This week, the Chairman of the Eurogroup, Jeroen Dijsselbloem arrogantly stated: “You are mistaken if you think that democracy is where one election result can change the way we work in the Eurozone”.
The President of the EU Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker is also on record saying: “There can be no democratic choice against the European Union’s Treaties”. This is of course a direct riposte to the people of Greece following the election of SYRIZA in the Greek Parliamentary elections last month. SYRIZA, whilst not overtly anti single currency, are very against the austerity measures imposed upon Greece as a condition for its two bailout programmes since 2010.
These comments by Mr Dijsselbloem and Mr Juncker are very worrying indeed and demonstrate very clearly that there is no intention to listen to the democratic wishes of the Greek people.
This is not the first time the EU has challenged democratically elected governments. In 2011, the then Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou, plagued with riots on the streets of Athens following the introduction of crippling austerity measures announced that a public referendum would be held to approve the Eurozone bailout.
This proposed referendum was essentially a referendum on their membership of the Eurozone since a rejection of the bailout agreement would lead to default. EU leaders were shocked by this and soon Papandreou was shown the door and a national caretaker government led by former European Central Bank Vice President Lucas Papademos was put in place. In the same year a similar state of affairs occurred in Italy when former EU Commissioner and senator for life Mario Monti was installed as Prime Minister following the removal of Silvio Berlusconi.
The European Union has no business whatsoever in removing any democratically elected government from office, even if to remove unpopular Heads of Government such as Papandreou and Berlusconi. It is for the people themselves at a General Election to punish failing governments by voting for alternative parties.
Where does this all end? Is it plausible suggest that this could happen right here in the UK? Imagine the reaction in Brussels to an eventual referendum on our EU membership. It is possible that following an ‘OUT’ vote, we could be made to vote again until the British people make the ‘right’ decision? It has happened in Ireland on a number of occasions.
Austerity is, quite literally, killing Greece. Austerity measures introduced since 2010 have done little to turn around a country that has been locked in recession for 6 years. ECB enforced cuts in recent years have driven a 40 percent cut in the Greek health care budget. In 2013 the Greek National School of Public Health reported a 21.5 percent rise in stillbirths between 2008 and 2011. Vulnerable people who are unable to afford private insurance are being left to suffer on the streets. Official Greek reports document the plight of many women being forced into giving birth without medical assistance because they can’t afford 600 euros to go to hospital.
After 6 years of being locked in recession, the human cost of “excessive” austerity has devastated Greece as the EU seems to be intent on turning this once proud nation into a third world country. Unemployment levels are the highest in the Eurozone, with a quarter of the working age population out of work whilst youth unemployment figures are as high as 60 percent. Meanwhile migration of the skilled workforce and a dramatic fall in childbirth leave many asking serious questions about the long-term future of Greece.
Let’s not forget however that Greece is the home of ancient democracy yet it has allowed an undemocratic political and economic project to run roughshod over its defining institutions. These will be very testing months for SYRIZA who have come into power on the back of genuine hope from its supporters. It is a real David and Goliath story in the making. I just hope that Alexis Tsipras has the willing to hold his nerve against heavyweights such as Angela Merkel and become a modern champion for Greek democracy.