We are always told that the European Union is a bastion of free enterprise and market economics. It is therefore assumed that if countries are out of step with it, even if they are actually members of the Union, they are mired in outdated, statist policies and unable to accept the demands of the global economic consensus.
EU leaders themselves seem to actually believe this. But the Greek crisis has lain bare the fact that this is, and always has been, a grand self-delusion. The EU has never believed in the principles it claims to have. It is inflicting another form of Communism on a continent which fought so hard to rid itself of it, under the guise of free enterprise.
The European Union was originally designed as a means of integrating the economies of traditional enemies so that it would be impossible for them to wage war against each other. On the surface, therefore, it believed in the unrestricted free enterprise which would make this possible, or in going one step further and enforcing this integration through export quotas, ownership quotas and the like.
But the EU has never actually adopted the free market policies it has always sought to enforce on new prospective members. From its beginning as the European Coal and Steel Community it adopted restrictive, tariff-based policies towards the countries outside its borders: the EU market remains anything but free for any outsider seeking to trade with it. Rather than believing in the value of free enterprise, it has promoted two contradictory sets of values at the same time: what’s good for one is not allowed to be good for the other.
This policy of privileged enterprise has proven largely successful, as the EU has become a very significant trading bloc. This may have been achieved by default rather than correct policy, given the geopolitics of its era, but it has been nevertheless. This has led to countries outside the EU wanting to join the club in increasing numbers, and no country ever leaving it, a record any alliance would wish to have.
But the biggest drawback of the policy has been to encourage the leaders of EU countries to believe that there is some intrinsic reason why they should be the privileged few. If you meet certain arbitrary standards of sameness, you can have free trade and influence. If you don’t, there must be something wrong with you which needs to be corrected before you can join the club, even if it the EU’s own restrictive tariffs which are hindering your economic and political growth.
This is why there is now a two-tier European Union. It took twenty years for the original six members from continental Europe to accept the United Kingdom into their ranks, due to its diverging cultural and political history. However the Republic of Ireland, which applied later, had a much easier ride, because the two countries were culturally associated in the European mind. If you bite the bullet of letting the Brits in, it is natural to let the Irish in too because they are pretty much the same.
When the former Eastern bloc countries started applying, having nowhere else to turn if they wanted to build non-Communist states, the EU applied the same racist logic. These countries were culturally different again, and these differences had been rammed home to every European during Cold War times. So they had to be treated differently. The traditional EU principles applied to the traditional members only. The new countries were something different, so they couldn’t be treated according to the same rules.
Greece is not a new, post-Communist member of the EU. It entered in 1981 as its tenth member. But at that time it had only recently readopted democracy after years of military rule. It was accepted as an outpost which had proved the EU right by developing in the way it wanted while all its neighbours were not. It wasn’t regarded as an equal member, it was indulged, and was supposed to be suitably grateful, in the same way children who are molested in childrens’ homes are supposed to be thankful for being given a home to begin with.
It was this attitude and practice which provided the blueprint for how the former Communist members would be treated. The traditional EU members, and those who were rich enough not to need the EU, were happy to invest in each other’s success, accepting the element of risk involved. The newer members however were given loans rather than investments, not tied to prospective returns, the opposite of free market practice. The aim of this was to tie them to eternal dependence on their new masters.
Germany is the country bleating most about what Greece owes it. Germany’s own bankers knew when it made the disputed loans that Greece could not repay them, and said so publicly at the time. But it made them anyway, because it did not apply the criteria used when deciding whether to invest. They were made to keep Greece under control rather to help it succeed for the benefit of all, as the measures now being imposed upon Greece, which will do anything but increase employment, economic efficiency and spending power, also demonstrate.
The Devil no one wants to know
All this is very familiar to those who lived under Communist regimes. In these anti-capitalist countries members of the ruling elite controlled all economic activity on terms agreed by them, which made them rich. Everyone else did as they were told, and had to live with owing perpetual debts and favours. No one invested in the success of the population, the population were a resource to help the elite succeed and owed everything to it.
In these one party states everyone had to join the club, whether they liked it or not. Those who did so willingly, and sought to progress within it, had to meet a number of arbitrary criteria, such as knowing the right person or blackmailing the most vulnerable one. Others were excluded on racial grounds, as they were different and therefore inferior, or plucked from an excluded group and given prominence as a poster boy of obedience to make their compatriots accept their lot, just as Greece was in 1981.
