Columns

If The Eurozone Survives the Greek Crisis It Can Come Through Stronger

 

You would have to have a heart of stone not to feel for the people of Greece. It seems ridiculous to hold Greek pensioners who can't pay their electricity bills responsible for the jigsaw of calamities which mean that their government is now struggling under an unpayable mountain of debt.

 

The situation for Greeks has been very much worse, according to a recent report int the Ecomomist (http://www.economist.com/) than it has been in any of the other hard-hit countries such as Ireland.

 

Within any unit of economic union, some parts are wealthier than others - in Germany the West transfers assets worth roughly £80 billion to the former East Germany each year.

(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Germany). In Britain, London funds public spending in Wales, for instance.

 

Greece needs assistance and the Greek people should be treated with respect and compassion. If the IMF and the banks can absorb the cost of a Grexit, they can cope with helping Greece.

 

It is important that the situation is resolved in a way that allows Greece to remain within the Eurozone and its citizens to maintain the basic necessities of life.

 

Default would be a risky strategy. I remember being in Russia in the mid 90s when the currency was in freefall, and the glimpse I had then of the terrible suffering of the people: a pensioner we met who was forced into prostitution; reading in the paper about a man who was killed in a row over a bag of carrots; paying our restaurant bill with a foot high pile of banknotes. Elderly people stood in the street trying to sell a few measly groceries they had bought in the morning for higher prices that prevailed in the evening,

 

There is a lot of anger about the current situation, and that is understandable. But I am uneasy with a tendency to bring up the Second World War in justification of the Greek position. Is that helpful? It brings to mind the Russian saying: "what is to be done and who shall we blame?"

 

Let's be positive - after all, what's the alternative? The Euro was always going to be tested by hard times. If it survives this, the Eurozone will be stronger. The countries that make up the Eurozone and the wider European Union have a lot to be proud of and to defend. There have been huge advances in human rights, the rule of law, relative prosperity.

 

Greece itself emerged from civil war and military dictatorship in 1974 (https://en.wikipedia.org/?title=Greece); Spain in 1975 (https://en.wikipedia.org/?title=Spain).

if you stuck a pin into a history of 20th century Poland, it would probably emerge tipped with blood. (https://en.wikipedia.org/?title=Poland). But things are much better now.

 

When my uncle was 70 a few years ago, we travelled to Berlin and then Dresden. We had dinner on a terrace overlooking the Elbe. He told me that he would have found it difficult to believe when he was younger that the Berlin Wall would come down without bloodshed, Europe would be at peace and that there would be relative prosperity and freedom of movement across much of the continent.

 

The post-war generation to which my uncle belongs has left us a precious legacy of democratic institutions. It is to be hoped that the current generation of politicians, diplomats and citizens can protect and build on it.