Having lived in Italy both pre and post the European Union, I’m surprised this EU marriage of assorted incompatible countries, which was definitely not a marriage made in heaven, has lasted this long. Historically, European Governments (and certainly in Mediterranean countries) have had enormous difficulty in efficiently running their own economies – so the idea that a central Government, run by bureaucrats from innocuous offices in Brussels could manage them all, was always a Panglossian scenario doomed to end up with one country or another or several ending up in the stew.
I don’t doubt there was some good intention behind forming the European Union. Open borders, one currency, easy trading – but it was always tenuous. We live on an Island and our only neighbours are Scotland (and that’s going well!!) Wales and Ireland and even those relationships are littered with dissent and the demand for independence. All the same, we just about manage to stay together under the heading of Great Britain and we have done for many years. But the relationship between the Italians, French, Germans and the Spanish (to name but a few European neighbours) prior to the EU, was frequently as collaborative and friendly as rival Pitbulls. The idea that Europe would unite and merge cultural and economic identities under one banner and one rule was always quite extraordinary.
Neither was it properly considered. Due diligence would have told anyone we are so culturally diverse in Europe, any collective rule book would have been as useful as a manual on aerospace technology for three year olds. The idea that Greece or Italy (for example) would conform to the same rules as Germany or France was just daft. I lived on the Italian French border for many years and the difference between Ventimiglia and Menton (about 5 miles distance) was so enormous it was just like entering a different country – because it was! What part of signing membership to the EU changed that scenario?
In my opinion the EU was never about what was best for people and always about what was best for the financial sector. And sooner or later it was always going to become impossible for voters in any country to have confidence in a system designed solely to feed the banks to the detriment of all else.
If the IMF decide in their wisdom to lay the blame entirely with the Greek people for this crisis, then I suggest they will find find they have a similar crisis with Spain and Italy (for starters) in the very near future. Even if (as the media would have us believe) Greeks really are the laziest and least trustworthy people in Europe – by whose standards are we judging them? By German standards? Are we saying Greeks are different to the Germans or the French and therefore they must change? Do the Greeks want to be like the Germans or the French? Or do they just want to be Greeks? Was the Greek economy on a sure footing before they joined the EU?
Ah but, I can hear people saying, in that case, they shouldn’t have joined Europe and borrowed so much money which they can’t pay back. And who engineered that situation? And who monitored it? Surely the top economists rounding up European countries for membership had some inkling that Greece was not economically stable – so how exactly did they qualify? As anyone in business (and especially the banking sector) knows, numbers on a page can be rearranged to tell a hundred different stories to a hundred different readers and someone obviously did some exceptional fantasy accounting for Greece. And who ever was regulating these figures somehow failed to notice two and two was never adding up to four.
Some might say it’s rather like the mess RBS or HBOS/Lloyds got themselves into which went (apparently) completely under the radar of the UK regulators. While the bank bosses were telling the world and his wife they were absolutely solvent, the truth of the matter was always bound to come out – they were completely broke and deeply in debt. Of course what happened there was the UK tax payer bailed the banks out even although it caused mass austerity. To add insult to injury, in the UK we continued to plough our banks and our top bankers with money and we refused (unlike Iceland) to hold anyone responsible for the catastrophe the banks caused. We even kept the obscene bonus system going.
Banks across the world were falling like nine pins during the so called ‘credit crunch’ and in the majority of cases the big banks were bailed out because they were “too big to fail.” Countries, it seems, are not. Fair enough – so Greece first and who is next?
The Greeks got themselves into this mess and now they can get themselves out of it is the attitude of the EU leaders. Although I can’t help feeling that the biggest offence Greece has committed against the EU has been to suggest it won’t be dictated to. How dare they tell EU leaders they won’t meekly submit their people to years and years of austerity and misery while they concentrate on pouring every possible Euro they can into paying off a debt that, realistically, is beyond repayment without some write offs? There has been a definite issue of ‘face saving’ here and the EUs big bosses have not taken kindly to the idea that the Greek people could have a say in economic affairs they clearly know nothing about! How many times do the ‘people’ have to be told “leave politics to the grown ups!” Hmmn – I think what they really mean is “leave politics to the bankers” who, as we all know, must continue to be paid millions of pounds for a job well done!
But Greece isn’t the only country in financial turmoil. And obviously the biggest issue with letting the Greek people have a say in their future is (God forbid) other economically badly behaved Europeans may follow suit. Worse still, when the European elite have finished blaming all the people of Europe, they may have to wake up to the fact the people of Europe are getting restless and some of them no longer care what a bunch of bureaucrats in Brussels think. If the EU was run so well and regulated so well, why isn’t it an overwhelming success? Could it be the so called credit crunch was the fly in the ointment? Could it be the financial sector has had a big hand in this problem? Could it be that the big banks like Goldman Sachs (busy doing God’s work) just saw Europe and its populations as a delicious example of cannon fodder? And especially countries like Greece. Sun, sea, chaos, corruption, no taxes – did the EU not know that was the deal with Greece? Did they think people joining the EU and the Euro would automatically abandon their Mediterranean heritage get into straight lines?
