Keep the light burning

1. The future of the EU after the Irish ‘No’


The insti­tu­tion­al aspects of the future of the EU are main­ly seen as ways in which Greece, a mem­ber state that con­sid­ers itself to be increas­ing­ly mar­gin­alised or ‘under siege’ in the cur­rent EU set­ting, can afford and feel some degree of cen­tral­i­ty with­in the Euro­pean pub­lic dis­course. Thus, both the post-Irish ‘No’ fate of the Lis­bon Treaty and the road towards the elec­tions to the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment in June 2009, are viewed in this con­text. In aca­d­e­m­ic dis­cus­sions, as well as in the wider media, ways are sought that would allow for rat­i­fi­ca­tion of the Lis­bon Treaty. Even the meth­ods pro­vid­ed for in the U.S. Con­sti­tu­tion are enlist­ed so as to keep the light of the Lis­bon Treaty burning.[1]

Polit­i­cal fig­ures tend to project in the dis­cus­sion over the post-Irish ‘No’ their own/their par­ties’ options for the future of Greece with­in the evolv­ing EU. Com­pare e.g. Dora Bako­gian­ni, Greek FM, when speak­ing to the 20th anniver­sary cel­e­bra­tions of the Hel­lenic Cen­tre of Euro­pean Stud­ies: “Greece is decid­ed to keep its unwa­ver­ing progress on the road of inte­gra­tion, that ambi­tious but real­is­tic plan of peace, of devel­op­ment and of social cohe­sion for the Mem­ber States of the EU […] I am sure our Irish part­ners will present soon enough spe­cif­ic pro­pos­als that – I hope and I believe – will allow for the impasse to be lift­ed before the June 2009 EP elec­tions […]. As we are con­fronting a tough inter­na­tion­al sit­u­a­tion, as well as dif­fi­cul­ties in pur­su­ing the dream of Euro­pean inte­gra­tion, I feel strong­ly that we need more and not less Europe. […] The EU, a polit­i­cal and eco­nom­ic union whose cohe­sion rests on com­mon val­ues, prin­ci­ples and beliefs […], as it is char­ac­terised by the ‘soft pow­er’ it exer­cis­es, can and should be an alter­na­tive mod­el for glob­al polit­i­cal and eco­nom­ic pow­er” with Michalis Papayan­nakis, ex-MEP for left-wing par­ty “SYNASPISMOS”, mourn­ing that “fol­low­ing the Irish ‘No’ the Reform Treaty of Lis­bon is now ‘dead’ and can­not be applied as it exists, even with some super­fi­cial ‘ame­lio­ra­tions’ in all of the EU coun­tries. This sit­u­a­tion may make sur­face sev­er­al para­dox­i­cal sit­u­a­tions, but such is the pro­ce­dure that has been agreed upon […] and it is a pro­ce­dure that was fit to the lev­el achieved by Euro­pean inte­gra­tion and to the per­ceived prob­lems and chal­lenges faced by the EU today”.[2]

2. Transatlantic relations after Bush: top priorities


Obamania versus anti-Americanism

The vic­to­ry of Barack Oba­ma – or, more accu­rate­ly the irre­sistible ascent and final­ly the vic­to­ry of Oba­ma and the Democ­rats, along with the fall and almost col­lapse of Pres­i­dent Bush and his brand of Repub­li­cans – has been more than approved by Greek pub­lic opin­ion (and the polit­i­cal sys­tem of Greece). The Europe-wide Oba­ma­nia took root in Greece soon enough, but it has found espe­cial­ly fer­tile ground in the anti-Amer­i­can sed­i­ment that remains through­out Greek pub­lic opin­ion. One should not for­get that on items of spe­cial Greek inter­est, such as the poten­tial acces­sion of the For­mer Yugoslav Repub­lic of Mace­do­nia (FYROM) to NATO (with the “name issue” unsolved), or the recent Turk­ish incur­sions to the Aegean, US posi­tions and/or de fac­to stances were per­ceived as inim­i­cal to Greece. Thus, expec­ta­tions from an ‘Oba­ma renais­sance’ are high, although already voic­es of mod­er­a­tion (of such expec­ta­tions) were tak­ing over.[3]

If one had to pick pri­or­i­ty areas where the Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion would be expect­ed to change track in Amer­i­can-Euro­pean rela­tions (i.e. with­out includ­ing such over­rid­ing but ‘pure­ly Greek-inter­est’ issues), three pol­i­cy fields should be men­tioned. First and fore­most, the shift from uni­lat­er­al poli­cies of the Bush era to more nego­ti­at­ed/­co-oper­a­tive US-EU approach­es on glob­al issues. Then, due to the quite hor­rif­ic human­i­tar­i­an and ‘defen­sive offen­sive’ sit­u­a­tion that has arisen in the Gaza Strip, a more con­struc­tive stance on the Mid­dle East, with­draw­al from Iraq, and a less bel­li­cose atti­tude towards Iran are expect­ed. Also, in a more long-term approach, a change of posi­tion in glob­al envi­ron­men­tal affairs, espe­cial­ly inso­far the fight against glob­al warm­ing/­post-Kyoto nego­ti­a­tions etc., is con­cerned. As a close run­ner-up, one could men­tion ener­gy and ener­gy-secu­ri­ty issues, fol­low­ing Euro­pean dis­il­lu­sion­ment with Rus­sia as a provider of nat­ur­al gas.

