A daily blog on the thrills, spills, and frequent absurdities of the world's one and only 'non-imperial empire' - as Barroso himself called it - the European Union.

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Monday, 20 June 2011

Civil War? No, Just Reform Fatigue

Jean-Claude Juncker. Picture from the European People's Party.

Finally, some word on the Greek revolution from the mouths of the European Union officials who are largely responsible for the bailouts and the austerity imposed as a result. I had honestly began to suspect that they were ignoring the Greeks - or even that, in the Brussels bunker, they were blissfully unaware of rioting on the streets of Athens. Barroso and Ashton flying around the world lecturing Arabs on the benefits of 'involving young people in democracy' was, I thought, more than hypocritical nonsense: they actually knew nothing on the crisis on their southern periphery. It seems that I credited them with more scruples than is appropriate for a former Marxist who now earns three hundred thousand pounds a year, and a Labour politician whose only real contribution to politics was to block a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty in the House of Lords.

They were well aware of the Greek riots the whole time. The eurozone president, Jean-Claude Juncker, has become the first EU official to make a statement: the man who once said that he preferred 'secret, dark debates' has now opened up to the world and declared that 'reform fatigue...affects him greatly' but that he and the European Union as a whole would not change course for 'there was no other way.'

There is some element of the bunker mentality here, as 'reform fatigue' is a hideous euphemism for guns-and-grenade attacks, bombing campaigns, and general carnage, and one that even European Union officials would usually think twice before using. But it's nowhere near as deep as I originally suspected: EU officials are more than capable of seeing the world outside Barroso's ivory tower. They just choose not to.

One other interesting aspect of this speech was that Jean-Claude Juncker seemed to take on much of the rhetoric of the Greek protestors: 'An entire people, perhaps except the very rich, are making a tremendous sacrifice, as are people elsewhere in europe. They see social inequality that is unfair, that it is the poorest who are paying too much of the bill.' What the...? He is a man largely responsible for the bailouts and the policies that have created such a perverse situation. He is not president of the eurozone, a top economist, and Luxembourg's Prime Minister for nothing. Shouldn't he be defending his own policies, rather than adopting the rhetoric of its fiercest opponents in an attempt to placate them?

All this seems to suggest that, deep down, he knows that his policies are not the 'only option' at all, but, in fact, one of many. Greece could default. Greece could restructure. Greece could leave the euro, recreate its own currency with more suitable interest rates, and devalue its way out of trouble? Each of these solutions have their own advantages and disadvantages, but to suggest that there is only one way, the EU way, is blatantly wrong. And Jean-Claude Juncker's apparent refusal or inability to make even a casual defence of it shows that he himself - and, presumably, others in the EU's circle - may be well aware that even they, with their two billion pound propaganda budget and seven hundred and fifty billion pound bailout fund, cannot defend the indefensible.

'Once this ongoing effort is completed, I can assure that we will be reverting to another kind of instrument to stimulate these countries.'

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