Declan Costello Democracy and the European Union: divergent lives

by Dimosthenis Papadatos-Anagnostopoulos

One of the commitments the Greek government undertook by signing the third Memorandum with the quartet of creditors (European Commission, ECB, ESM and IMF) was to submit all legislative proposals to them for approval before they are taken to Parliament. But how far does this commitment go? Last Tuesday, pro-government daily “Efimerida ton Syntakton” (Editors' Newspaper) had the mocking main title “My name is Costello and I do what I like” (it rhymes funnily in Greek), thus commenting on a letter by the Commission representative in the quartet to the Greek Minister of Education, in which Costello threatens the government with interruption of the programme. The reason was not of financial nature: a set of three amendments voted for by the Parliament regarding the selection procedure of directors in primary and secondary education.

“The adoption of the amendments submitted to the bill about pastures”, goes the Costello letter, “would not comply with the Memorandum and will oblige us to rethink our assessment of its cooperation with the Greek government institutions to implement the ESM program”. The sender claims the amendments were not known to the “institutions” and their adoption goes against the appeal of the European Council for depoliticisation of the public administration, therefore it continues the clientelist practices of the previous governments. The Greek government tries to downplay the issue: it denies that the institutions were unaware, it assures that the directors selection will proceed normally and it replies that it legislates according to the Constitution in order to deal with operational problems of public administration. Off the record, the Ministy of Education estimates that Costello simply adopts the reasoning of the opposition parties as regards the selection of education directors.

Of course this is not a secondary issue. The government was re-elected in September, having reassured the EU on the one hand that it will honour its obligations towards the creditors (i.e. the third Memorandum), and the voters on the other that it will implement a “parallel programme” to deal with the consequences of the Memorandum's application. Costello's blunt intervention for a matter that is not even relevant to debt or economic policies, was a reminder that the ones in charge of everything touching the economy and the administration, are not the government ministers but the “institutions”. It is quite telling that last week, in a meeting with the Minister of Administrative Reform, Christophoros Vernardakis, the creditors' representatives examined the final draft of the bill regarding the evaluation of public officials and they rejected the provision that awarded the final decision on the high-rank officials to the Minister.

The idea many EU bureaucrats like Costello have of democracy is the one that led to the July 12 “coup” against the Greek government –when millions of Europeans protested with the #ThisIsACoup social media campaign. But the coup is far from over; on the contrary, it seems it will last long. And, from this perspective, the Greek government seems naïve when it tries to manage the problem by declaring that Greece and Europe alone can make it without IMF cooperation. Naïve, not only because the Commission rushed to make clear that the IMF must remain one of Greece's creditors. But also because the third Memorandum bears the seal of Hollande and Juncker, i.e. of the European Union. But let's not go that far back: it was just last Tuesday, during the recent Eurogroup, when the European Commissioner of Economic Affairs Pierre Moscovici asked Greece to take difficult (sic) decisions on pension reform and to vote the second set of prerequisites until December, adding that he too thinks IMF participation in the Greek programme a necessity. What's next? The undertaking of the “red loans” by vulture distress funds, another obligation of the Greek government according to the third Memorandum.
Declan Costello did nothing but remind it: the European Union has the ability to blackmail any government and bring it “on the right track”. Last summer the leverage they had on the Greek economy was liquidity disruption. A few days ago, the refugee crisis brought about threats of expulsion of Greece from the Schengen Area. Now liquidity disruption comes back with a vengeance, so that no one forgets that There Is No Alternative. Other than that, we are called to believe that Europe is shocked that the abolition of all alternatives in France gave LePen a clear win...