The “R-Word” between Greece and Germany
Europe’s leaders were shocked when Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou announced his intention of holding a referendum on a debt deal reached with the European Union. Financial markets cried out in indignation. Papandreou thankfully backed out yesterday, making do with a vote of confidence in his Parliament. The announcement of a referendum was worrying nonetheless, because it could pave the way for a German referendum which could permanently halt the EU’s financial rescue operations. Now that referendum would count. And it was Papandreou who opened Pandora’s Box by saying you-know-what out loud.
The mention of the “R-word,” made me remember the remarks of Andreas Vosskuhle, the head of German Constitutional Court, which has been actively involved in the eurozone crisis from the very beginning. So it was Mr. Vosskuhle who first uttered the ominous word, not George Papandreou.
It is important to understand just how connected the discussion in Germany is to the eurozone crisis. Chancellor Angela Merkel set up a small panel in the Bundestag as a time-saving mechanism to cope with the fast pace of the banking crisis. That led to accusations that she is circumventing the rule of law, sidelining the Bundestag to make backroom deals with EU officials. This goes right to the core of the raging debate over EU encroachments on German democracy. If Greece was to hold a referendum, the already-besieged chancellor would be left hanging between the Bundestag and Athens.
We live in a new age in which the top-down projects that structure our modern world have cracked open and are vulnerable to questioning by an increasingly frustrated public. The European Union is such a project, designed by elites without the direct consent of its peoples. The foreign and financial policies initiatives of the United States are not much different. From the Tea Party movement to “Occupy Wall Street,” the tides are changing in the developed part of the world. It will no longer be that easy to design and implement large-scale projects that require enormous funding without the consent of the people.
Last, take a look at the European Commission’s “New Europeans Survey,” a special Eurobarometer study published in April this year. Some 36 percent of Europeans surveyed said that the euro is one of the two important elements that make up Europe’s identity. This figure goes up to 53 percent in Greece. So for those 53 percent of the surveyed Greeks, the euro is a sign of being European. In Germany, “the euro is about being European” only gets 38 percent approval. This means that if the referendum question is asked as “are you for or against the euro?” it would pass in Greece and fail in Germany.
In itself, a Greek referendum might therefore not have been disastrous. We don’t live by ourselves of course, and by infusing the European debate with the idea of national referendum, Mr. Papandreou may have ignited an already combustible discussion in Germany.
Make no mistake; a German referendum would most likely mark the beginning of the end for the euro – and Europe as we know it.