In this Europe of free competition it’s not the Greek soldier we’re saving but profit rates.
The Greek people are rising up. They are calling for solidarity. It’s a call to which our newspaper has replied, its front page present yesterday in the ranks of the protests. It’s the beginning of a great war, said one protestor yesterday, quoted by AFP. It’s the markets and the banks who declared this war. From now on it’s a question of resistance, and not only in Greece. Spain is causing ‘the markets to crash’ read the headline of the economic daily Les Échos. Not really. More like the markets are causing Spain and Portugal to crash. The haste of Nicolas Sarkozy and his government to push through their pensions’ reform is understandable. Discussion? Time to reflect? Let’s get on with it. The reform is on the drawing board. It’s what the markets have been waiting for. The powers that be are eager to hand over to them one of the pillars of our social model.
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There are those who call for political unity in Europe right now, without which, they say, there will be no salvation. But to carry out which policies? What’s come to the fore, today is the extreme noxiousness of a liberal Europe for its people. In the race for free and undistorted competition the poorest countries could only keep up with the richest by social dumping. The richest countries could only compete by playing on the same field. The message Europe is giving to Greece today – the same one it will give to Spain and Portugal tomorrow – is that the only way to keep in with a liberal Europe is to shatter salaries, pensions, and public services. But who really believes that tomorrow, or after tomorrow, our very own public services, pensions and salaries will be able resist?
Christine Lagarde promises ‘vigilance’ as far as Greece is concerned. That’s what she told the floor of the Assembly. The very same Christine Lagarde who some months back brushed aside all consideration of public oversight of banks gorged on public money. One must not, was the gist of it, give them the impression that we don’t trust them. Oh come on! It’s high surveillance for the people. And free rein to the predators who benefitted from 1% interest rates so that they in turn could lend at rates as high as 18%. It wasn’t leniency. It wasn’t inconsequential either. It was a way of putting back into place huge levels of profit. It’s not the Greek soldier who is being saved. It’s profit rates.
What’s happening in Greece isn’t a fluke. Even as the media incriminate, and not without justification, the policies of Greek leaders, we must remember that they were aided and abetted by the very same players who now want to strip Greece of its hide and make a golden fleece. It’s only the first of the crises that this capitalist Europe has in store for us. And it’s precisely this Europe that we have to change. We want a Europe of cooperation, a different role for the European Central Bank (ECB), and we want the ECB to lend to Greece at 1% interest. It’s what our petition calls for, a call that has been widely heard and one that must be amplified.
As Marx himself said: the free worker who goes to the free market to sell his hide ‘has to expect to get it tanned.’ The same is true for the people on liberal Europe’s great competitive market. Yes. Now is the time to start resisting, to start working towards another kind of Europe. Now is the time to call up the people.
Translated and reviewed by Kristina Wischenkamper.
Sociologist and UNO official Jean Ziegler, who has signed l’Humanité’s petition, has just published an updated version of la Haine de l’Occident (The Hatred of the West). He is interviewed by l’Humanité’s correspondent in Geneva
Huma: How do you interpret the Greek crisis and its developments?
Ziegler: Caramanlis’ right-wing government, which preceded the current Pasok(socialist) government, was a machine for systematically pillaging the country’s resources. As in a banana republic, Greece’s resources were privatized on a large scale even while tax evasion became massive. A reliable estimate by Swiss banks puts Greek tax-evading capitals in Swiss banks alone at 36 billion euro. In addition to this, some of the largest Greek ship-owners transferred their headquarters abroad: first among them, the biggest, namely Latsis, moved its own to Versoix near Geneva.
The scandalous end-result of all this is that the onus of paying heavily for the State’s quasi-bankruptcy now falls on the Greek people, on Greek workers, while the ruling classes themselves have taken the precaution of transferring almost all their fortune abroad. The Greek public debt stands at 112% of the country’s GDP.
Huma: What do you think of the EU’s part in this crisis?
Ziegler: That is another real scandal. With the European tax-payers’ money (in the euro-area’s fifteen countries and in Switzerland), draconian conditions are imposed on the Greek people. Under the guise of rescuing the country, the resources of whose State were pillaged by the previous, right-wing government, the rescuers make them suffer a considerable social backlash (a wage freeze, cuts in social benefits, in the number of public workers) and more privatizations – which has the advantage of bailing out the big European banks that were massively involved. This actually gives Europe and its financial institutions an opportunity to dismantle the Greek social welfare even though Pasok has been voted into office on a social justice platform.
Huma: Was there a fairer way out of the crisis?
Ziegler: The Europeans and the ECB could have lent funds to Greece at an exceptionally low rate to enable the country to meet its obligations in a short time. Instead, Greece was forced to choose between either borrowing at very high rates or accepting the EU and IMF’s plan and the economic strings attached to it. Greece was reluctant to submit to the unacceptable conditions imposed by the EU and the IMF and had been hoping to get loans by itself on the international market. All it took to prevent this was for Standard and Poors, one of the private rating agencies, to lower its rating of the Greek State’s solvency. And immediately Greece was barred access to the free capital market, or only at prohibitive rates of interest (almost 20%). Greece was left with no other choice but to submit to the conditions laid down in the EU and IMF’s plan.
Huma: So Europe has played the part normally played by the IMF and its pro-market economists…
Ziegler: Completely. In its treatment of the Greek crisis, UE has been following the IMF’s formula for the structural-adjustment programs it imposed on poor countries like Burkina-Faso or Bangladesh! In short, the aim is simply to dismantle the social system to make the country “attractive to foreign investments”. In so doing, the EU and the ECB are zealously playing along with the IMF and the multinationals. Once more, the EU has proved to be no more than an entity in the service of the global financial capital’s oligarchies.
Translated by Isabelle Metral.