Watching a Channel Four news report during the week, I was surprised to find myself tearing up at the interview of a young Greek woman who, despite her desperate situation, passionately defended being a European citizen and wanting to be part of Europe.
Regardless of how Greece votes tomorrow, Greece isn’t going away. Regardless of its recent political history, and the Troika’s failure with regard to Greece, these are Europeans too. We can’t let Europeans go without food or medicine, indeed, if that’s the EU we’ve created even I think we should abandon it.
Syriza (and the IMF) are quite correct. The Greeks, regardless of how they created the debt, can’t pay it back, and crippling the country in an attempt to avoid admitting that is plainly immoral.
Having said that, Syriza and most of their European Left supporters are in denial about where Greece must go now. Syriza were elected on an either deluded or plain dishonest platform of pretty much restoring the old patronage and tax evasion ways. They protest that, but it is the reality.
But enough of the finger pointing: how do we now help this great people, and they are a great people, get off their knees and take their place as an economically sustainable EU nation?
Is it time to offer a compact: direct temporary control of tax collection, business regulation, labour and market reforms by Brussels, in return for direct welfare payments to Greeks to create a social floor beneath which no one will fall? We help them reform the economy, and in return either set up distribution of food, medicine, etc, or put money straight into their bank accounts.
Yes, I know, it sounds crazy. This is a sovereign democratic nation. But these are not normal times and this is not a normal crisis, and whatever about the political difficulty of selling a bail out in Germany or Finland, there are few Europeans who will begrudge us helping those at the bottom of the Greek pile.
Would such a compact need another referendum? Almost certainly. But at least we could be sure that writing off debt would be going hand in hand with putting in place the requirements to help Greece transform itself.
Greece is a beautiful country with the potential to be Europe’s holiday destination of choice. Its people are decent, compassionate and not afraid of work. But someone has to destroy the political and social structures that allowed generations of politicians to tell people economic fantasy.
This will hurt. Liberalisation causes uncertainty, and people will have to retire later, and yes, pay more tax. But there is a way out, and as part of that I’d rather some Greek grandmother look at a box of medicine with an EU flag on it, and know that Europe was more concerned with getting her medicine to her than trying to stop it.