Culture with all its good points and its failings is still the very thing that make Europe unique. A host of countries with a completely different way of life dating back hundreds of years. If you wanted to go to somewhere very well organised with fantastic motorways and possibly an over fondness for pork, you went to Germany. If you wanted to go somewhere where life is very laid back, prone to siestas and fiesta’s and with very good fresh fish, you went to Greece or Italy or Spain. You changed your money and deliberately set off to visit somewhere completely different to your own country with different shops, food, habits, architecture and lifestyle. What was wrong with that?
Clearly something was because we now have a system where EU countries must now conform to a bland similarity based on nonsense rules that are totally open to abuse. And apparently some abuse the rules more than others – well there’s a surprise. But I wonder who are the greatest abusers in a decade where corruption is so wide spread? You can get it anywhere these days but some nations hide it better than others and some are better at managing it. Take the UK? Some would call it the money laundering centre of the world – but in EU negotiation terms, butter wouldn’t melt. In my opinion, turning Europe into a franchise of one big corporation like MacDonald’s was never going to work. You were always going to end up with hamburgers containing snails, garlic, anchovies, sardines, sauerkraut and “don’t worry, I make lamb.” Bankers may have thought all European countries would perform unilaterally if they all had the same currency – they couldn’t have been more wrong.
Europeans are ultimately all Nationalists – even the Brits, look at the somersaults the UK Government did to keep Scotland British. You can’t tell Greek or Italian or, heaven help us, the French or German people how to live. You can try and bribe their Governments with grants and loans and swaps, and it all goes swimmingly while there’s plenty of money to dole out. But when the coffers in one country run dry and other richer countries start imposing such harsh austerity people risk losing their shirts, is it surprising we all start remembering we’re individual nations again?
We don’t have the Euro in the UK and that is our saving grace. Love him or hate him David Cameron does put the British point across in his negotiations with Europe and they have to listen. Despite our internal conflicts (Scotland, the power the banks have, austerity blocking justice) we do at least have our own currency and therefore a bigger hand in running our own economy – and even if it’s a mess, neither the Germans nor the French can dictate what’s best for us. Maybe the Greek leaders have realised (before the rest of Europe does) that the views of the people they rule are more important than the corporations who just think they’re so important. Maybe the Greek people just want their country, their dignity and their identity back. And whatever it costs them now, might be less than it costs them (or other EU nations) in the future. Bankers, in the name of the EU, have run riot over Europe in a bulletless war for too long now. Maybe the Greeks are right to fight back?
One final example of why I believe the European Union is ultimately doomed. It’s a small example but it clearly shows the dangerous level of interference the EU wields over national heritage. Last Wednesday I was talking to a very good friend who lives in Ventimiglia. I used to live there and I remember the border coming down. So I was asking my friend how Ventimiglia was coping with the thousands of migrants stranded there because the French have now very definitely put the border back up so the immigrants can’t just wander over to Monte Carlo or St Tropez.
However my friend, who is a great foodie, was intent on telling me about the latest crack pot EU regulation. Check out this headline: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/italy/11704323/Italy-EU-request-for-powdered-milk-in-mozzarella-is-attack-on-cultural-heritage.html
What meddling jobsworth came up with that idea? Is this really the kind of rule the EU was set up to introduce? Does anyone really want to be associated with such idiocy? Oh for the days of bent cucumbers, irregularly shaped tomatoes and interesting foreign currency.
I will keep praying for a miracle solution for the ordinary Greek people caught in the middle of these power struggles. Obviously, at this stage, only a miracle will suffice.
so Greece’s biggest fault isn’t cooking the books to join the euro? isn’t cooking them to hide its huge deficit? isn’t living outside its means? isn’t spending the first bailouton submarines? isn’t refusing to change is moneybleeding system?
You are talking about Greece and not the Greek people. Change submarines for private jets and you could be talking about RBS or HBOS. Do you think the Greek people cooked the books? Or was it Greek politicians working hand in glove with huge banks and those who were sooo keen to get everyone under the net?
Sorry Diana, that comment should have come from me personally and not from SME Alliance.
Good article and I could not agree more with all that you say.
The EU project is a farce and doomed to fail. One size fist all has never and will never work. Every nation, as you rightly say has its own identity, culture heritage etc and these can never be assimilated into one vast EU identity. Sooner or later this project will fall like all empires and I only hope for the sake of sanity that Greece does leave the EU bringing about the demise of this rotten project and all the corruption that has gone with it.
Thanks Nigel. I just hope the Greek people don’t have too harsh a time!