Brussels’ week of shame


Over the last four days, European leaders have successfully bolstered the arguments of those who accuse the European Union of becoming the epitome of technocracy; an institution detached from the everyday realities of the people it is supposed to serve, and one which tramples on the values of solidarity and democracy that are supposed to guide the European project.

The first blow came during the European summit of heads of states and governments, when the proposal for a mandatory quota system to share responsibility for some 40,000 refugees across EU member states – mostly from Syria and Eritrea – was definitively buried.

Instead, a “voluntary” mechanism will be put in place, leaving it to the discretion of each member state to decide on how many migrants they want to welcome. In other words, EU leaders have demonstrated that national borders, after all, still matter.

Countries like Italy and Greece, which are on the frontline of the migration routes, will have to continue to bear the brunt of Europe’s failed asylum policy.

How can a continent as wealthy as Europe, populated by some 500 million people, dare to be hostile to the settlement of 40,000 human beings, while countries like Lebanon and Pakistan welcome countless more refugees?

Some will blame the economic crisis. Others will defend the need to thwart growing anti-migration sentiment in the 28 member states, and with it, the popularity of the far right.

But by displaying such a lack of political courage, EU leaders have only served to fuel growing populism and the rejection of a political system that appears to be nothing more than a feeble apparatus, run by cold, calculating politicians.

Politicians who are quick to react with empathy to the mass drowning of migrants in the Mediterranean sea, but are incapable of formulating a coherent policy to restore European values on the world stage and prevent further tragedies from happening.

As Nils Muiznieks, the Council of Europe commissioner for human rights, puts it: “You’re better than this, Europe”


An insult to Greece

The second setback came during the Eurogroup meeting on Saturday, and has spiralled out of control ever since, with the persistent insult against the Greek people by the European leadership.

First, the Greek finance minister Yannis Varoufakis was kicked out of the meeting.

Then, on Monday, Jean-Claude Juncker exhibited his contempt for democracy by trying to scare Greeks into submission. The EU’s top executive called for a “yes” vote to Sunday’s referendum on the latest reform proposals by linking it − without any legal basis − to a vote on European membership.

“You shouldn’t commit suicide because you are afraid of death,” he added.

Just think about the violence of those words for a minute.

Despite the outcry from some the world’s leading economists, the IMF’s own admittance of miscalculation and overwhelming evidence that the austerity measures which came with the bail-out program are an absolute failure, Greece’s creditors (call them ‘Troïka’ or the ‘institutions’ - it’s the same thing in the end) insist on continuing these unsound policies.

These ‘reforms’ have resulted in one of the worst economic crises in modern history, with a GDP drop of 25 per cent, youth unemployment close to 60 per cent, pensions slashed by a third, dramatic rise in suicides and ever-growing queues at soup kitchens.

Tired of being bullied and blackmailed, Greeks have dared to say they can stand it no more by voting for a party that promised to end austerity.

But since Syriza came to power in January, it has become increasingly clear that the objectives of the country’s creditors are, for a large part, ideologically driven.

Simply put, they want to crush Syriza, along with any hope for change. Why? Probably because, as the Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz argues: “It is extremely inconvenient to have in Greece a government that is so opposed to the types of policies that have done so much to increase inequality in so many advanced countries, and that is so committed to curbing the unbridled power of wealth.”

It is too early to say whether Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ call for a referendum will go down in history as the political suicide of an amateur or as genius manoeuvring.

But after inflicting so much suffering on the Greeks, the least EU leaders can do is let the people vote freely, and listen to their demands for another type of Europe.