So, here I am – living in Asia – and every time I turn on the news, it is a story from Europe that dominates the international headlines. Greece and the debt crisis…
Yesterday Gary and I were on a long bus ride and, with lots of time to talk, I started venting. My poor husband, he has to listen to lots of my speeches! He said, “Why are you talking to me about this? Talk to Europeans!” Exactly my thoughts and hence this blog. Not just for Europeans, but for anyone following this complicated situation.
I am not an economist or a political scientist, but I see a big relational problem. Even if we talk only about the actual topic – the debt and bailout- it is very relational. With borrowing and lending, there are two sides relating to each other. Guy Brandon, Research Director at the Jubilee Centre in Cambridge, UK gives this simple explanation, “For the borrower, there is the obligation to repay their debt, to seek to understand the lender’s interests and to secure the best deal for them within the terms available. For the lender, there is the recognition that the world is an uncertain place. Repayment cannot always be guaranteed and default should not be forced unnecessarily.”
Also, I think we almost forget that we are talking about a nation here. Country with more than 10 million people in a very difficult, fearful situation. What if it is my grandmother who is afraid to lose her small social guarantees? What if it is my younger sister among the 50% of youth who are unemployed? What if it is my dad, standing in long lines at ATM to get his daily ‘allowance’ of 60 euro?
When the global financial crisis hit the world in 2007-2008, the bailout of banks and financial institutions was beyond ‘huge’. US and European governments spent trillions. We know that the crisis had many roots and complicated global issues, but no denying, that there were systemic and endemic failures and human greed that led to it.
So, yes, Greece needs to reform and there are endemic failures, but those without sin can cast the first stone. There is tax evasion in Greece? Yes, there is (but I don’t think Latvians can be a role model.) There are serious problems in public sector? Yes, very serious…
I will not talk about the current Greek government since I understand them very little. They may be very populist, but again, this is not anything new on European continent when it comes to some other serious issues like nationalism, immigration, etc. Like I said, it is all about relationships. I believe that both sides have made big mistakes – Greece and the European creditors – and the language used is often harmful and isolating and judgmental. Lots of self-righteousness. This includes many of the Latvian politicians and media.
We are talking about the European Union here. If Greece had to leave euro zone, it basically would mean that they have to leave the European Union and from what I hear, Greek people want to stay in the EU. I cringe when media uses the words, “Greece may get kicked out… Grexit…” This is not some sensational story. This is a very big deal. It would be a huge relational failure with unforeseeable consequences. There is already much bitterness and frustration between peoples. What do you think this would mean to the relations between nations? I am not talking only about Greeks and Germans. What about Latvians and Greeks? Is Greece ‘our neighbor’ or not?
For those who are interested in a deeper and better economic and political analysis, I will insert a link to an article written by a Christian think-tank Jubilee Center in UK. It was written in 1998 during the debate about joining European Monetary Union or euro. It expressed some of the main concerns which now seem very insightful. Here is what they wrote on the question whether euro will make Europe more peaceful and harmonious, “If a country faces an unsustainable fiscal situation, it may be forced to threaten default on its debt or request help from other members. If a transfer or debt guarantee is granted, those populations in solvent countries may resent their taxes being used to bail out irresponsible governments elsewhere. If these payments have no democratic mandate, resentment of neighboring countries within EMU may result.”
I encourage you to read the article but more than that – I want to encourage all of us, including the main decision makers, to think relationally. It is not about economy or money or even news headlines; it is about people and lives and social harmony in Europe!