There was a logical reason for Greeks to vote NO in their Referendum: if they genuinely believed that an exit from the Euro and return to their own currency was the best way forward. It’s fraught with risk, but is a viable solution. It’s also a very possible (some would say probable) consequence of the NO vote and therefore necessary to consider. Instead, the celebrations in Greece by those who voted against the proposal under consideration seem to be either vested in a belief they have backed Europe into a corner or based on ideology rather than practical reality.
It’s all very well for the Greeks to be crowing about their democratic rights. But becoming part of the Eurozone was always a compromise: a more stable currency, freedom of movement and greater prospect of investment in exchange for collectivity rather than simple sovereignty. Greece, like every other country that joined the Euro, knew this.
Yet they have completely ignored the agreement they made as part of that group and abandoned their responsibilities to the other countries within it. For the past week they have held the Euro and every other equally sovereign nation that’s part of it to ransom, and they have now resoundingly stated that this is their preference.
Greece wants to have its cake and eat it too: it seeks the security of the Eurozone without being willing to agree to the fiscal responsibility that comes with it. The bleating about the Germans and French engaging in a conspiracy against them is rooted in the fact that when Germany and France bailed Greece out of its debts in 2010 much of that was owned by German and French banks. Many Greeks believe that Germany and France were merely protecting their own at the expense of Greece. Putting aside that Greece actually owed that money and the government had cooked its books, such a belief ignores the fact that there were much broader ramifications for the Eurozone. Allowing Greece to go to the wall would have disrupted the Euro at a time it could ill-afford it and likely plunged the whole of Europe into a deep depression, not to mention the potential contagion to the other countries close to the edge, such as Italy and Spain, whose economies are much bigger. As much as protecting their own, Germany and France acted, at their own expense, to protect the Euro. They honoured their responsibilities as part of the centralised currency. Greece, however, remains mired in the very self-importance that caused its problems in the first place.
This selfishness extends to hypocrisy in ignoring the equal democratic rights of other sovereign nations within the Eurozone. The other countries, Germany in particular, are expected to once again provide the money to further bail Greece out of its mess, and they will all be impacted by any agreement whether directly or indirectly. The governments of those countries have responsibilities to their populations. If Greece is so vocal on the issues of sovereignty and democracy, why is it ignoring this? Why does it expect the rest of Europe to respect its right to self-determination while ignoring those reciprocal rights?
Or is it willing to stand in solidarity if the rest of the countries in the Eurozone wish to take proposals to their people for a popular vote? This would, quite obviously, be farcical. There would need to be 19 Referendums for every proposal put forward and the world would grind to a halt for years before any consensus could be achieved. But this is exactly what Greece is expecting of Europe and the world as it spews forth its rhetoric about NO being a victory for democracy over bullying and imperialism.
The Syriza government has applied exactly the same blackmail tactics against Europe and its own population that it is criticising. In calling the Referendum, it engaged in at best a game of brinkmanship that may have gone horribly wrong, or at worst a calculated attempt to sure up support internally with no thought to the desperate situation it was creating for its people. A genuine Referendum on the issue would have been held weeks before any deadline, provided Greeks a proper opportunity to assess the consequences of voting either way and would have been about the broader issue at stake, not a rushed one on a narrow proposal that is no longer even relevant. If Syriza had done this, there would have been no capping of funding by the European Central Bank and therefore no capital controls. Greece would not have been brought to its knees. Alternatively, a genuine stalemate would have occurred at the absolute last moment on Tuesday before the deadline, not stage-managed days beforehand. Then there would have been a true argument that negotiations had failed. Instead, Syriza has held (and is still attempting to hold) Europe and its own people hostage.
The Referendum has achieved nothing favourable for the Greeks. Tsipras has confirmed that they are against austerity measures, but he already knew that from his election just a few short months ago. This cannot force the Eurozone’s hand. The other countries will negotiate to the limits of what is viable, in exactly the same way as they would have done up until the 30 June deadline, had the Referendum not been called. Now, however, there is instability, unpredictability and distrust in the mix and Greece is facing greater financial problems, with a default to its name and deadlines for future payments in July moving ever closer, not to mention that it is literally running out of money for day to day operations. And in the meantime, the Eurozone has had the opportunity to evaluate Greece’s place in the Euro, prepare for a possible exit, and work to quarantine and isolate the problem. The position in which Greece has been placed by Syriza is not demonstrative of responsible governance, let alone leadership.
The only beneficiaries of this debacle are Tsipras and the Syriza government. They have sured up their position internally, even getting rid of the leader of the Opposition party, who was a vocal opponent to their position. If they now negotiate a deal it will likely be equivalent to the one that was already on the table yet with Greece in a far worse position than they were before the Referendum, but they will able to hail it as a victory for themselves. If they cannot negotiate, they can revert Greece to the Drachma, taking total control of the country and currency, reasserting their power. All the while they will continue to push an unsustainable economically socialist agenda that serves no purpose beyond their own obsession with challenging the status quo.
Those in government making these decisions are not the ones suffering. They are not the unemployed, the poor, the elderly, the dependents. Their money is safe, they have opportunities beyond whatever happens. They are preying on the vulnerable and appealing to Greece’s nationalism via a David vs Goliath revolutionary narrative. The Greeks, in a breathtaking display of ignorance, selfish entitlement and misguided romanticism, have gone along with it. Democracy and sovereignty are of utmost importance, but this is not about that; rather it is a bastardisation, damaging to their intrinsic value, in furtherance of political power and agenda.
The Referendum should never have occurred. A better option would have been a refusal to vote, preventing it reaching the 40% voting threshold for legitimacy. That way, at least, perhaps the whole sorry mess could have been set aside and negotiations recommence in a calm and orderly fashion. Instead, by throwing the father of all tantrums, the Greeks have relinquished the very control they thought they were regaining. The rest of Europe will now do what is necessary to contain its petulant child.