along on the same political characters (the conservatives and the socialists) that led the nation to the brink of disaster to carry out their wild neoliberal experiment.[2] Only Vichylike governments would have accepted so obediently "bailout" terms and conditions that amount to the pillaging of the national patrimony and the systematic deterioration of a nation's standard of living.

In less than two years after the implementation of the first bailout, and with every relevant economic and social index in catastrophic course (e.g., the official unemployment rate increased by some 30 percent, the GDP shrank annually by over 6 percent, the debt increased by some 60 billion euros, with the debt-to-GDP ratio exceeding 170 percent in December 2011), a second bailout agreement was put in place for the sum of 130 billion euros and with even harsher fiscal adjustment conditions than the first bailout agreement. But the approach in the handling of the Greek crisis has been consistent all along: the sicker the patient gets by the medicine prescribed by the quack doctors of the EU and the IMF, an ever higher dosage is given over the next treatment session. 

To this day, EU and IMF officials remain as committed to the policies that are responsible for the collapse of Greece, and in spite of the IMF's admission that it misjudged the impact of austerity on Greek economy and society. The reason is because the shock treatments administered by the EU and IMF to Greece have at this point three explicit goals in mind:

- To ensure that the loans are paid back no matter what the cost.

- To roll back the average standard of living to create highly favorable conditions for international business-investment opportunities and to increase the rate of profit for the corporate and financial elite at home.

- To strip the country of its natural resource  wealth.

It was not by accident that the EU and IMF officials, who were completely ignorant of the nature, the composition, the dynamics and the contradictions of the Greek economy, rushed to declare that the roots of the Greek crisis were to be found in an allegedly bloated public sector that wasted too many resources on lazy, unproductive citizens and hindered the potential of the private sector. They proposed policies of procrustean fiscal contraction measures and Spartanlike austerity for the average citizens. What if the facts did not fit this narrative? Indeed, all the available data showed that the Greek public sector, while inefficient and corrupt, was actually smaller than the public sector of many other European nations, that Greeks worked on average more than most other Europeans and that even Greek productivity in the years leading up to the crisis compared favorably with that of Germany.[3]And what if there were huge imbalances in the eurozone, with the core states running huge surpluses and the peripherals running huge deficits?[4] Greece was judged to be solely responsible for the sad state of its fiscal condition in the age of the euro and had to be punished, both as penance for its sins and as a warning to its southern cousins that the same fate awaited them if they didn't put their own fiscal houses in order.

It is this cynical, brutal perspective that led to Greece becoming an unwilling test subject for the EU's neoliberal vision and kept Germany's game going when things got rough in Euroland. Most of the German banks were overexposed to Greek debt and nearly insolvent. The May 2010 bailout in the sum of 110 billion euros was orchestrated by the EU and the IMF in an apparent attempt to have Greece keep up with its debt payments to foreign banks; hence the rejection of even the slightest consideration of a debt restructuring, even though this would have been the quickest and safest way to allow Greece some breathing room. Helping its economy recover through the coordinated implementation of a large-scale development plan also would have been appropriate in a proper economic and monetary union.

But the EU is neither about solidarity nor does it aim toward convergence and the protection of the social contract - as its supporters used to preach until recently.

The EU is a treaty-based organization set up after World War II as a means of putting an end to a favorite practice of the Europeans: sorting out their national differences by engaging in bloody warfare. The European experiment - the formation of a Common Market, which led eventually to economic and monetary union - has been linked with some remarkable outcomes: Europe has experienced its longest period of peace since the end of World War II, and war among European member-states now seems highly unlikely. Naturally, senior EU officials never miss an opportunity to remind the public of this achievement whenever the policies of the "new Rome" are questioned by a European citizenship fed up with authoritarian decision-making processes, bank bailouts masquerading as national bailouts, austerity policies and the pillaging of the debtor countries by the center.

The absence of war among European nations in the postwar era and the historic moves toward European integration that led to the formation of the eurozone point, however, in the direction of a correlation rather than a causal relation between these two variables. Unquestionably, the very nature and structure of the world system that emerged in the postwar era - with the United States achieving superpower status, the Soviet threat, the formation of NATO and the use of nuclear weapons to maintain a balance of power - substantially minimized the prospects for renewed warfare among Europe's traditional foes. Perhaps there is even something to be said here about the deep and profound impact that World War II must have had on the consciences of Europe's leaders and public alike.

The European experiment in integration - from the European Economic Community (EEC) to today's EU - allegedly has made a big positive difference in the economic and social development of European member-states, including those at the periphery. This is a highly debatable claim, if not an outright exaggeration. The free movement of capital, labor and goods within the EU worked well for a while - for financial capital, on the one hand, and, on the other, for the core countries that had a competitive advantage to begin with. Although great benefits accrued to those who took full advantage (domestic capitalists as well) of the era of financialization, the illusion of convergence and higher standards of living for all has been shattered, with inequality trends growing substantially within and between member-states.

Lest we forget, Europe's economic weaknesses were evident in the 1970s and 1980s, in spite of the explosion in intra-EEC agreements during this period. The Single European Act (SEA) of 1986 was a policy reaction on the part of the EEC to the structural crisis then facing the 12 member-states in terms of their becoming "a market without a state." With most EEC member states already having abandoned Keynesianism, the SEA was a desperate attempt to increase "competitiveness" and boost corporate profits, and it cemented the end of the era of "managed capitalism" in Europe. Instead of social protections and growth through fiscal-oriented policies, it was the market mentality that now ruled the day. Price stability replaced the emphasis on jobs, and "labor market reform" became the new doctrine. The SEA also opened up the path for massive privatization and the liberalization of financial markets. "Free market capitalism" had arrived in Europe.

Free-market capitalism is, of course, one of the great myths of our time.[5] Neoliberalism - the politico-ideological formulation and economic project for the advancement of "free" markets - is all about a corporate-financial assault on the welfare state and the standard of living of the working classes, low taxation for corporations and the rich, increasing labor exploitation, unrestrained capital mobility and strategic positioning on the part of capital for new market opportunities via the removal of domestic political and economic barriers. Neoliberalism does not end the state, but rather positions the state to serve the interests of capital exclusively. At the global level, neoliberalism's aim is to weaken the power of the state in peripheral economies through the assistance and collaboration of the domestic political elite, who, in exchange, gain more direct access to the resources and wealth of the economies in question. Essentially, then, neoliberalism represents an ideological doctrine propagated and imposed by the core countries on the periphery, while the "core" reserves the right to practice protectionist policies back home (and often does so) for the benefit of its own favorite industries and oligopolistic businesses. Thus, the SEA should not be seen as an all-embracing "free market" strategy on the part of the EEC. Its removal of barriers for the expansion of "free trade" was limited to European nations; countries outside of the European market were excluded. Even today, poor nations from Latin America and Africa find it almost impossible to penetrate the European market with their agricultural products.

