Cheering for Greece is good for the EU

The crisis that has devastated half of our Continent, but it could revive the solidarity principle. Meanwhile, Athens remains under close scrutiny

Words serve to understand one another. To say things as they are or, on the contrary, to appease the interlocutors or to tell half-truths. These reflections apply to all the players in the tug of war between Greece and the other 18 States of the single currency: whether Greek Prime Minister Tsipras or the President of the Eurogroup Dijsselbloem, the German Finance Minister Schäuble or ECB President Draghi, European Commissioner Moscovici or the director of the IMF Lagarde. Getting the Country back on track. For example, during the negotiations in Brussels “institutions” were mentioned while referring – in fact – to the “troika” (EU, ECB, IMF); instead Tsipras, ddressing his countrymen, assured that “the battle is won,” and that ”austerity is over”, but then he announced, after a second, that “the difficulties, the real difficulties, are still ahead of us”. However, the Eurogroup of 20 February has finally produced an agreement – with a “negotiating trail” that continued this week – regarding the umpteenth credit line to Greece.Thus on 24 February Athens presented a set of reforms (a “program” of reforms, woe to whoever should call it again “Memorandum”), which the government of Syriza is committed to delivering to obtain a four-month extension of financial aids. The program regards: fight tax evasion and corruption, cutting red tape, savings in some public sectors, privatization, taxes on high incomes and, at least, a set of social measures to meet the needs of indigent families. Greece’s leadership must now demonstrate, in concrete terms and beyond the puns, that intends to act seriously, by adopting a medium-term strategy aimed at the recovery of a country on the brink of default. Hard to keep promises. Tsipras said to Greek citizens, to those who voted for him on 25 January and to those who did not believe his promises, that the agreement signed by the ministers of the eurozone “cancels the commitments made by the previous government regarding wage and pensions cuts, redundancies in the public sector, VAT on foodstuffs, pharmaceuticals and tourism infrastructure”. Stop the troika, enough with bailouts, the time of rigor and “social butchery” is over. This was the case before TV cameras. Then, when he returned to his office, he went back to work on 22 and 23 February with his faithful minister of finance Varoufakis to convince European “institutions” to grant him a few more months of respite to prepare a lists of reforms critical to restoring public accounts, countering tax evasion and waste, but also saving on public healthcare and services, while monitoring wages and pensions, following once again the path of privatization, without excluding the use of a fiscal lever. Nothing new under the sun, then. Indeed discontent in Greece has now grown in the ranks of the left-wing electorate that had embraced their maximalist ideas and the hopes raised by the young Alexis Tsipras. New signs, not to be underestimated. The situation, however, highlighted a set of facts. First, it is clear that Europe remains at Greece’s side and that the place of Greece is in the Eurozone and in the EU. This clears the ground of inferences, doubts or temptation. It launches a clear signal to the markets and to speculators. Second aspect: politics has done its share. Namely, the idea to find a common ground aimed at achieving results – that is, reaching out to Greece and giving her a chance to get back on track – via a compromise acceptable to all parties, has prevailed. Third, an effect of the crisis that has devastated half of Europe, with heavy social repercussions, is reviving the principle of solidarity, a cornerstone of the “common European home”. A complex game of chess. But if it is true that Europe exists, that politics can do its part, that the principle of solidarity is not a dream left in the head of Schuman, Adenauer and De Gasperi, then we can soon expect new, positive confirmations. Because in addition to the case of Greece, there are many challenges awaiting an equally convincing European response: unemployment involving 25 million of EU citizens and their families, the war in Ukraine, the fight against terrorism, widespread nationalism and rampant xenophobia smouldering under the ashes, Nord-African and Middle-Eastern instability impinging on the Old Continent, uncontrolled migration flows, the defence of fundamental rights in each Member Country … Now we need to cheer for Greece, called to fix its internal problems and honour its commitments at international level. And maybe it’s also time to cheer for Europe because, as noted countless other times, common challenges require common and convincing answers. And the EU can play a fundamental role.

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