ECONOMIC CRISIS --- e-telescope.gr online magazine

For leftist critics of the EU, reform looks unlikely — but aligning with right-wing Euroskeptics looks worse. Maybe there's a third option.

When European Union President Jean-Claude Juncker addressed the European Parliament in Strasbourg this past September, he told them the organization was facing an “existential crisis.” In part, he blamed “national governments so weakened by the forces of populism” that they were “paralyzed by the risk of defeat in the next election.”

Can the EU still unite a continent shattered by world wars, or is it little more than a vehicle for austerity capitalism? The European Union is one of the premier trade organizations on the planet, with a collective GDP that surpasses the world’s largest national economies.

But it’s far more than a trade group. It’s also a banker, a judicial system, a watchdog, a military alliance, and — increasingly — an enforcer of economic rules among its 28 members. “Larger now than the Roman Empire of two thousand years ago,” observes British historian Perry Anderson, “more opaque than the Byzantine, the European Union continues to baffle observers and participants alike.”

Between now and next April, four members of the European Union (EU) will hold national elections. They'll go a long ways toward determining whether the 28-member organization will continue to follow an economic model that's generated vast wealth for a few, widespread misery for many, and growing income inequality for all.

Historically, low oil prices have been perceived by many as an overriding positive for the economy. This has especially been the case in the United States where most households rely on car travel as a primary means of transport. Low oil prices allow households to spend more on economic activities other than gasoline and other oil-related expenses. Historically, every time the oil price soared — such as the 1973 oil crisis, the 1991 Gulf War, and in 2008 when oil reached a historical high of $147 a barrel — public opinion always regarded these events as a serious threat to the economy.

Memory is selective and therein lays an explanation for some of the deep animosity between Berlin and Athens in the current debt crisis that has shaken the European Union (EU) to its foundations.

Myths are dangerous because they rely more on cultural memory and prejudice than facts. And behind the current crisis between Greece and the European Union (EU) lies a fable that bears little relationship to why Athens and a number of other countries in the 28-member organization find themselves in deep distress.

The costs and risks of maintaining the eurozone system are already immense and rising. So is an exit possible? Intuitively, the exit from the euro should be as easy as the entrance. Joining and leaving the club should be equally simple. Leaving is just undoing what was done before. Indeed, many popular articles discuss the prospects of an exit of countries such as Greece or Germany. However, other voices have rightly argued that there are important exit problems.

It is a truism to say that democracy began with the Greeks – less so to say that it originated in popular rebellion against debt and debt-bondage. Yet, with the Greek people ensnared once more in the vice-grip of rich debt-holders, it may be useful to recall that fact. For the only hope today of reclaiming democracy in Greece (and elsewhere) resides in the prospect of a mass uprising against modern debt-bondage that extends the rule of the people into the economic sphere.

The problems of the eurozone are ultimately malinvestments. In Greece these days the struggle continues about who will ultimately foot the bill for these investments. During the early 2000s an expansionary monetary policy lowered interest rates artificially. Entrepreneurs financed investment projects that only looked profitable due to the low interest rates but were not sustained by real savings. Housing bubbles and consumption booms developed in the periphery.

Europe has always been a rather tenuous concept. A rump continent, Europe represented the barbarous hinterlands for the Greeks and Romans. The first use of the term "European" occurred in a chronicle describing the forces of Charles the Hammer that turned back the northward advance of Islam at the battle of Tours in 732. Long celebrated in Europe as a victory of civilization over barbarism, the Battle of Tours was, as historian David Levering Lewis reminds us in God's Crucible, actually the opposite: "the victory of Charles the Hammer must be seen as greatly contributing to the creation of an economically retarded, balkanized, fratricidal Europe that, in defining itself in opposition to Islam made virtues out of religious persecution, cultural particularism, and hereditary aristocracy."

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