Furthermore, as with the promotion of any neoliberal project, and in sharp contrast to the official rhetoric, institutions that lack democratic accountability and legitimacy have been assigned paramount importance from the very start of the movement toward an "anti-social Europe."[6] It is thus no accident that the EU has turned out to be one huge, bureaucratic labyrinth, completely removed from public scrutiny and totally unaccountable to its citizens. Its undemocratic (if not antidemocratic) nature is rather striking, and it has been getting worse over time.[7] The European Parliament is a politically impotent institution. All major legislative activities are undertaken by the Council of Ministers - an institution with no democratic legitimacy whatsoever because its members exercise a role inside the EU for which they are not even indirectly elected. The European Commission is yet another nonelected institution that possesses a lot of political power.

The EU is designed in ways that facilitate direct catering to the needs and concerns of powerful interests instead of those of the common citizen. As for the famous "principle of subsidiarity," introduced as Article 3b in the Treaty Establishing the European Community and later incorporated in the Maastricht Treaty (see below) as Article 5 - and which many continue to treat as evidence of the democratic nature of the decision-making process in the EU - is more an optical illusion than anything else. The "principle of subsidiarity" does not assert, as is often claimed, that decisions will be made at the lowest possible level, but rather that "the Community shall take action, in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, only if and in so far as the objectives of the proposed action cannot be sufficiently achieved by the Member States and can therefore, by reason of the scale or effects of the proposed action, be better achieved by the Community."

What has now become abundantly clear is that all major EU decisions are made at the top level by nonelected officials while national citizens are relegated to a status equal to that enjoyed by the subjects of ancient Rome. In the current eurozone debt crisis, even the heads of indebted member-states have very little say in the decision-making process, with the German minister of finance behaving like a Caesar.

The type of Europeanization process that has been unleashed since the signing of the Maastricht Treaty in 1992 is completely alien to the vision of a social and democratic Europe. This development also has had a catastrophic impact on the ability of national governments to address effectively the specific needs of their own economies and societies, as the current global economic crisis so bluntly attests.

The Maastricht Treaty incorporated the key ideas and principles that were included in the SEA and proceeded with the formal institutionalization of a neoliberal framework for the future direction of European economies, including the setting up of a currency union and a European Central Bank (ECB). In essence, the treaty formalized the drive toward "anti-social Europe" and outlined in a specific manner the steps to be taken for the adoption of a single currency (the transition to the formation of a European Monetary Union [EMU] was to involve three stages between 1993 and 1999, when the official launching of the eurozone occurred). According to the treaty, which sought to allow only good candidates to join the EMU, any European convergence economy was eligible to adopt the euro, provided: (a) its inflation rate was not more than 1.5 percent above the average of the three-lowest inflation rates among EU countries; (b) its government debt and deficit were no more than 60 percent and 3 percent of its GDP, respectively; (c) it had joined the exchange rate mechanism of the European Monetary System and maintained normal exchange rate fluctuation margins for two years without severe tensions arising; and (d) its long-term interest rate was no more than 2 percent above that of the three countries with the lowest inflation rate.[8]

All these figures were arbitrarily derived. Why should the deficits have been 3 percent and the national debt less than 60 percent of GDP? Given the dominant role of the deutsche mark at the time, it is probably a good guess that the figures were an invention of the Bundesbank - as was the design of the ECB, with its glaring omission of a lender-of-last-resort function. In a way, however, these figures were also virtually meaningless because they were systematically violated by states that sought to join the EMU - including, first and foremost, Germany itself. But along the way, when things got rough for the euro, these benchmarks for deficits and debt-to-GDP ratios would prove to be very useful tools in enforcing German economic orthodoxy.

In analyses of the foundations of the European Monetary System, commentators frequently make note of its flawed architectural design. However, its so-called "flawed" architecture was not the result of a "technical error." As already argued, it stemmed from the very premises of the fundamentally neoliberal economic thinking that had begun to take hold of the mindset of European policymakers in the 1980s in their apparent effort to find a way to end "eurosclerosis" and boost European corporate profits. The sudden shift from a social market economy, which took root in the 1940s and prevailed till the early 1980s, to a laissez-faire market economy was too blatant to be missed. By the time the Maastricht Treaty was signed, European policymaking circles had become obsessed with the belief that the critical variables for growth, fairness and convergence were to be found in trade openness and competition (Article 102a), deep financial integration and no restrictions on capital movements (Article 73b).

The Maastricht Treaty should be understood as the political expression of a socialized European elite's bias in favor of the internationalization of capital. Behind all the talk about "free trade" was the unmistakable desire to cater to the needs of European multinationals and oligopolistic industries. The 1980s was a decade of megamergers and acquisitions, and it reflected the growing excitement that a common market produced in the European business world. In the 1990s, there was a new and far more explosive wave of mergers and acquisitions taking place in Europe whose value "was almost as large as that of deals in the United States."[9]Finally, the deregulation mania that had kicked in led to a huge consolidation process by the banking industry.

It was in the context of these economic developments that the Maastricht Treaty took shape, laying the foundation for the highly problematic structure of the European Union we have today. The move toward the adoption of a single currency is consistent with the view of the creation of a unified European market with a scaled-back state, based on the belief that less state "interference" paves the way to more efficient business operations and lower unit labor costs. It is not a belief that promotes sustainable development or well-functioning and decent societies. With the adoption of a single currency, the space for national economic policymaking was severely constrained and, in the absence of a federal government to attend to issues of full employment and convergence, austerity became, almost by default, an integral component of the new European political economy, providing a perfect match to labor flexibility and other anti-social reform measures - privatization, the commodification of health and education, pension reform - all of which are geared toward the complete marketization of society.

The process of a fully launched European capitalist integration as initiated by the SEA and formalized by the Maastricht Treaty is not a new phenomenon as such. The growth of world economic integration had tremendous momentum from the mid-19th century up to the outbreak of World War I.[10] The processes of European integration also are not different qualitatively from regional integration processes that had taken place in other parts of the world - although it is true that we do not have proper comparative studies involving the EU and other kinds of regional organizations. But even if seen as a polity rather than a regional or even an international regime, the EU is still not unique, because we already have for comparison the federal or semifederal cases of the United States, Canada and Switzerland. In fact, if there is anything striking about the foundations of European monetary union it is how unimaginative and purely technocratic they are: They simply rest on the much-admired German model of monetary and financial stability, which is void of any crisis prevention or management mechanisms.[11] Its design has proven to be more than faulty, as the ongoing crisis in the eurozone points clearly to underlying problems of imbalances in the euro area as well as to overall structural weaknesses in the governance model. Rather than being unique, the EU is actually an oddity - a Frankensteinlike creation. And just like Dr. Frankenstein, Germany refuses to accept responsibility for its creation by preventing the EU from following an appropriate development course conducive to the needs and well-being of the entire body politic, with special emphasis on the weaker parts, treating it instead as a means for satisfying its own economic ambitions and wants. The design of the ECB on the basis of the Bundesbank statutes, for example, reflects not only the German economic mindset but also Germany's aspirations for economic domination of the eurozone. Indeed, the Bundesbank is not the world's most conservative monetary authority by accident: It fits with Germany's economic and corporate interests.

