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.