Greek voters ponder the unthinkable - cutting ties with the EU


GREEK LETTER:The gulf between rulers and ruled is widening in a nation beset by crisis

We conventionally employ the term “parliament” to refer to the legislature of any country, yet there is a significant nuance in the way each country designates its lawmakers.

Yes, of course we have “parliaments” – places of talking, of discussion – but the Dáil, the Israeli Knesset, the US Congress are, technically, places where legislators gather – places of assembly. In Russia there’s the Duma – a place of thinking. In many Arabic-speaking countries such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, it’s called a Majlis, a place of sitting, or of taking counsel.

In Greece, parliament is the Voulí, which at root means “Will” (of the people). And it also means – or implies – a “Council of Elders”. Maybe it’s unique. And it is, at present, unique in the fact that it does not – it cannot – reflect the will of the Greek people.

Giving away sovereignty does not always depend on economic circumstances. The whole idea of creating today’s EU was based not only on a shared economic future but on a common sense of a cultural future. It envisaged a pan-European entity but not necessarily a suppression of each nation’s essential, irreducible identity.

Another basic word in our vocabulary is “plebiscite” or “referendum”, and in Britain we see a reluctance to submerge in the EU, as it moves partly towards a referendum on Scottish separatism and partly towards a vote on whether Britain itself will remain in the EU.

Two general elections in Greece in 2012 have demonstrated just how divided the country is in terms of who is elected to the Voulí. New Democracy (the governing party) and Syriza (a coalition of far-left interests) were neck and neck in the last election, but the narrow margin in favour of ND gave it a bonus of 50 seats, filled by non-elected MPs. The Voulí on its own cannot resist the imposition of IMF conditions, but the people, whose will it is supposed to represent, might well do so.

A further plebiscite might lead to an exit, not least because at the last election political leaders promised that there would be no more austerity measures – a promise that was manifestly untrue and, in the light of continuing pressure from the IMF, unsustainable.

A “Grexit”, as it is called, is still an option.

If the Voulí is a “council of elders”, it has shown itself to be incapable of knowing its own mind or of recognising and interpreting the will of the people. What people actually want, and what they are not getting, is a way out of the economic impasse, a means of creating wealth which will counteract the recession, and lead to job creation.

This is not without precedent. In the 1920s Hungary, in the throes of reconstruction, offered the state railways to foreign buyers, and even went so far as to apply to the then League of Nations for a bailout. Parallels with Greece are obvious, where state assets are on offer, not very successfully, to foreign investors and buyers. The imperatives for any struggling country, especially a small one, to look for help elsewhere are compelling. It’s even within recent memory that the UK secured IMF funding to dig it out of an appalling financial crisis.

In 1977, the then president of Greece, Konstantine Tsatsos, argued for Greece’s inclusion in Europe (it was admitted in 1981) on cultural and political as well as economic grounds. He linked Greece to other southern states – Portugal, Spain, Italy – all of which, it could be argued, would have to either catch up quickly or be left behind. Their inherent assets would not be enough to sustain them in an age of technological change and wealth creation. How right he proved to be.

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