The antigrowth, undemocratic approach that is embedded in the Maastricht Treaty and reinforced by virtually all other treaties since - the Treaties of Amsterdam (1997), Nice (2002) and Lisbon (2007) - ensures uneven development and authoritarian decision making in the functioning of the European integration project. The Lisbon Treaty, in particular, strengthened even further the "democratic deficit" component built into the EU framework (although its supporters argued, perversely, that this was a treaty that actually addressed the problem of "democratic deficit"), with most of the laws now being made in Brussels under the command of an imperial Germany. The conservative and undemocratic nature of the EU and Germany's imperial role in it have become unfailingly clear since the eruption of the eurozone crisis three and a half years ago, when Greece, with its high fiscal deficit and ballooning public debt, was shut out of the international credit markets and sought refuge under a deal brokered by the EU and the IMF so as not to default on its debt obligations and cause a contagion effect throughout the euro area.

The handling of Greece's debt problem was not based on any solidarity principle on the part of the EU but instead was measured exclusively on the basis of its impact on Europe's banks, which were highly exposed to Greek debt. The terms of the bailout sought to ensure that the debt repayments continued by subjecting Greek society to ruthless austerity measures and the most violent fiscal consolidation program forced upon a European economy since World War II. Consistent with the original premises of the Maastricht Treaty and the antigrowth mindset of the European integration project as a whole, Greece was not offered a viable way out of its crisis but instead was turned into a laboratory for a radical neoliberal transformation.

But this is not the accidental outcome of a flawed policy: it is the result of a conscious EU policy under the command of an imperial Germany for the pillage of the indebted countries of the southern Mediterranean (Greece, Portugal, Spain, Cyprus - and Italy, if they can succeed) and their transformation into colonies of the imperial center. The euro has become an albatross around the neck of the peripheral nations, with Germany dragging them around like slaves on the way to the marketplace.

Germany has adopted toward the indebted eurozone member-states the same policy it carried out with regard to East Germany after unification: the destruction of its industrial base and the conversion of the former Communist nation into a satellite of Berlin. The bank rescues masquerade as the rescue of nations, and are followed by the enforcement of unbearable austerity measures to ensure repayment of the "rescue" loans. Then comes the implementation of strategic economic policies aimed at reducing the standard of living for the working population and the shrinking of the welfare state, complete labor flexibility and the sale of public assets, including state-controlled energy companies and ports. This constitutes the German strategy for pillaging the debt-laden economies of the Mediterranean region.

In Greece, the strategy for the pillage of the domestic economy even has led to the creation of a special privatization agency (TAIPED) for the management of the sale of public assets. The only thing missing is a sign announcing Greece: A Nation for Sale. The Eurogroup's decision (made at the insistence of Germany and with the support of the IMF and core eurozone nations) to tap into personal bank accounts as part of a deal to "rescue" Cyprus would destroy a key pillar of the island's economy and set a precedent for dealing with future banking crises in the eurozone. Germany's pursuit of financial domination marches on.

As things stand, the "bailouts" represent the best possible solution for Germany and its banks and the treasuries of the core eurozone nations, for various reasons. First, they allow the euro game to continue since so many vested interests are at stake and dissolution of the eurozone might have apocalyptic consequences. Second, the "rescue" loans are quite well-secured, thanks to the implementation of extreme fiscal consolidation programs: they are paid back promptly by the indebted countries and with hefty interest. At the same time, the austerity and fiscal-adjustment policies imposed by the international lenders actually increase rather than decrease the debt-to-GDP ratios for the indebted countries as they shrink economic activity and thus reduce state revenues, thereby keeping them in a vicious cycle of dependency. Third, the collapse of the economies of the indebted nations produces a flight of capital that ends up mostly in Germany, which is increasingly seen as the safest place to park euros while the crisis in the eurozone rages on. The loss of funding for banks in Spain, Italy, Greece, Portugal and Ireland is astonishingly high, amounting to hundreds of billions of euros (which means those countries are net debtors to the ECB), while Deutsche Bank and most other German banks are awash in cash. Fourth, under the bailout schemes, the indebted countries surrender national sovereignty and are forced to sell public assets (mostly to northern invaders) at bargain-basement prices, while the reduction in labor costs because of suppressed wages opens up new opportunities for increased labor exploitation and speeds the process of the countries' conversion into banana republics.

There can be no mistake about it: the neocolonialist policies pursued by Germany and the EU are converting southern Europe into an economic wasteland. Wages, salaries and pensions are being severely cut; domestic demand has been curtailed drastically; unemployment has reached stratospheric levels (28 percent in Greece, 26 percent in Spain, 17 percent in Portugal); the standard of living has been rolled back to 1960s levels; public services are being turned over to the private sector; and state assets and public enterprises are being sold on the cheap.

In all the indebted countries of the eurozone, educated young people are leaving to seek work in the core countries, thus depriving the peripheral economies of the most important asset they possess - skilled human capital - while further enhancing the economic potential of the core nations. Soon, the southern Mediterranean region will consist of economies where most of the job openings are for waiters and waitresses. In sum, what is happening in the eurozone periphery since the eruption of the global financial crisis is a process of pillage and complete loss of national sovereignty. Because of the "bailouts," the indebted nations have been subjected to a contemporary system of neofeudal peonage as part of a German "solution" to an ill-designed European monetary union alongside the pursuit of a eurozone Reich.

Back to our case study. Greece is for all practical purposes a dying patient. Yet, the Greek prime minister and leader of the conservative party of New Democracy actually has attempted to portray Greece lately as a "success story," thus adding a new chapter in the servile relationship between the Greek political establishment and the architects of the destruction of the country. For there is no traceable evidence anywhere that Greece is turning the corner. Indeed, a year and a half after the second bailout agreement for the sum of 130 billion euros, the European Commission detected in its third review of the Second Economic Adjustment Programme for Greece a financing gap for 2013-14 in the neighborhood of 2 billion euros, or 0.5 percent of the GDP, while the financing gap for 2015 will be more than 1.75 percent and more than 2 percent of the GDP in 2016.[12]

No doubt, the Greek economy will require further external financial support in the years ahead (preparations seem to be under way already for a new loan package to go in effect in 2014), and thus additional austerity measures will be implemented, causing even further deterioration of the standard of living via deeper wage and pensions cuts and more fat trimming from already-bony social public services.

