European Union: The blind leading the blind
BRUSSELS. The European Union is in the midst of a devastating crisis, but carries on its pomp and circumstance with stiff smiles. On July 1 the EU Presidency was taken over by Cyprus, an honorable country that has for decades been a safe haven for black billions from Russia and Serbia. On the very day Cyprus held forth its hands begging for money from Brussels, one of the EU’s numerous agencies conducted a symposium in Nicosia on women’s participation in disabled sports.
On the day it became known that Greece is in desperate need of an extra aid package to the tune of 54 billion euros so as not to collapse before the end of August, EU Commissioner Michel Barnier guaranteed that blind EU citizens shall have the same right to read books as the sighted.
It has taken the EU 19 summits to reach an unofficial conclusion, which more and more people are now openly talking about: Greece must leave the Euro Zone. That which Greek politicians thought they might use as a threat, they are now being asked to regard as a promise, and implement as soon as possible.
This year the Greek economy will contract by 7%, and not as previously calculated by 5%. Before the end of 2014 the country’s budget deficit must come down to 3% of GDP and its debt must not exceed 120% of GDP by 2020. But the Troika – the EU, the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank – had to leave Greece empty-handed after their latest inspection. Practically nothing had been achieved.
The Greeks are still painting Hitler mustaches on Angela Merkel, while an increasing number of Germans think they have paid enough. According to a poll, upwards of 60% of Germans aged 18-24 have no confidence in the euro’s future and are hardly prepared to throw good money after bad. Germany would lose less on a bankrupt Greece outside the Euro Zone than inside.
“Adios Milliardos!” was the title of a recent story in the mass circulation German Bild Zeitung. The paper asked Angela Merkel this question: “Frau Chancellor, will we ever get out money back?” Only this time it was not about Greece, but about Spain, which is next in line to falter and stumble out of the Euro Zone. Greece is tiny compared to Spain, which is the European Union’s fifth largest economy.
Should Spain fail and need the same kind of support Greece has been getting, it might theoretically need 650 billion euros. On top of Spain’s problems come those of the country’s 17 largely independent regions that have to repay debts of 35 billion euros before the end of the year and are expected to be asking for bailouts from Madrid.
Like Spain, Italy has billions at risk in Greece. But whereas the Spaniards are discussing painful reforms, most of the Italian debate is concentrated on when and how the Germans will come to their aid – if one is to believe German press reports.
Ten large Italian cities are on the verge of bankruptcy. Sicily owes more than 5 billion euros. But at least the Italian regions are not independent enough to disregard orders from Rome, and recently Italian President Prodi made the Governor of Sicily promise not to stand for reelection.
Next to Germany many consider the U.K. to be the EU’s meanest and most egotistical member. But on the other side of the Channel, there is no charity on offer. A campaign in favor of a referendum on Britain’s EU membership is gaining momentum within all three major parties, while the anti-Union U.K. Independence Party is surging ahead in the polls. This has encouraged the British Government to stand up to the EU Commission’s provocative demands that the Union budget be increased by 6.8% annually for the next seven years. London also wants the Union’s legislation scoured with the aim of weeding out parts of it.
In the past British voters have been intimidated by threats of economic isolation and destitution if they dared impede the Continent’s federal project, but scare tactics no longer work. Right now the British are discussing a great number of alternatives to a construct a growing number of them consider to be dominated by France, anti-Anglo-Saxon, and basically anti-business.