Greek myths and EU budgets
1 July 2011
Greece is the cradle of Europe, the birthplace of many myths easily recycled as journalistic metaphors. Sisyphus and his rock, the labours of Hercules or the Daughters of Danus have already been often used to explain the situation in which the country and the government now find themselves. Allow us to add to the mix the story of Daedalus.
Like the architect who was locked by King Minos, along with his son Icarus, inside the labyrinth he had built himself, the European Union finds itself cornered by the crisis at a point where all the difficult paths lead to a dead end. On one hand, austerity policies imposed upon the Greeks for the past year: not only have they had practically no effect on either reducing the deficit or reforming a corrupt and inefficient system but, as many experts pointed out at the time, they annihilated the possibility of economic growth, which is necessary to surmount the crisis.
On the other hand, the bail-out packages: the 110 billion euros promised widened the psychological gap between northern and southern Europeans and led to a hardening of the German position during the negotiations, but without actually relieving the Greeks or proposing any real prospect of ending the crisis.
There is another option; restructuring the Greek debt. But that leads to immediate deadlock because European leaders fear that the market reaction will result in extending the crisis to other eurozone countries.
At the same time, some of these same leaders are heading towards greater economic integration and “crisis federalism” which would lead to the creation of euro bonds and a supranational coordination of fiscal and budget policies. But this latter option is stumbling over the divergent interests of the member states. In any case, increased political and economic integration is counter to prevailing public opinion which has expressed its euroscepticism in the ballot box.
In short, wherever one looks, the EU-Daedalus is in bad shape. And like the mythical character, it will have to find a way out from the top of the labyrinth. Surprisingly, a part of the solution came from the European Commission. This week, at the presentation of its 2014-2020 budget, the Commission ascribed “priority funding” to “cross-border projects in energy, transport and information technology”. It also proposed “significantly more money for Research and Innovation to invest in our competitiveness; and more funds for Europe’s youth”.
In other words, it has identified the fields Europeans should invest in (and invest themselves in) to climb out of the economic and social decline in which they are mired. Unfortunately, these fine prospects are in contradiction with the policies imposed by Brussels and the Member States on the countries in crisis and with the policies of most European countries. Furthermore, it’s known that the good intentions expressed by the Commission before the budget discussions which are about to begin don’t commit it to anything since, if all of its ambitions are revised downward, it will be able to shift the blame onto the Member States, or the Parliament.
True austerity versus paper ambitions: European leaders won’t be able to govern for long with this contradiction which the peoples of Europe live with daily. It’s when he forgot about reality that Icarus, son of Daedalus, scorched his wings.
Translated from the French by Pat Brett