The only hope for Greece at the moment lies with the Coalition of the Radical Left (Syriza), but the necessary political radicalization of its citizens is poorly lagging. Years of brutal austerity and a daily bombardment of government propaganda by the mass media (most of Greece's major newspapers and TV channels are owned by industrial tycoons and financiers) have created a very weary and politically confused population. In this context, the challenges facing Syriza are daunting. It has to deal with an imperial center bent on plundering the nation's wealth and chart a new course for Greece in the midst of a profound and disturbing asymmetry between objective and subjective factors. One can only hope that it can penetrate public consciousness before all is lost.



 * The text draws from articles that originally appeared as Policy Notes for the Levy Economics Institute of Bard College.

[1]PeterSpiegel and Robin Harding, "IMF admits to errors in international bailout of Greece." Financial Times. June 5, 2013.  http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/6924ee76-cdfb-11e2-8313-00144feab7de.html

[2] For an overview of Greek political economy and the role of the domestic elite, see C.J. Polychroniou, "An Unblinking Glance at a National Catastrophe and the Potential Dissolution of the Eurozone: Greece's Debt Crisis in Context." Working Paper No. 688. Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y.: Levy Economics Institute of Bard College, September 2011 (originally appeared as a Research Brief for the Political Economy Research Institute of the University of Massachusetts), and "The Greek and the European Crisis in Context," New Politics, Vol. XIII, No. 4  (Winter 2012): 49-56 

[3] See Dimitri B. Papadimitriou, Gennaro Zezza and Vincent Duwicquet, "Current Prospects for the Greek Economy: Interim Report."Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y.: Levy Economics Institute of Bard College. October 2012.

[4]Jorge Bibow, "The Euro Debt Crisis and Germany's Euro Trilemma," Working Paper No. 721. Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y.: Levy Economics Institute of Bard College. May 2012.

[5] SeeHa-Joon Chang, Bad Samaritans: The Myth of Free Trade and the Secret History of Capitalism. London: Bloomsbury Press, 2008; and 23 Things They Don't Tell You about Capitalism. London: Bloomsbury Press, 2012.

[6] Craig Parsons, "Revisiting the Single European Act (and the Common Wisdom on Globalization)." Comparative Political Studies 2010, 43(6): 706–34.

[7] The Economist. "The Euro Crisis: An Ever Deeper Democratic Deficit." May 26, 2010

[8] C.J. Mulhearn, Euro: Its Origins, Development and Prospects. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar Publishing, 2005, p. 59.

[9]Patrick A. Gaughan, Mergers, Acquisitions and Corporate Restructurings. 4th ed. Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2007, p. 63.

[10]K.H. O'Rourke and J.G. Williamson, Globalization and History: The Evolution of a Nineteenth-century Atlantic Economy. Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press, 1999.

[11] See Leszek Balcerowicz, "On the Prevention of Crises in the Eurozone." In F. Allen, E. Carletti and S. Simonelli, eds. Governance for the Eurozone: Integration or Disintegration? Philadelphia: The FIC Press, 2012. FIC Press.

[12]See European Commission. The Second EconomicAdjustment Programme for Greece: Third Review. Brussels: Directorate-General for Economic and Financial Affairs. July 2013, pp., 17-20.

Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.

C.J. Polychroniou

C.J. Polychroniou is a research associate and policy fellow at the Levy Economics Institute of Bard College and a columnist for a Greek daily national newspaper. His main research interests are in European economic integration, globalization, the political economy of the United States and the deconstruction of neoliberalism’s politico-economic project. He has taught for many years at universities in the United States and Europe and is a regular contributor to Truthout as well as a member of Truthout’s Public Intellectual Project. He has published several books and his articles have appeared in a variety of journals and magazines. Many of his publications have been translated into several foreign languages, including Greek, Spanish, Portuguese and Italian.

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent those of the Levy Economics Institute or those of its board members.

Related Stories

Greece and the Euro: Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover
By Ellen Brown, Truthout | News Analysis
Greece and the Crisis of Europe: Which Way Out?
By Marjolein Van Der Veen, Dollars & Sense | News Analysis
Greece's Golden Dawn: A Wake-up Call for Europe
By Christopher Lawrence, Truthout | Op-Ed

Hide Comments

blog comments powered by Disqus
GET DAILY TRUTHOUT UPDATES

FOLLOW togtorsstottofb


The Tragedy of Greece as a Case Study of Neo-Imperial Pillage and the Demise of Social Europe

Sunday, 13 October 2013 00:00 By C.J. Polychroniou, Truthout | News Analysis

Striking farmers market vendors hand out fruit and vegetables for free to consumers in Athens, Greece, May 15, 2013. The handouts were part of a protest against the government's plan to liberalize closed professions. (Photo: Angelos Tzortzinis / The New York Times) Striking farmers market vendors hand out fruit and vegetables for free to consumers in Athens, Greece, May 15, 2013. The handouts were part of a protest against the government's plan to liberalize closed professions. (Photo: Angelos Tzortzinis / The New York Times) In early 2010, Greece, a weak and peripheral economy in the euro area, went bankrupt but was subsequently "bailed out" by its euro partners and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Ever since, the small southern Mediterranean nation and birthplace of democracy has been a guinea pig for the policy prescriptions of a neoliberal European Union (EU) under the command of Germany and its northern allies, with the IMF serving as a junior partner. A public debt crisis has been used as an opportunity to dismantle a rudimentary social state, to sell off profitable public enterprises and state assets at bargain prices, to deprive labor of even its most basic rights after decades of hard-fought struggles against capital, and to substantially reduce wages, salaries and pensions, creating a de facto banana republic. It has been done with the support of a significant segment of the Greek industrial-financial class and with the assistance of the domestic political elite, which since the onset of the crisis has relied heavily on dictatorial action to carry out the commands of the country's foreign creditors.

Now Greece is on the verge of collapse. The nation's output has experienced a cumulative decline of 20 percent; the official unemployment rate has climbed to almost 28 percent, with youth unemployment for the ages of 16-24 close to 65 percent. More than 30 percent of the citizens live near or below the poverty line, and the debt-to-GDP ratio has increased from approximately 127 percent in 2009 to over 180 percent in the summer of 2013 (even after a major "haircut" that took place last year among private holders of Greek sovereign debt). Because of the draconian budget cuts in the name of "expansionary austerity," the public health care system lies in ruins, with some hospitals lacking the proper medical equipment to perform certain operations or the drugs needed to treat cancer patients and private pharmacies refusing to provide more drugs until the state pays them the hundreds of millions of euros it owes. Public schools are in shambles; many schools throughout Greece cannot even afford heating oil.

In addition, there is a huge migration wave (particularly among the educated), crime is rampant, and suicides spread like the plague, not to mention the sharp rise of the neo-Nazi party of Golden Dawn, which, until the recent murder of an anti-fascist, anti-racist rapper at the hands of a paid assassin of this criminal organization and the government crackdown that ensued as a result, had emerged as a vital reactionary political force, openly challenging whatever democratic values are still left in today's economically beleaguered Greece.      