It is often forgotten that Greece itself had a civil war in the late 1940s, when the Communists who had gained control of the rest of the Balkans were seeking to add Greece to the list. The Kingdom of Greece prevailed, with Western assistance, helped in no small measure by the Stalin-Tito split and the progressive disillusionment with Communism which set in afterwards.
As a result Greek voters have consistently favoured parties of the right, and to a greater degree than Western Europe has. It is far from the hotbed of wild radicalism the EU is trying to paint it as to justify its attitude towards it. The current Greek government may think of itself as hard left, and revere Lenin, but that is irrelevant to most Greek voters, who see it as more of a nationalist force, in line with their conservative aspirations of higher individual incomes, more goods in the shops and more economic opportunities.
As the only country in its region which always rejected Communism Greece was a model EU citizen long before it joined. It has high formal unemployment but an enormous proportion of self-employed people, probably the highest in the EU, and is therefore highly capitalist in both outlook and practice. Anyone who observes Greek communities in Western countries, their means of support and their assumptions, can be left in no doubt of their commitment to capitalist ideals, even when they leave their country poor, as has often been the case.
Greeks are rejecting the EU now because the EU, not Greece, has refused to adopt the same level of capitalism. The EU will not speculate to accumulate in Greece, but merely restrict its activities by imposing economic dependence, not the independence the traditional members enjoy. That isn’t what Greece signed up for, nor was it what any other member signed up for. Nor was it what any of the EU’s founders ever thought their organisation would demand of people, because they refused to address their own inner racism.
The EU has wandered blindly into this crisis by not recognising its own failings. It is incapable of understanding that it does not really believe in its own values, and that those who disagree with it are not rejecting these professed values but embracing them more than they are. Once again, this was a distinguishing feature of Communist regimes, which created the same oppressive oligarchies they professed to despise while the people wanted the promised equality.
The continual denial of this similarity is what will leave the EU unable to resolve the Greek crisis. It will never be able to offer a solution which reflects reality if it cannot address that reality. As Greece is still presented as intrinsically “other”, in the EU’s pronouncements it will not receive investments, based on risk and return, which may give it the means to generate income, as these are only for those who are the “same”. Therefore the only option when the money runs out will be for the EU to march in and take control of its errant child, just as the Soviet Union did in the Baltic States in 1940.
No future in the truth
One way or another Greece will still have to accept some sort of EU bailout, however unfair and onerous the terms. It has already pointed out how much money Germany still owes to its many creditors, both those who helped in its post-war reconstruction and those it harmed during the Second World War. It has also pointed out that it forgave Germany’s war debt back in the 1950s, and is merely asking for the same treatment from the country which betrayed its own principles by offering loans, not investments, to help a country in crisis.
Greek Prime Minister Tsipras has suggested that if he and Angela Merkel can sit down for dinner, without the legions of bankers and economists, they can sort out the problem in an evening. On one level this may be true, as it is those same bankers and economists who created the global crisis by their behaviour.
But Tsipras is falling into the same trap if he thinks he can find common ground with someone who always has to regard him as “other” for political reasons. Merkel is not going to turn round and say that Greece should be treated as a genuine partner in a free market, or that it is the EU which is stopping it being one, not some peculiarity of the Greek people.
If Greece does leave the Eurozone it will be vilified all the more in the West because it is easier to do that than admit why the project hasn’t worked. All politicians are supposed to have two faces, but most know it. In this respect at least, European leaders are incapable of seeing that they have become the true successors of the Communists they always fought against: they have adopted the same methods, the same attitudes and the same policies towards their own people to achieve their ends, which are a flat contradiction of everything they are supposed to stand for.
Nobel Prize-nominated author Merab Ratishvili made his name with the novels “Juga” and “Iliadi”, which present a world in which a relative of Stalin has become the head of global freemasonry to destroy the Western world from within. Like all fiction, such a proposition only works if we can believe that the scenario presented is capable of existing. As Ratishvili has been nominated for several awards, this is clearly so. So where did we get this idea from?
Seth Ferris, investigative journalist and political scientist, expert on Middle Eastern affairs, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.