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Shaping the discourse on the EMU crisis
July 15, 2015, 3:41 pm
Filed under: Greece | Tags: , , , , , ,

The Greek government failed, following an anti-austerity stance that was widely supported by the broader populace as well, to resist and push back the neoliberal forces of the European Union. The result of the negotiations with the EU is a new bailout package accompanied by harsh measures that are expected to weigh more heavily on the weaker and weakened parts of the population.

The until recently anti-austerity stance of the Greek government was inspiring and a beacon of hope in an increasingly dehumanising world. The outcome that Syriza and the Greek people hoped to be achieved, however, was a long-shot. Greece is a small member-state embedded in European and global capitalism, with a government whose ideology opposes the hegemonic one, and its bargaining position is weak. An important reason underlying this weakness, in my opinion, is that the Greek and European Left had already lost an important battle in the war against neoliberalism. That battle is the shaping of the discourse on the crisis.

The crisis has been constructed mainly as a Greek one, rather than a European one. Although this is an assertion based on anecdotal evidence (I have not done a critical discourse analysis of the crisis), it has come to my attention that I rarely read about the crisis as a European one. I almost never read about what the implications of all the different scenarios are for the EMU. Is it not possible that contagion, even if European banks have gotten rid of “unhealthy” Greek assets, still poses a problem under the scenario of Greek bankruptcy? What about the infamous Grexit? Why is it being widely offered as an unambiguously positive outcome by EU leaders and Schäuble? Why almost nobody mentions the illegality of a country’s expulsion from the EMU? While in the Treaty of Lisbon there is a clause, for the first time, according to which a member-state can negotiate its withdrawal from the EU, there is no clause regulating a withdrawal or expulsion from the EMU. Also, why there is no discussion of the potential long-term negative implications that an expulsion from the EMU would have for the EMU? I don’t think that EU leaders would want a “revolving-door” EMU whereby anyone can go in and out whenever they feel like it. Also, why is there no discussion on the implications of reforming the European treaties? Member-states would have to enter negotiations to include a break-away clause for EMU, some of them would be in favour, others not. The latter will ask for other things in exchange for their approval and, even then, the Treaty might not be ratified at the national level. Moreover, why hasn’t the Greek Left offered a credible alternative scenario? What would bankruptcy mean? What would the Greek central bank have to do for funding and to re-gain credibility in world markets? Finally, why is there not any talk of EU officials’ accountability, or the Greek government at the time, in making the mistake of including Greece in the EMU (since Greece would probably not pass the optimum currency area criteria)?

The questions that I pose above would be the basis for contributing to the discourse on the crisis. These questions would potentially change the discourse from one whereby all the burden and blame falls on Greece, to one whereby the problem is systemic. Within the latter discourse, both European publics and European politicians would be aware that Greece’s exclusion from the EMU is not a panacea for the EMU, both due to the political/institutional and economic implications. Greece’s bankruptcy would also not be something that EU leaders would want. A more balanced discourse would mean that Greece’s bargaining position would be improved.

Making an educated guess, I would imagine that behind this exclusion of counter-voices is a pattern of media ownership whereby mainstream media are both over-concentrated and over-dependent on economic elites. Interestingly, after the latest bailout agreement there are voices both from Greece and elsewhere, such as the ThisIsACoup hashtag and numerous (social media) groups, that organise in favour of rejecting the bailout package. These actors claim that Greece would be better off bankrupt and out of the EMU. While my opinion is that most of these people don’t have a clue what the implications of a bankruptcy/Grexit would be, I think that their presence contributes to the discourse of the crisis the notion that “we don’t believe EU officials who tell us that austerity is the only way and that a Grexit equals catastrophe”. In that sense, if this counter-movement in Greece gains momentum (and assuming that the Greek Left will not be irrevocably divided) making separation a popular choice, the political elites of the EU might have to rethink what bankruptcy and Grexit would imply and reconsider their strategy regarding the Greek debt.



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