In sum, three years and a half years after the EU and IMF, the "twin monsters" of global neoliberalism, came to the "rescue," Greece has been transformed from a developed economy into an emerging economy, posting unemployment and poverty rates that are normally associated with so-called "third world" nations, and is permanently stuck in a vicious cycle of debt, austerity and depression.

Welcome to the economics of social disaster and the new European era of imperial pillage.

To be sure, long before the recent IMF admitted its errors in the first Greek bailout program,[1] most economic observers knew the plan wasn't going to work. It was a "bailout" plan more in line with the desire to inflict punishment on a "profligate" southern member state participating in the euro area and the need to protect European banking interests and less with a well-thought-out strategic plan for providing a solution to a financial crisis in a peripheral country, which essentially amounted to a structural crisis in the institutional design of the European monetary system as a whole.

Astute and politically attuned analysts could see that the so-called "bailout" plan was in tune with the mindless neoliberal social engineering that has driven the agenda of financial global institutions (IMF, World Bank) in the past 35 or so years irrespective of geographical area and domestic economic and social needs. Indeed, the undertaking of an extreme neoliberal socio-economic experiment has been the defining mark of the contemporary political era, pursued with the same zeal and fanatical devotion by free market fundamentalists as was the spread of the gospel of Soviet communism under the Comintern. And just like Soviet communism, global neoliberalism has produced a dystopia that is causing increasing economic downturns and employment crises, financial shocks, poverty and social exclusion.

The Greek "bailout" was an imperial plan by design. It denied a bankrupt country the opportunity to restructure its debt, instead offering its government a massive loan package (110 billion euros) that carried a usurious interest rate (5 percent) and included onerous demands: a rapid fiscal consolidation program (intended to reduce deficits and the accumulation of debt) that hadn't been seen in policymaking circles since the harsh economic adjustment program imposed by Ceausescu on the Romanians in the 1980s (to repay foreign debts that consisted largely of IMF loans provided for geopolitical reasons) and a related set of economic policies based on long disproven assumptions (e.g., labor standards undermine competitiveness, flexible labor reduces unemployment, austerity boosts business confidence and generates growth, and privatization saves money). Accordingly, the structural adjustment and austerity programs implemented in Greece by the EU and IMF featured sharp cuts in wages, pensions and social benefits; sharp increases in taxes; labor market liberalization; the blanket privatization of public assets and state-owned resources; and public sector layoffs.

Essentially, the "bailout" plan was as rotten as the Greek political establishment. But it takes two to tango. Little wonder then why Greece's international lenders have relied all along on the same political characters (the conservatives and the socialists) that led the nation to the brink of disaster to carry out their wild neoliberal experiment.[2] Only Vichylike governments would have accepted so obediently "bailout" terms and conditions that amount to the pillaging of the national patrimony and the systematic deterioration of a nation's standard of living.

In less than two years after the implementation of the first bailout, and with every relevant economic and social index in catastrophic course (e.g., the official unemployment rate increased by some 30 percent, the GDP shrank annually by over 6 percent, the debt increased by some 60 billion euros, with the debt-to-GDP ratio exceeding 170 percent in December 2011), a second bailout agreement was put in place for the sum of 130 billion euros and with even harsher fiscal adjustment conditions than the first bailout agreement. But the approach in the handling of the Greek crisis has been consistent all along: the sicker the patient gets by the medicine prescribed by the quack doctors of the EU and the IMF, an ever higher dosage is given over the next treatment session. 

To this day, EU and IMF officials remain as committed to the policies that are responsible for the collapse of Greece, and in spite of the IMF's admission that it misjudged the impact of austerity on Greek economy and society. The reason is because the shock treatments administered by the EU and IMF to Greece have at this point three explicit goals in mind:

- To ensure that the loans are paid back no matter what the cost.

- To roll back the average standard of living to create highly favorable conditions for international business-investment opportunities and to increase the rate of profit for the corporate and financial elite at home.

- To strip the country of its natural resource  wealth.

It was not by accident that the EU and IMF officials, who were completely ignorant of the nature, the composition, the dynamics and the contradictions of the Greek economy, rushed to declare that the roots of the Greek crisis were to be found in an allegedly bloated public sector that wasted too many resources on lazy, unproductive citizens and hindered the potential of the private sector. They proposed policies of procrustean fiscal contraction measures and Spartanlike austerity for the average citizens. What if the facts did not fit this narrative? Indeed, all the available data showed that the Greek public sector, while inefficient and corrupt, was actually smaller than the public sector of many other European nations, that Greeks worked on average more than most other Europeans and that even Greek productivity in the years leading up to the crisis compared favorably with that of Germany.[3]And what if there were huge imbalances in the eurozone, with the core states running huge surpluses and the peripherals running huge deficits?[4] Greece was judged to be solely responsible for the sad state of its fiscal condition in the age of the euro and had to be punished, both as penance for its sins and as a warning to its southern cousins that the same fate awaited them if they didn't put their own fiscal houses in order.

It is this cynical, brutal perspective that led to Greece becoming an unwilling test subject for the EU's neoliberal vision and kept Germany's game going when things got rough in Euroland. Most of the German banks were overexposed to Greek debt and nearly insolvent. The May 2010 bailout in the sum of 110 billion euros was orchestrated by the EU and the IMF in an apparent attempt to have Greece keep up with its debt payments to foreign banks; hence the rejection of even the slightest consideration of a debt restructuring, even though this would have been the quickest and safest way to allow Greece some breathing room. Helping its economy recover through the coordinated implementation of a large-scale development plan also would have been appropriate in a proper economic and monetary union.

But the EU is neither about solidarity nor does it aim toward convergence and the protection of the social contract - as its supporters used to preach until recently.

The EU is a treaty-based organization set up after World War II as a means of putting an end to a favorite practice of the Europeans: sorting out their national differences by engaging in bloody warfare. The European experiment - the formation of a Common Market, which led eventually to economic and monetary union - has been linked with some remarkable outcomes: Europe has experienced its longest period of peace since the end of World War II, and war among European member-states now seems highly unlikely. Naturally, senior EU officials never miss an opportunity to remind the public of this achievement whenever the policies of the "new Rome" are questioned by a European citizenship fed up with authoritarian decision-making processes, bank bailouts masquerading as national bailouts, austerity policies and the pillaging of the debtor countries by the center.

The absence of war among European nations in the postwar era and the historic moves toward European integration that led to the formation of the eurozone point, however, in the direction of a correlation rather than a causal relation between these two variables. Unquestionably, the very nature and structure of the world system that emerged in the postwar era - with the United States achieving superpower status, the Soviet threat, the formation of NATO and the use of nuclear weapons to maintain a balance of power - substantially minimized the prospects for renewed warfare among Europe's traditional foes. Perhaps there is even something to be said here about the deep and profound impact that World War II must have had on the consciences of Europe's leaders and public alike.

