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Another European Greece Failure

Walter Russell Mead

Eurozone leaders have missed a crucial deadline to make headway on the latest Greek bailout dispute, pushing the talks into the heat of a contentious election season. Financial Times:

Eurozone finance ministers will miss next week’s deadline for an agreement with the International Monetary Fund to release €7bn in aid to Greece, forcing the bailout fight into the Dutch and French election season where diplomats fear it could become highly politicised.

EU officials said that the two sides remained at loggerheads over an IMF demand that Athens be granted significant debt relief and easier surplus targets, meaning that a deal that had been hoped for at a high-stakes ministerial meeting on Monday may now be months away.

Although the Greek government will not face bankruptcy without the €7bn in aid until July, eurozone capitals were racing to strike a deal with the IMF in time for Monday’s eurogroup meeting of finance ministers so that the troubled €86bn Greek bailout programme would not become subject of debate in Dutch or French national elections.

Nothing demonstrates the dead end into which the European Union has so tragically worked itself better than the policy paralysis that has crippled its response to the Greek calamity—a desperate social, political, and economic crisis that has wrecked the lives of a generation of young Greeks.

With a callous indifference to human suffering more reminiscent of absolute monarchs than of democratically elected officials, Europe’s policymakers have preferred politically soothing lies to actual solutions to problems that blight the lives of millions of European citizens. The German establishment sticks to the lie that hundreds of billions of euros lent by terminally stupid and horribly regulated German banks can be squeezed out of Greece and its fellow southern countries. It can’t. That money is lost forever and sooner or later German taxpayers will have to foot the bill for the incompetence of the German elite. No German politician will tell the voters this because it would be political suicide to do so—and so German policy in the face of the greatest crisis in the history of the EU remains locked in a destructive cycle of hypocrisy, double-dealing and self-deception.

Then there are the Greek lies: the lies that the old establishment told themselves and the people, for instance, that clientelism and systemic mass corruption are victimless crimes. They aren’t, and millions of Greek victims have paid a bitter price for the amoral practices of a predatory national elite. Later, there was the ridiculous set of lies offered by the new Greek elite: the catastrophically failed ruling Syriza party, whose reckless posturing and clueless fumbling made Greece’s problems more hopeless and painful than ever.

History is littered with examples of disastrous mistakes made by policymakers. But the grim persistence in which today’s European leaders cling to a set of failed ideas is remarkable by any standard.

There is a lot of finger pointing these days in Europe at the evident failures of governance and politics in the U.S. We certainly have our problems on this side of the Atlantic, and the consequences could be serious. But to understand the depth of the crisis facing the West today, one must understand that democratic governance is failing on both shores. We are having a messy and noisy crisis here in the United States; in Europe the crisis is more decorous, but perhaps also more deadly in the long run. In any case, the Western world’s postwar social and political order faces its gravest challenges in seventy years, and there is little reason to believe that either elites or populists have any idea what to do.

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