3. Financial crisis and challenges of global governance: the EU response


Once more surpassing the threshold of the Stability Pact

The severe finan­cial cri­sis, as it has evolved, cap­tured the atten­tion of pub­lic opin­ion as well as of the polit­i­cal sys­tem in Greece. Ini­tial­ly the inter­est was more of a the­o­ret­i­cal kind, since the Greek bank­ing sys­tem was thought to be less exposed to ‘tox­ic’ sub-primes and the like; the first major indi­ca­tion that ‘some­thing dan­ger­ous was hap­pen­ing’ came when the (then) Greek Min­is­ter of Econ­o­my and Finance took the lead in Europe (just after the Irish) to call for an increase to the legal bank deposits insur­ance (to 100,000 Euro) and to a ‘polit­i­cal’ blan­ket cov­er­age of all deposits. Soon after­wards, a 28 bil­lon Euro sal­vage pack­age (+/- 10 per­cent of GDP) was vot­ed in Greek Par­lia­ment to sup­port the bank­ing sys­tem – exposed as it was dis­cov­ered to be to South­east­ern Europe emerg­ing mar­kets, to Turkey and even Black Sea coun­tries risk. As the days passed, the real econ­o­my also start­ed to flinch and in ear­ly 2009 the refi­nanc­ing of Greece’s pub­lic debt (which accord­ing to 2007 data stood at 93.4 per­cent of GDP) was dis­cov­ered to be quite a prob­lem, while the spread between Greek gov­ern­ment paper and Ger­man bonds widened to more than 250 basis points. Thus, all com­pla­cen­cy van­ished and Greece real­ly ‘dis­cov­ered’ the finan­cial cri­sis in a scary way.

The awak­en­ing was rude for the polit­i­cal sys­tem; with a bud­get deficit once more sur­pass­ing the thresh­old of the Sta­bil­i­ty Pact, Greece seat­ed a sit­u­a­tion of ‘exces­sive deficit’ with all neg­a­tive con­se­quences asso­ci­at­ed to it. But at the same time, the strict EU/Eurozone dis­ci­pline loom­ing, appeared to con­sti­tute the only avail­able safe­ty net. In a book devot­ed to this awak­en­ing, for­mer Prime Min­is­ter Costas Simi­tis described exact­ly how this “new age” finan­cial cri­sis con­sti­tutes both for the EU and for Greece the proof that “an inter­gov­ern­men­tal approach is prob­lem­at­ic while some sort of eco­nom­ic gov­er­nance must be estab­lished […]. The prob­lem of one coun­try can become a prob­lem for all. Eco­nom­ic gov­er­nance that until now has not been accept­able will be imposed by real­i­ty – be it through exist­ing insti­tu­tions or with new forms of cooperation”.[4]




[1] See Mous­sis: “Teach­ings and a Way Out from the Irish Impasse” (in Greek), in Inter­na­tion­al and Euro­pean Pol­i­tics, vol. 12 (Oct-Dec. 08) p. 66 ff, esp. p. 77.
[2] As stat­ed in Michalis Papayan­nakis: “Some­where in the Road the Direc­tion was Lost” (in Greek), in Inter­na­tion­al and Euro­pean Pol­i­tics, vol. 12 (Oct-Dec 08), p. 37.
[3] See Yan­nis Kar­tal­is: “Expec­ta­tions and Real­i­ties”, in To Vima, 18 Jan­u­ary 2009, p. 18; also A. Lianos: “Amer­i­ca turns a page” (refer­ring to the tone of recent delib­er­a­tions of the Amer­i­can His­tor­i­cal Asso­ci­a­tion on the sub­ject), in To Vima, 18 Jan­u­ary 2009, p. 20 and R. Someri­tis: “Oba­ma after the swear­ing-in cer­e­mo­ny” (cov­er­ing both the EU and the Mid­dle East angles), in To Vima, 18 Jan­u­ary 2009, p. 21. See also the pos­i­tive-if-not-enthu­si­as­tic inter­view of (1988 pres­i­den­tial can­di­date) Mike Dukakis in Kathimeri­ni, 18 Jan­u­ary 2009, p. 16, but also the sober­ing analy­sis of Theodore Kouloumbis: “Will Oba­ma solve our prob­lems for us”, in Kathimeri­ni, 18 Jan­u­ary 2009, p. 18.
[4] Costas Simi­tis: “The Cri­sis” (in Greek), Polis Pub­lish­ing, Athens 2008, p. 118.