The European experiment in integration - from the European Economic Community (EEC) to today's EU - allegedly has made a big positive difference in the economic and social development of European member-states, including those at the periphery. This is a highly debatable claim, if not an outright exaggeration. The free movement of capital, labor and goods within the EU worked well for a while - for financial capital, on the one hand, and, on the other, for the core countries that had a competitive advantage to begin with. Although great benefits accrued to those who took full advantage (domestic capitalists as well) of the era of financialization, the illusion of convergence and higher standards of living for all has been shattered, with inequality trends growing substantially within and between member-states.

Lest we forget, Europe's economic weaknesses were evident in the 1970s and 1980s, in spite of the explosion in intra-EEC agreements during this period. The Single European Act (SEA) of 1986 was a policy reaction on the part of the EEC to the structural crisis then facing the 12 member-states in terms of their becoming "a market without a state." With most EEC member states already having abandoned Keynesianism, the SEA was a desperate attempt to increase "competitiveness" and boost corporate profits, and it cemented the end of the era of "managed capitalism" in Europe. Instead of social protections and growth through fiscal-oriented policies, it was the market mentality that now ruled the day. Price stability replaced the emphasis on jobs, and "labor market reform" became the new doctrine. The SEA also opened up the path for massive privatization and the liberalization of financial markets. "Free market capitalism" had arrived in Europe.

Free-market capitalism is, of course, one of the great myths of our time.[5] Neoliberalism - the politico-ideological formulation and economic project for the advancement of "free" markets - is all about a corporate-financial assault on the welfare state and the standard of living of the working classes, low taxation for corporations and the rich, increasing labor exploitation, unrestrained capital mobility and strategic positioning on the part of capital for new market opportunities via the removal of domestic political and economic barriers. Neoliberalism does not end the state, but rather positions the state to serve the interests of capital exclusively. At the global level, neoliberalism's aim is to weaken the power of the state in peripheral economies through the assistance and collaboration of the domestic political elite, who, in exchange, gain more direct access to the resources and wealth of the economies in question. Essentially, then, neoliberalism represents an ideological doctrine propagated and imposed by the core countries on the periphery, while the "core" reserves the right to practice protectionist policies back home (and often does so) for the benefit of its own favorite industries and oligopolistic businesses. Thus, the SEA should not be seen as an all-embracing "free market" strategy on the part of the EEC. Its removal of barriers for the expansion of "free trade" was limited to European nations; countries outside of the European market were excluded. Even today, poor nations from Latin America and Africa find it almost impossible to penetrate the European market with their agricultural products.

Furthermore, as with the promotion of any neoliberal project, and in sharp contrast to the official rhetoric, institutions that lack democratic accountability and legitimacy have been assigned paramount importance from the very start of the movement toward an "anti-social Europe."[6] It is thus no accident that the EU has turned out to be one huge, bureaucratic labyrinth, completely removed from public scrutiny and totally unaccountable to its citizens. Its undemocratic (if not antidemocratic) nature is rather striking, and it has been getting worse over time.[7] The European Parliament is a politically impotent institution. All major legislative activities are undertaken by the Council of Ministers - an institution with no democratic legitimacy whatsoever because its members exercise a role inside the EU for which they are not even indirectly elected. The European Commission is yet another nonelected institution that possesses a lot of political power.

The EU is designed in ways that facilitate direct catering to the needs and concerns of powerful interests instead of those of the common citizen. As for the famous "principle of subsidiarity," introduced as Article 3b in the Treaty Establishing the European Community and later incorporated in the Maastricht Treaty (see below) as Article 5 - and which many continue to treat as evidence of the democratic nature of the decision-making process in the EU - is more an optical illusion than anything else. The "principle of subsidiarity" does not assert, as is often claimed, that decisions will be made at the lowest possible level, but rather that "the Community shall take action, in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, only if and in so far as the objectives of the proposed action cannot be sufficiently achieved by the Member States and can therefore, by reason of the scale or effects of the proposed action, be better achieved by the Community."

What has now become abundantly clear is that all major EU decisions are made at the top level by nonelected officials while national citizens are relegated to a status equal to that enjoyed by the subjects of ancient Rome. In the current eurozone debt crisis, even the heads of indebted member-states have very little say in the decision-making process, with the German minister of finance behaving like a Caesar.

The type of Europeanization process that has been unleashed since the signing of the Maastricht Treaty in 1992 is completely alien to the vision of a social and democratic Europe. This development also has had a catastrophic impact on the ability of national governments to address effectively the specific needs of their own economies and societies, as the current global economic crisis so bluntly attests.

The Maastricht Treaty incorporated the key ideas and principles that were included in the SEA and proceeded with the formal institutionalization of a neoliberal framework for the future direction of European economies, including the setting up of a currency union and a European Central Bank (ECB). In essence, the treaty formalized the drive toward "anti-social Europe" and outlined in a specific manner the steps to be taken for the adoption of a single currency (the transition to the formation of a European Monetary Union [EMU] was to involve three stages between 1993 and 1999, when the official launching of the eurozone occurred). According to the treaty, which sought to allow only good candidates to join the EMU, any European convergence economy was eligible to adopt the euro, provided: (a) its inflation rate was not more than 1.5 percent above the average of the three-lowest inflation rates among EU countries; (b) its government debt and deficit were no more than 60 percent and 3 percent of its GDP, respectively; (c) it had joined the exchange rate mechanism of the European Monetary System and maintained normal exchange rate fluctuation margins for two years without severe tensions arising; and (d) its long-term interest rate was no more than 2 percent above that of the three countries with the lowest inflation rate.[8]

All these figures were arbitrarily derived. Why should the deficits have been 3 percent and the national debt less than 60 percent of GDP? Given the dominant role of the deutsche mark at the time, it is probably a good guess that the figures were an invention of the Bundesbank - as was the design of the ECB, with its glaring omission of a lender-of-last-resort function. In a way, however, these figures were also virtually meaningless because they were systematically violated by states that sought to join the EMU - including, first and foremost, Germany itself. But along the way, when things got rough for the euro, these benchmarks for deficits and debt-to-GDP ratios would prove to be very useful tools in enforcing German economic orthodoxy.

In analyses of the foundations of the European Monetary System, commentators frequently make note of its flawed architectural design. However, its so-called "flawed" architecture was not the result of a "technical error." As already argued, it stemmed from the very premises of the fundamentally neoliberal economic thinking that had begun to take hold of the mindset of European policymakers in the 1980s in their apparent effort to find a way to end "eurosclerosis" and boost European corporate profits. The sudden shift from a social market economy, which took root in the 1940s and prevailed till the early 1980s, to a laissez-faire market economy was too blatant to be missed. By the time the Maastricht Treaty was signed, European policymaking circles had become obsessed with the belief that the critical variables for growth, fairness and convergence were to be found in trade openness and competition (Article 102a), deep financial integration and no restrictions on capital movements (Article 73b).

