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The EU: to Be Or Not to Be? Greece and the Death Penalty

May 9 is Europe Day: peace and unity in the European Union (EU) is celebrated. Happy Birthday, EU! Let’s be honest,there is not much to celebratetoday. As George Bernard Shaw once said: “We learn from experience that men never learn anything from experience”.There are too many reasons to cancel the Europe Dayparty: theGreek crisis; the UK referendum on Brexit; EU’s approach to refugees;the new walls erected in some of the EU member countries; and...the list is not even complete.
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The EU integration process used to have material, institutional and ideational foundations. Today only the material and institutional elements are left, that’s why the project is shaky. TheEU is facing all its crises in the same way: on the one hand, closing in itself to the rest of the world; on the other hand, each EU member country is looking at the national self-interest vis-à-vis the other member countries. The imposition of the death penalty to Greece to ‘solve’ the crisis will be used to show this

WHY EUROPE DAY IS CELEBRATED ON MAY 9?

 
May 9, 1945: The end of WWII,ratification of the German unconditional surrender in Rheims (France).May 9, 1950:‘Schuman Declaration’. Robert Schuman, French foreign minister at the time,proposeda project to end the historic Franco-German rivalrycreating a Franco-German coal and steel production under a common authority, opento other European countries. The project intended to push for the creation of a material-economic integration via common interests and needs (between state and non-state actors), to establish an interdependence,which would be the building bloc to deepenthe political bonds at the European level. This method (the functionalist approach), was intended to erode the sovereignty of nation states via economic interest-driven projects. The Coal and Steel Community should “make war not only unthinkable but materially impossible” (Schuman Declaration).
 
THE EU: GOING BEYOND THE CONCEPT OF NATION-STATE
 
Many things have changed from the European Coal and Steel Community (1951) to the present European Union. Governments and people alike tend to look at the weaknesses of the EU, since it has so many of them. Agreed. And yet, the EU represents the strongest challenge to the concept ofnation-state (Peace of Westphalia, 1648), invented by Europe itself,exported worldwide,and now incredibly difficult to challenge.
 
The nation-state was an invention that helped European countries to have more peaceful relations since it established principles such as: external and internal sovereignty;independence; non-interference in domestic affairs; territorial integrity; equality of states (i.e. countries should be equal regardless of their differences). However, the concept of nation-state has also been used and abused to wage wars, kill minorities, eliminate entire religious groups, etc.In other words, the concept of nation-state has not led to peaceeither at a national or international level.
 
Throughout the XIX century Europe has respected the nation-state principle within its boundaries but not externally (e.g. colonialism). World War I and World War II questioned the principle of sovereignty, and after WWII Europe went beyond the Westphalian concept with the promotion of EU integration. Sovereignty was no longerassociated with the right to govern over a certain territory, becoming a responsibility to govern in a certain way. The meaning of sovereignty was affected by changing historical circumstances, as any socially constructed norm (the Holocaust left a lesson at least).
 
The EU is the result of a voluntary transfer of sovereignty from nation-states to a center of pooled-shared sovereignty. The EU is a complex project where member states do not relinquish their legal personality and where national sovereignty is still “an essential constraint on future European political integration” (Gnesotto, 2000). And yet, the EU is not just an intergovernmental system. For those looking at the federalist model (The Ventotene Manifesto, Spinelli), or the cosmopolitanism ideal, the European project was (or still is?) an interesting laboratorywith all its shortcomings. 
 
THE EU PROJECT: MATERIAL, INSTITUTIONAL AND IDEATIONAL FACTORS
 
Integrating the economies of European countries, creating supranational authorities, trying to promote a European identity (against nationalist ones), enlarging the EU to central Eastern European countries after the fall of the Soviet Union, are some of the steps through which the European project has been advancing, growing, and deepening. Not a perfect project, but a project in the making.
 
The idea of creating a single European currency is the best example of the material, institutional and ideational factors of the EU project. The Euro, the quintessence of a material-economic-market-oriented project, is indeed linked to institutional and ideational elements.
 
The material factors of the Euro are related to: the need to structure and tie more deeply together European economies; compete with the US dollar;andimpose the Euro as a reference currency for third countries becoming a valid alternative to the US dollar-system, etc.
 
The institutionaldimension related to the Euro is the creation of the European Central Bank (ECB), which administers the monetary policy of the 19 Eurozone members (out of the 28 member countries of the EU). The ECB has exclusive right to authorize the issuance of euro banknotes and is governed, directly, by European law.The Euro is not working well for all Eurozone members, only for some of them. The flaws and limits of the Euro and the ECB itself are before our eyes. This does not mean that the Euro per se is a bad project. The only country with the economic and political clout that should take responsibility to go beyond the current failures, is acting as a reluctant hegemon stubbornly proposing measures that are only aggravating the crisis. It’s Germany, stupid!
 
The ideational aspects of the Euro are relevant. Currency is an idea, a convention really. By using currency,people agree to give value to something that does not have valueper se– be it gold or coins, paper money or bonds. Each of these titles has no intrinsic value, besides the value we agree to attach to them via a social contract.The value of currencieschanges every day based on market rules and psychological elements. Perception of power and perception of stability of a country have a domino effect on the value of its currency. Hence, currency can be manipulated via material and non-material factors.Currency has also a deep national identity dimension. People feel attached to what they perceive as a symbol of their nation, which has also an ‘objective’ value to them. Can you imagine US citizens relinquishing the dollar to have acommon currency with Canada and Mexico with which they share the North American Free Trade Area (NAFTA)? Forget it! Despite being very pragmatic people, willing to increase their material power, for US citizens the dollar is a national symbol of pride, not just a material element ofpower.
 
