I continue to follow closely the developments in Greece, as the new Syriza government led by Alexis Tsipras positions itself relative to the European Union. Clearly, the European Union’s current disposition is at stake, as this most serious electoral threat to European financial stability unfolds.
It was fascinating for me to watch the BBC Hardtalk reporter aggressively question Pierre Muscovici, the European Union Commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs, as he, with diplomatic sangfroid, states that the results of a democratic election in Greece grounded in a desire to renegotiate debts can be respected, even as he avers that the current Greek government must act in “respect of the rules and commitments” made previously in the name of the Greek state. The BBC interviewer quite rightly disrupts Moscovici’s effort to make what seems to be a fantastical view that there can be no “loss” for anyone while acting both according to the new Syriza government’s campaign promises of writing off some portion of Greek debt in renegotiations and according to those previous “rules and commitments,” about which you can read in the article version of this interview excerpt.
The crisis created by Syriza campaigning about writing off some (or even all) debt is proving to be a very interesting field for pressures placed on notions of political identity. In the Hardtalk interview, Moscovici uses language that is especially interesting in terms of political geography. In stating that “we always defend the integrity of the Eurozone,” Moscovici speaks of the European Union as if it were a single territorial unit, though he is clearly talking about it in much more amorphous terms as a set of centralized policy-making bodies, the rules according to which they operate, and the decisions that have produced constraints within which they operate. The fact that non-EU entities are involved in any discussion of Greek debt (the International Monetary Fund, for example) means that the concept of EU “integrity” is really about a list of discrete states who agree to abide by agreements in the global sphere of current capitalism. Intriguingly, Tsipras, who campaigned on Greek voters’ anxiety that their national integrity had been compromised by participation in the European Union, are drawing competing lines in this still live change of government.
The nationalist rhetoric that fueled the Syriza election makes it unlikely that coolness and a deliberative, collaborative spirit will be the order of the day: Tsipras, after all, campaigned on the view that a Syriza-led government would mean that “national humiliation will be over,” and that electing Syriza “might be the last chance for Greece”: Such nationalist sentiment would be hard to walk back entirely when negotiating with Greece’s wary European Union negotiators speaking on behalf of very powerful creditors.
In her CNBC article, Catherine Boyle asks the fascinating question, “Will Syriza or Its Creditors Blink First?” As I continue to watch this situation unfold, I am most interested in seeing how each of these sides imagines the very entities they represent, since the current state of national needs versus a virtually alien, federalized entity will not seem to allow much compromise at all. It will be interesting to see the integrity of each formulation mutate, rendered fluid by the necessities of economic union in a Europe that remains divided by the inexorable logic of national difference.