The Maastricht Treaty should be understood as the political expression of a socialized European elite's bias in favor of the internationalization of capital. Behind all the talk about "free trade" was the unmistakable desire to cater to the needs of European multinationals and oligopolistic industries. The 1980s was a decade of megamergers and acquisitions, and it reflected the growing excitement that a common market produced in the European business world. In the 1990s, there was a new and far more explosive wave of mergers and acquisitions taking place in Europe whose value "was almost as large as that of deals in the United States."[9]Finally, the deregulation mania that had kicked in led to a huge consolidation process by the banking industry.

It was in the context of these economic developments that the Maastricht Treaty took shape, laying the foundation for the highly problematic structure of the European Union we have today. The move toward the adoption of a single currency is consistent with the view of the creation of a unified European market with a scaled-back state, based on the belief that less state "interference" paves the way to more efficient business operations and lower unit labor costs. It is not a belief that promotes sustainable development or well-functioning and decent societies. With the adoption of a single currency, the space for national economic policymaking was severely constrained and, in the absence of a federal government to attend to issues of full employment and convergence, austerity became, almost by default, an integral component of the new European political economy, providing a perfect match to labor flexibility and other anti-social reform measures - privatization, the commodification of health and education, pension reform - all of which are geared toward the complete marketization of society.

The process of a fully launched European capitalist integration as initiated by the SEA and formalized by the Maastricht Treaty is not a new phenomenon as such. The growth of world economic integration had tremendous momentum from the mid-19th century up to the outbreak of World War I.[10] The processes of European integration also are not different qualitatively from regional integration processes that had taken place in other parts of the world - although it is true that we do not have proper comparative studies involving the EU and other kinds of regional organizations. But even if seen as a polity rather than a regional or even an international regime, the EU is still not unique, because we already have for comparison the federal or semifederal cases of the United States, Canada and Switzerland. In fact, if there is anything striking about the foundations of European monetary union it is how unimaginative and purely technocratic they are: They simply rest on the much-admired German model of monetary and financial stability, which is void of any crisis prevention or management mechanisms.[11] Its design has proven to be more than faulty, as the ongoing crisis in the eurozone points clearly to underlying problems of imbalances in the euro area as well as to overall structural weaknesses in the governance model. Rather than being unique, the EU is actually an oddity - a Frankensteinlike creation. And just like Dr. Frankenstein, Germany refuses to accept responsibility for its creation by preventing the EU from following an appropriate development course conducive to the needs and well-being of the entire body politic, with special emphasis on the weaker parts, treating it instead as a means for satisfying its own economic ambitions and wants. The design of the ECB on the basis of the Bundesbank statutes, for example, reflects not only the German economic mindset but also Germany's aspirations for economic domination of the eurozone. Indeed, the Bundesbank is not the world's most conservative monetary authority by accident: It fits with Germany's economic and corporate interests.

The antigrowth, undemocratic approach that is embedded in the Maastricht Treaty and reinforced by virtually all other treaties since - the Treaties of Amsterdam (1997), Nice (2002) and Lisbon (2007) - ensures uneven development and authoritarian decision making in the functioning of the European integration project. The Lisbon Treaty, in particular, strengthened even further the "democratic deficit" component built into the EU framework (although its supporters argued, perversely, that this was a treaty that actually addressed the problem of "democratic deficit"), with most of the laws now being made in Brussels under the command of an imperial Germany. The conservative and undemocratic nature of the EU and Germany's imperial role in it have become unfailingly clear since the eruption of the eurozone crisis three and a half years ago, when Greece, with its high fiscal deficit and ballooning public debt, was shut out of the international credit markets and sought refuge under a deal brokered by the EU and the IMF so as not to default on its debt obligations and cause a contagion effect throughout the euro area.

The handling of Greece's debt problem was not based on any solidarity principle on the part of the EU but instead was measured exclusively on the basis of its impact on Europe's banks, which were highly exposed to Greek debt. The terms of the bailout sought to ensure that the debt repayments continued by subjecting Greek society to ruthless austerity measures and the most violent fiscal consolidation program forced upon a European economy since World War II. Consistent with the original premises of the Maastricht Treaty and the antigrowth mindset of the European integration project as a whole, Greece was not offered a viable way out of its crisis but instead was turned into a laboratory for a radical neoliberal transformation.

But this is not the accidental outcome of a flawed policy: it is the result of a conscious EU policy under the command of an imperial Germany for the pillage of the indebted countries of the southern Mediterranean (Greece, Portugal, Spain, Cyprus - and Italy, if they can succeed) and their transformation into colonies of the imperial center. The euro has become an albatross around the neck of the peripheral nations, with Germany dragging them around like slaves on the way to the marketplace.

Germany has adopted toward the indebted eurozone member-states the same policy it carried out with regard to East Germany after unification: the destruction of its industrial base and the conversion of the former Communist nation into a satellite of Berlin. The bank rescues masquerade as the rescue of nations, and are followed by the enforcement of unbearable austerity measures to ensure repayment of the "rescue" loans. Then comes the implementation of strategic economic policies aimed at reducing the standard of living for the working population and the shrinking of the welfare state, complete labor flexibility and the sale of public assets, including state-controlled energy companies and ports. This constitutes the German strategy for pillaging the debt-laden economies of the Mediterranean region.

In Greece, the strategy for the pillage of the domestic economy even has led to the creation of a special privatization agency (TAIPED) for the management of the sale of public assets. The only thing missing is a sign announcing Greece: A Nation for Sale. The Eurogroup's decision (made at the insistence of Germany and with the support of the IMF and core eurozone nations) to tap into personal bank accounts as part of a deal to "rescue" Cyprus would destroy a key pillar of the island's economy and set a precedent for dealing with future banking crises in the eurozone. Germany's pursuit of financial domination marches on.

As things stand, the "bailouts" represent the best possible solution for Germany and its banks and the treasuries of the core eurozone nations, for various reasons. First, they allow the euro game to continue since so many vested interests are at stake and dissolution of the eurozone might have apocalyptic consequences. Second, the "rescue" loans are quite well-secured, thanks to the implementation of extreme fiscal consolidation programs: they are paid back promptly by the indebted countries and with hefty interest. At the same time, the austerity and fiscal-adjustment policies imposed by the international lenders actually increase rather than decrease the debt-to-GDP ratios for the indebted countries as they shrink economic activity and thus reduce state revenues, thereby keeping them in a vicious cycle of dependency. Third, the collapse of the economies of the indebted nations produces a flight of capital that ends up mostly in Germany, which is increasingly seen as the safest place to park euros while the crisis in the eurozone rages on. The loss of funding for banks in Spain, Italy, Greece, Portugal and Ireland is astonishingly high, amounting to hundreds of billions of euros (which means those countries are net debtors to the ECB), while Deutsche Bank and most other German banks are awash in cash. Fourth, under the bailout schemes, the indebted countries surrender national sovereignty and are forced to sell public assets (mostly to northern invaders) at bargain-basement prices, while the reduction in labor costs because of suppressed wages opens up new opportunities for increased labor exploitation and speeds the process of the countries' conversion into banana republics.

