The bailout deal: A true Greek tragedy

The eurozone crisis has revealed profoundly different national narratives and a striking European democratic deficit.

1 Euro coin made from glass with motive Athens.
The legitimacy and accountability of EU institutions and procedures need to be improved urgently, writes Keulen [Getty]

The Spanish penal code defines terrorism as “undermining the constitutional order and provoking a state of terror in part of the population”.

According to Juan Carlos Monedero, this is exactly what the draconian package of austerity measures and the surrender of fiscal sovereignty imposed on Greece amounts to: an act of terrorism.

On Monday, Monedero, one of the founders of the Spanish political party Podemos, said that he felt ashamed to be a European. He is not the only one. #ThisIsACoup went viral on Twitter.

It is no coincidence that using this hashtag to express disbelief and outrage about what happened in Brussels, started in Barcelona. Podemos, a clone of the Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ Syriza, has surged in the Spanish polls in the last twelve months.

Spaniards understand too well the Greek public opinion, as expressed by more than 60 percent of the electorate in a snap referendum on July 5, that austerity and difficult reform measures will not automatically lead to an improvement of their lives. 

In fact, unemployment remains high in spite of the fact that the centre-right Spanish government is applying the neoliberal recipes from Brussels. Many Spaniards feel the social and economic malaise continues unabated.

An unrelenting European charge 

Counting the Cost – Who are the winners and losers in Greece?

But questions remain. What about the pace in which the reform package has to be approved by the Greek parliament, if it will be approved at all? And what about the recapitalisation of the Greek banks in the coming days? 

Even those who supported the Brussels deal as unavoidable spoke of an unrelenting Europe charging Greece with a very heavy task. Some of the agreed upon reforms, like streamlining value-added tax and modernising tax collection, were seen as appropriate and could, in time, improve Greece’s economic performance.

The Greek drama raises even more pressing long-term political interrogations.

A Grexit may have been avoided for now, but will it be possible in the long run to maintain the euro and the European monetary union without greater European political union and decisiveness? Especially in the field of financial and fiscal policies?

And how does this stronger European political union relate to the 28 member countries’ sovereignty? The eurozone crisis revealed – once more – profound political differences, radically different national narratives, and a lack of a common European public opinion.

There is no doubt that the Brussels agreement deprives Greece of a great deal of its sovereignty. Who is in charge now in Greece?

Greek humiliation 

Apparently not the Greek people who voted against the austerity package, nor the Greek government who was – in the eyes of many – humiliated and forced to accept most of the EU’s proposals. No wonder terms like “coup”, “terrorism”, and “modern slavery” were used to criticise the Brussels agreement.

Likewise, the question may be raised: who is in charge in the eurozone and the EU? Angela Merkel? The banks? The technocrats? The finance ministers?

Solving the riddle of maintaining the democratic process at the level of the 28 national parliaments, and simultaneously reducing the EU’s democratic deficit is one of the biggest challenges ahead. The legitimacy and accountability of EU institutions and procedures needs to be improved urgently.

July 13 will be remembered as a day the democratic foundations of the European project rocked and fundamental questions were raised about Europe’s future. One wonders: how many July 13’s can the EU put up with?

For decades the EU led the way as a model of sovereign states working together to ensure a common approach to tackle issues of economy, peace and war, migration, climate, etc. Other regions, like Latin America and the Arab world, were envious of the European integration project.

European leaders do use words like 'trust', 'unanimity', 'solidarity', and 'shared responsibility' all the time, but they seem to lack real substance.


Ironically, the EU’s image of a historical model that created peace and stability in the last 50 years in a continent that knew wars and divisions for centuries, seems to have faded away.

Overshadowing the European success story 

The emotions and disputes raised by Greek crisis seem to have overshadowed this traditional European success story completely.

European leaders do use words like “trust”, “unanimity”, “solidarity”, and “shared responsibility” all the time, but they seem to lack real substance.

The eurozone leadership, led by Germany, lost its trust in Tsipras and Syriza; hence the cast-iron guarantees they demanded Athens in order to sign a deal. The Greek and many other South Europeans lost their trust in Germany, seen as the new coloniser and killer of the European project.

Nobel Prize winning American economist Paul Krugman called the euro group’s list of demands “a grotesque betrayal of everything the European project was supposed to stand for”.  

In his blog, Krugman wrote: “This goes beyond harsh into pure vindictiveness, complete destruction of national sovereignty, and no hope of relief.” The European left does agree by and large with this analysis.

A Greek tragedy

But what good will it do just knowing that the euro is poorly designed and should probably not have introduced in Greece in the first place?

What good will it do to be convinced that austerity does not work, the Greek debt is unpayable and the EU destroys democracy and social rights, if there is no effective strategy to counter these policies?

This seems to me to be the tragedy of Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis, who was accused by his European colleague ministers to give them economics lectures without suggesting workable political solutions.

It also has been the tragedy of Alexis Tsipras, who ended up having the impossible choice of leading Greece to the abyss of a Grexit or accepting the harsh European bailout conditions.

In the end, Syriza did not succeed to restore the dignity of the Greek people, counter effectively the German “sound money” philosophy and present a convincing project to modernise and democratise Greek economy.

Does Syriza’s failure have far reaching implications for the European left, including Podemos in Spain? What lessons will be drawn by French President Francois Hollande, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and other European social-democrats, who only succeeded in soften a bit the dominant German/Finnish/Slovakian/Dutch austerity policy, but did not really present a political alternative?

Jan Keulen is a Dutch journalist and media development consultant. 

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.