Τhe agreement and its next day
The agreement reached at the February 20th Eurogroup meeting is an event of European, if not global, significance, regardless of whether one thinks of it as a victory or a defeat for the Greeks or for the Germans, as a success or a failure for the new Greek Left government. I think that what follows provides us with a preliminary framework for understanding the agreement and its next day.
1. Syriza prevailed over other formations of the Left and, in the January 25th elections, prevailed over forces to its right as well. It did so based on a claim that all other parties, both to its left (KKE, Antarsya) and to its right (ND, Pasok, To Potami), rejected as unrealistic: the claim that a government of the Left was possible because the transcendence of austerity within the Eurozone was possible. Syriza explained that this possibility of defeating austerity rested on separating Greece’s loan agreement, which specifies the process and the terms of the country’s bailouts and repayments, from its Memorandum of Understanding, which enforces a legal-political framework through which austerity is carried out.
2. Along these lines, summed up nicely by the slogan “no sacrifice for the Euro, no illusions in the Drachma”, exit from the Eurozone was no longer taboo, nor an untransgressable limit. Sure, the cost of a return to a national currency would be great, both in economic terms (massive devaluation would be imperative to increase competitiveness in a hostile international environment) and political terms (a rapid rise of nationalist movements would be unavoidable). Syriza, though, had additional, more profoundly political reasons for its unwillingness to leave the Euro. A Left politics for keeping banks in check, for regulating money markets, for protecting welfare and, certainly, for advancing social transformation towards socialism, can be applied only within large territorial entities. Syriza understood that if one does not define an appropriately large “field of application” for such policies, they will remain nothing more than paper exercises in (propagandistic) style.
3. No meaningful evaluation of last Friday's decision is therefore conceivable outside the framework of this strategy: the belief that it is possible for Greece to stay in the Eurozone and, at the same time, cancel the austerity policies of the Memoranda.
4. Given that Syriza's aim is not a revolutionary rupture but the renegotiation of the loan agreement in order to achieve some minimum targets – to alleviate the humanitarian crisis, suppress tax evasion, reject exorbitant surpluses, cancel a significant part of the debt -- Syriza is entitled to claim that its separation between the loan agreement and the Memoranda resulted in more than most disbelievers ever thought possible. It can also point out that, during the Eurogroup meetings of the last couple of weeks, there was indeed negotiation, i.e. confrontation, resulting in a statement that: a) includes no reference to new austerity measures (unlike the infamous email of the Finance Minister of the previous, ND government, Mr Hardouvelis); b) does not prescribe exact figures for future government surpluses, despite referring explicitly to the November 2012 Eurogroup decision that established surpluses as a target c) stipulates the need to address tax evasion, where the previous government had failed spectacularly. These three points, along with reassuring liquidity for Greek banks for the next four months, together justify labeling this agreement a “truce”.
5. This is an uneven truce. That was always going to be true of a negotiation and a truce between a single Left government and the Grand Coalition of eighteen neoliberal and social-liberal governments that currently runs the EU. This is the reason why the statement: a) does not include any reference to the humanitarian crisis in Greece – indeed, when the Eurogroup accepted the reforms suggested by Yanis Varoufakis, it demanded in return that the Greek government should suspend its opposition to the privatization of crucial sectors of the economy, such as energy and potentially electricity; b) recognises the aforementioned November 2012 decision as providing the general framework for discussions about Greece’s future, so that the truce (at least on the issue of surpluses) is officially declared fragile; c) does not include any reference to a “haircut” or any kind of cancellation of the country’s non-viable debt. Quite the contrary, the agreement explicitly stipulates its expectation that the debt should be “fully” repaid. And while the statement refers in detail to the Greek governments commitments, readers will search in vain for its European partners obligations.
Only the assurance for banks' liquidity is mentioned, and for a very specific reason: to provide the Greek government with the necessary time to push for the reforms detailed in the agreement, which will also be subjected to approval by the end of April, that is after “the successful conclusion of the review” by the Eurogroup, into the government’s progress in implementing reforms.
6. Whether or not the government’s list of proposed reforms is accepted at the end of April will demonstrate the stability or otherwise of this “truce”. Already, though, it is obvious that reaching this new point of equilibrium is no reason to be cheerful, but it does not signal a catastrophe either. It is telling that those who claim this as a catastrophe propose the same old “solution” of a return to the Drachma. Syriza has proven in practice that its alternative slogan, “no compromise/no delusion”, is timely: its negotiating practices have turned the “Greek” problem into a problem of the European elites who face the rise of the Left in their countries, and so a return to the “Euro/Drachma” debate that divided the Greek Left in 2009 would be a huge mistake. The urgent task now is for Syriza to avoid descending into an internal crisis as a result of disagreements over the (fragile) moratorium with the “institutions”.
Instead, Syriza needs to push its internal agenda forward on all fronts, from the humanitarian crisis and taxation to freedoms and rights. If prioritizing denunciation of the Syriza leadership would be a mistake, the inverse and equally serious mistake would be to think that avoiding the worst case scenario is a victory to be cherished no matter what, in other words to think that we must stay in the Eurozone at all costs, even with austerity Memoranda. This position is already encouraging some to look forward to coalitions between Syriza and Pasok or To Potami.
7. Much more useful than analysing (or inventing) this or that triumph or disaster, is to try to understand the terms of the problem facing Greece –and, of course, to try to find the terms for a democratic solution to it. Breaking the pattern of recent malfunctions in Syriza's democratic internal party mechanisms, which have kept some very critical decisions out of the arena of party debate (the coalition with ANEL, the formation of the cabinet, the choice of the President of the Republic, etc.), a very useful and very positive novelty emerged during the negotiations: the publication of draft statements of the Eurogroup meetings and the content of (some of) the international meetings that preceeded them. That was a step in the right direction. In the midst of stupid media “analyses” of the new ministers' sartorial preferences, this turn towards transparency showed that the most important negotation skill of a Left government is its ability not to behave like a post-democratic caste of experts that negotiates in the name of a society in absentia. On the other hand, this symbolic gesture is obviously not enough. What needs to be done is, firstly, to restart Syriza-as-party, to ensure its propulsive autonomy from the State, which in part means initiating and strengthening social movements that widen the government's field of action (instead of just watching over it...). Secondly, we must work out our side’s answer to the blunt extortions that will surely go on. In my view these are the two conditions under which the time we bought will indeed work in our favour –and not in the favour of those currently gambling on the maintenance of an unfavourable balance of power or the solidifying of our own internal differences.
Translated by Dimitris Ioannou
- Translated by: Author
- The original text was first published on: RedNotebook
- Link to original version: 20/2