There can be no mistake about it: the neocolonialist policies pursued by Germany and the EU are converting southern Europe into an economic wasteland. Wages, salaries and pensions are being severely cut; domestic demand has been curtailed drastically; unemployment has reached stratospheric levels (28 percent in Greece, 26 percent in Spain, 17 percent in Portugal); the standard of living has been rolled back to 1960s levels; public services are being turned over to the private sector; and state assets and public enterprises are being sold on the cheap.

In all the indebted countries of the eurozone, educated young people are leaving to seek work in the core countries, thus depriving the peripheral economies of the most important asset they possess - skilled human capital - while further enhancing the economic potential of the core nations. Soon, the southern Mediterranean region will consist of economies where most of the job openings are for waiters and waitresses. In sum, what is happening in the eurozone periphery since the eruption of the global financial crisis is a process of pillage and complete loss of national sovereignty. Because of the "bailouts," the indebted nations have been subjected to a contemporary system of neofeudal peonage as part of a German "solution" to an ill-designed European monetary union alongside the pursuit of a eurozone Reich.

Back to our case study. Greece is for all practical purposes a dying patient. Yet, the Greek prime minister and leader of the conservative party of New Democracy actually has attempted to portray Greece lately as a "success story," thus adding a new chapter in the servile relationship between the Greek political establishment and the architects of the destruction of the country. For there is no traceable evidence anywhere that Greece is turning the corner. Indeed, a year and a half after the second bailout agreement for the sum of 130 billion euros, the European Commission detected in its third review of the Second Economic Adjustment Programme for Greece a financing gap for 2013-14 in the neighborhood of 2 billion euros, or 0.5 percent of the GDP, while the financing gap for 2015 will be more than 1.75 percent and more than 2 percent of the GDP in 2016.[12]

No doubt, the Greek economy will require further external financial support in the years ahead (preparations seem to be under way already for a new loan package to go in effect in 2014), and thus additional austerity measures will be implemented, causing even further deterioration of the standard of living via deeper wage and pensions cuts and more fat trimming from already-bony social public services.

The only hope for Greece at the moment lies with the Coalition of the Radical Left (Syriza), but the necessary political radicalization of its citizens is poorly lagging. Years of brutal austerity and a daily bombardment of government propaganda by the mass media (most of Greece's major newspapers and TV channels are owned by industrial tycoons and financiers) have created a very weary and politically confused population. In this context, the challenges facing Syriza are daunting. It has to deal with an imperial center bent on plundering the nation's wealth and chart a new course for Greece in the midst of a profound and disturbing asymmetry between objective and subjective factors. One can only hope that it can penetrate public consciousness before all is lost.



 * The text draws from articles that originally appeared as Policy Notes for the Levy Economics Institute of Bard College.

[1]PeterSpiegel and Robin Harding, "IMF admits to errors in international bailout of Greece." Financial Times. June 5, 2013.  http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/6924ee76-cdfb-11e2-8313-00144feab7de.html

[2] For an overview of Greek political economy and the role of the domestic elite, see C.J. Polychroniou, "An Unblinking Glance at a National Catastrophe and the Potential Dissolution of the Eurozone: Greece's Debt Crisis in Context." Working Paper No. 688. Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y.: Levy Economics Institute of Bard College, September 2011 (originally appeared as a Research Brief for the Political Economy Research Institute of the University of Massachusetts), and "The Greek and the European Crisis in Context," New Politics, Vol. XIII, No. 4  (Winter 2012): 49-56 

[3] See Dimitri B. Papadimitriou, Gennaro Zezza and Vincent Duwicquet, "Current Prospects for the Greek Economy: Interim Report."Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y.: Levy Economics Institute of Bard College. October 2012.

[4]Jorge Bibow, "The Euro Debt Crisis and Germany's Euro Trilemma," Working Paper No. 721. Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y.: Levy Economics Institute of Bard College. May 2012.

[5] SeeHa-Joon Chang, Bad Samaritans: The Myth of Free Trade and the Secret History of Capitalism. London: Bloomsbury Press, 2008; and 23 Things They Don't Tell You about Capitalism. London: Bloomsbury Press, 2012.

[6] Craig Parsons, "Revisiting the Single European Act (and the Common Wisdom on Globalization)." Comparative Political Studies 2010, 43(6): 706–34.

[7] The Economist. "The Euro Crisis: An Ever Deeper Democratic Deficit." May 26, 2010

[8] C.J. Mulhearn, Euro: Its Origins, Development and Prospects. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar Publishing, 2005, p. 59.

[9]Patrick A. Gaughan, Mergers, Acquisitions and Corporate Restructurings. 4th ed. Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2007, p. 63.

[10]K.H. O'Rourke and J.G. Williamson, Globalization and History: The Evolution of a Nineteenth-century Atlantic Economy. Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press, 1999.

[11] See Leszek Balcerowicz, "On the Prevention of Crises in the Eurozone." In F. Allen, E. Carletti and S. Simonelli, eds. Governance for the Eurozone: Integration or Disintegration? Philadelphia: The FIC Press, 2012. FIC Press.

[12]See European Commission. The Second EconomicAdjustment Programme for Greece: Third Review. Brussels: Directorate-General for Economic and Financial Affairs. July 2013, pp., 17-20.

Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.

C.J. Polychroniou

C.J. Polychroniou is a research associate and policy fellow at the Levy Economics Institute of Bard College and a columnist for a Greek daily national newspaper. His main research interests are in European economic integration, globalization, the political economy of the United States and the deconstruction of neoliberalism’s politico-economic project. He has taught for many years at universities in the United States and Europe and is a regular contributor to Truthout as well as a member of Truthout’s Public Intellectual Project. He has published several books and his articles have appeared in a variety of journals and magazines. Many of his publications have been translated into several foreign languages, including Greek, Spanish, Portuguese and Italian.

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent those of the Levy Economics Institute or those of its board members.

Related Stories

Greece and the Euro: Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover
By Ellen Brown, Truthout | News Analysis
Greece and the Crisis of Europe: Which Way Out?
By Marjolein Van Der Veen, Dollars & Sense | News Analysis
Greece's Golden Dawn: A Wake-up Call for Europe
By Christopher Lawrence, Truthout | Op-Ed

Hide Comments

blog comments powered by Disqus