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Wednesday, May 18, 2022
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“nai” and “oxi”

Hellenic News
Hellenic News
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It’s been a tough year for Europe. Ukraine is in shambles, Hungary’s Prime Minister is starting to sound like Putin, and anti-austerity parties are on the rise, which suggests that there appears to be a rift between the northern and southern EU member states. The last thing Europe needed was another nail-biting cliffhanger that will force the entire continent to hold its breath for a couple of days as it assesses its future. Whether they asked for it or not, that is exactly what Europe will be getting on Sunday when Greek voters will decide on accepting another bailout from the country’s debtors.
If you are an avid follower of European politics with limited knowledge of the Greek language, there are probably two new Greek words you know very well by now: “nai” and “oxi”. That is because Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s decision to call for a referendum on accepting a new bailout from Greece’s creditors. The decision to bring the vote to the people has mobilized the Greek public into two camps: those in favor of accepting the new loan (nai), and those opposed (oxi). Those who argue in favor of the bailout cite the need for Greece to stay in the Euro, something that Greece’s creditors warn is not possible with if the people reject the new proposal. Conversely, the “oxi” crowd, led by Prime Minister Tsipras himself, argues that the conditions will continue to degrade and humiliate the Greek people and rejecting the proposal might give Greece better chips to play with on the bargaining table. Without question, the referendum, as well as the Troika’s insistence on pushing Greece into a corner, have not just divided the Greek people, but the entire continent.

In the midst of all of this confusion and uncertainty, one wonders what exactly Greece’s creditors have accomplished by forcing the country into this dire situation. If anything, the Troika’s refusal to budge on any of the Greek government’s demands has done more harm than good and helped create more divisions within the European Union itself. The dramatic escalation of events over the past few months has been instrumental in undermining the notion of “Europe” as a political and economic idea. It has provided endless ammunition to Euroskeptics who argue for the dissolution of the EU altogether, and anti-democratic forces such as those in Russia, who point to the calamity of the Greek situation to justify their questionable practices. Ironically, the one thing that was supposed to act as the adhesive for millions of citizens across Europe, the Euro, has been instrumental in making people more cognizant of each other’s differences. There is no denying that recent economic hardships have been exploited by some to lead an international mud-slinging campaign in which Greeks and Germans, along with their respective supporters, are targets of each other’s ire. These personal sentiments of solidarity, disgruntlement and division throughout Europe have begun to translate into political gains for anti-austerity parties. Increasing political and social divisions simply undermine the viability of the European Union. One member state’s degradation as a result of another member state’s policies is a surefire way to cause friction within the Union itself. This friction could provide an opening for anti-EU forces to capitalize on widespread disgruntlement. Dangerous signs are already starting to present themselves as far-left rhetoric seems to be increasingly appealing to Southern Europeans, and right wing attitudes in Northern Europe have become more popular. These divisions are harmful to the prospect of a unified and prosperous Europe because they are paramount in setting the stage for potentially-cataclysmic confrontations such as the one scheduled for July 5th.

In many ways, the rise of anti-austerity parties in Southern Europe are reactions to the seemingly aggressive attitudes of the main decision-makers of EU monetary policies. In the particular case of Greece, over five years of austerity measures have had tremendously negative social, political and economic consequences on the Greek people. The economy has come to a grinding halt, and youth joblessness is among the highest in Europe. Hundreds of thousands of people have left Greece in search of better opportunities elsewhere. Pensions have been cut, and images of long lines at the ATM’s are hardly exemplary of a European country, let alone a member of the Eurozone. It is evident that the Greece that once was is no more. What is more troublesome about this is that the country’s creditors insist on not compromising with Athens to allow for a plan that allows for repayment and growth. Numerous economists have stated that the current approach is simply unsustainable and will render Greece into an endless cycle of debt, helplessness, and disparity. The Troika’s reaction so far has hardly been sympathetic.

Taking all of this into consideration, it does not benefit the European Union in the long-term to have this scenario be a recurring issue. It does not benefit the overall morale of the Union when one member is constantly at loggerheads with other members over monetary or geopolitical issues. The Greek example has reminded skeptics and supporters alike of the fundamental flaws of the European Union, such as the fragility of the notion of “European brotherhood” and how easily that concept is thrown out the window over disagreements on policy. Moreover, the standoff between Greece and the Troika does not need to be a zero-sum game in which one side gains at the expense of the other. Policymakers in Brussels and the ECB ought to realize the importance of allowing Greece to rebuild itself while honoring its debt payments is actually in the interests of the European Union. Whatever the outcome ofSunday’s election, it is important to recognize that compromise must be a part of a long-term solution to this problem. Given the very future of Europe is at stake, amputating Greece from the financial, or political aspect of Europe because of the Troika’s inability to compromise would certainly be in nobody’s interest.

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