The Euro crisis shows that the material and institutional dimensions have eaten up the ideational one – the Greek crisis is the best example of this.The eruption of the 2007 financial crisisbrought the western industrialized world to live the hardest economic crisis since 1929. As long as EU integration meant that countries were growing, few questioned the European (and Euro)project – despite its clear limits and weaknesses. To be honest, the UK has consistentlybeen arguing that there should be no ‘idea’ behind the EU. For the Britons, the least institutional dimension should be accepted for the promotion of the maximum economic advantages.If only Europe had listened to De Gaulle’s repeated objections, while he was alive, to UK’s entry into the European Community…
 
WHAT IS THE GREEK CRISIS TELLING US ABOUT THE EUROPEANIDEA?
 
The Greek crisis should be taken as a clear sign of dissolution of the EU and the idea behind its foundation. The Greek crisis can be solved only if the EU will go beyond the bureaucratic-rule based dimension to enter a proper political dimension. Treaties, rules, concepts, agreements are socially constructed, thus can be modified (as the concept of sovereignty). It should never be a matter of principle, for otherwise this will be the best way to destroy the idea of Europe behind the EU.
 
May 9, 2016 (Europe Day):theEurogroupwill hold an extraordinary meeting to discuss the state of play of the macroeconomic adjustment program for Greece. According to the Eurogroup Agenda: “Discussions will cover a comprehensive package of policy reforms as well as the sustainability of Greece’s public debt [now at 182.8% of GDP]. Both elements need to be in place in order to finalise the programme’s first review and unlock further financial assistance to Greece”.
 
The most worrying aspect of the upcoming meeting is that nothing leads us to think that the pièce will have a different ending from the later representations. Each character will play its role.Each of us will continue having his/her ideas of who is to blame, as if that was the point. In the pièce, Greeceis ‘the sinner’; the EU‘the stepmother’; the IMF‘the witch’; politicians ‘the corrupt’; banks ‘the hyenas’; the people ‘the victims’.You can shift and twist the roles a little with a slight change in perspective. Greece is ‘the sinner’ (as before); the EU ‘the witch’; the IMF ‘the stepmother’; politicians ‘the hyenas’; banks ‘the corrupt’; the people ‘the victims’ (as before). Change whatever you like, but keep constant the first and the last roles:‘the sinner’ (i.e. Greece),and ‘the victims’ (i.e. the people).
 
Let’s assume that the Greek crisis is only Greece’s internal responsibility. Greece is the sinner, agreed. Is this enough to apply the death penalty to Greece?What does the death penalty say about who is applying it?What if you discover that the person (country) was not guilty?What happens when you apply the death penalty even in the case the person (country) was guilty? What does the death penalty say about the EU, and the European project which,supposedly,was about: European identity, democracy, human rights, fighting against torture and death penalty…? At least, if the death penalty is to be applied to Greece, just cut the bloody head off. Too much grace. The death penalty is applied to Greece via slow suffocation technique. Let’s see if torture helps Greece to confess: are you the sinner?
 
Is Europe doing to Greece what Europe has done to Germany with theTreaty of Versailles (1919) when Keynes wroteThe Economic Consequences of Peace? Greece is not Germany, fine. And yet, Grexit could cost more than many Europeans think, both politically and economically. Hence, even a cost-benefit analysis should suffice to change EU’s attitude.
 
EUROPE DAY:MAY 9, 2016
 
There is an ideological fallacy in the functionalist approach to EU’s integration, as if it could be led by economic integration. The independentvariable in the construction of a European Union is the political idea, not the economic one.
 
The EU is 66 years old now and it has become an ‘elderly and haggard’ grandmother (Pope Francis). The EU has been accruingsevere responsibilities on its shoulders. The non-resolution of the Greek crisis. The EU is accepting the least number of refugees possible, taking them as a burden and living them as a crisis.The EU is stopping migrants, depicting and perceiving them as a threatboth from a social and a security perspective.The EU is building wallsand suspending Schengen, as if,besides the moral and ethical question of erecting walls, fences and fortifications were enough to stop a tsunami.The Mediterranean has become a graveyardofthe largest amount of humans trying to go North,escaping hunger, war, threat, and persecution. 
 
The major crises the EU is facing are not linked to the lack of economic resources to face them. The EU can face (economically) the Greek crisis. The EU can face (economically) the refugee issue. The EU can face…. The point is political. The EU has lost its ideational ambition. WWI and WWII seem part of history. And yet, today’s situation raises concerns: economic crisis, nationalism, protectionism, rise of extreme right wing parties, caudillos and strong leaders, the fear of the other, security dilemmas… Did Europe experience this ever before? George Bernard Shaw had a point. 
 
The tradition of putting out candles on birthday cakes goes back to ancient Greek times. People used to bring a white and round cake with candles on top to Artemis, the lunar goddess. The candles were used to recreate the light of the moon, and people believed that blowing the candles their smoke, rising up, could lead their prayers to the Gods and fulfill them. You can try and blow the candles if you wish, you need 66 of them. For those who don’t believe in deities, the eternal question is always whether the EU will choose To Be, or Not To Be. Shakespeare, as a Briton, would choose the latter. The EU should not follow Britons’ idea of Europe.

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