Dimitris Christopoulos

Presidency, Supervised

Greece will hold the EU presidency in the first half of 2014, its fifth stint, in an atmosphere already heavy with mistrust among the European partners. But this time around things will be different: the Troika is there, too.
Generally the troika is not considered desirable. That is reasonable. Some dislike it to the point of abhorrence because it is a stark reminder of the suffering sown by memorandum reforms and the onerous conditions set by lenders on the Greek state. Others, in spite of this, accept it, believing it to be a necessary evil in order for Greece to avoid the ‘misfortune’ of exiting the euro. In any case the troika is something different from us. It is an ‘other,’ and even if one believes that it is needed or that ‘we deserve it,’ we cannot identify with it. And it is needless to say how intolerable it is for those who believe that we do not need it.

And yet, despite this image of the troika as different, the reality isn’t exactly like that. It may seem bizarre but somewhere we Greeks are also part of the troika. We are talking about an international organisation, the IMF and a supranational body with its bank, the EU and the ECB, all bodies in which Greece is represented. And while, of course, Greek participation in an organisation with the global scope of the IMF is lost like a drop in an ocean, the same cannot be said of the EU. Yes, today the EU now includes 28 member states having expanded decisively beyond the 15 we knew for many years, but to a large degree it has maintained a structure that reflects its intergovernmental character.

One convention which highlights the fact that the EU is a collection of states and not a super-state into which countries are subsumed is the rotation of its presidency every six-months among all the member states. Presiding over an EU of 28 is not an easy task: it is a laborious job of coordination and setting agendas across multiple levels of european policy issues. It is a painful task of administrative and diplomatic coordination, stressful and tiring but also ostentatiously expensive: for instance in 2013 Greece will allocate €150,000 for scarves and ties as an expense for hosting the presidency.

In this atmosphere - already charged by suspicion between european partners - that Greece will hold the EU presidency for the fifth time in the first half of 2014. But this time things will be different… Now there is also the troika.

I often think that a historian of the future, or an anthropologist from an alien civilization, would have a hard time trying to work out exactly what is going on today in Europe and particularly in Greece. There is a Union of independent member-states who have all agreed to give up a portion of their sovereignty because they felt it was in their interest. So far so good. When some of its members are hit hard by the crisis - Greece being foremost among them - the Union establishes another form of governance through two of its bodies. A form of governance that exceeds and violates all of the processes established by the European Treaties.

This makes the troika essentially foreign. Despite this, these two organs - the European Commission and the European Central Bank make up ⅔ of it. We are, through our membership of the EU, also part of the troika. And this exacerbates the problem of a lack of democracy. Because, of course, we are nowhere. This is European neoliberal surrealism in an unprecedented (for us anyway) fight against time: “By tomorrow at such and such time we want the names of 500 fired workers.” And the ministries rush about…

The troika thus makes a structural overreach: in visiting those member states living through a “debt crisis” in order to bail them out and streamline them (according to the dominant narrative) essentially it has replaced their governments. It is the de facto government. It exerts executive power and the problem here isn’t so much that it dictates policies that spread social suffering but that it dictates them at all, given that it has no source of democratic legitimacy.

To put it another way: even if the troika’s policies were correct, it has no place in a democratic political structure. The troika must leave Greece not only because it is destroying society but because it is also destroying democracy.

So where does the troika’s legitimacy to govern come from? “From the fact that Greece is in debt,” will be the cynical reader’s response. I’ll accept that provided that Europe finally stops trying to put a sugar coating of democracy on it - democracy that we supposedly export whatsmore, so help us… This isn’t democracy. This is something else.

In short, the country which was hit first and hardest by the troika will preside of over ⅔ of it. It might sound bizarre but it might be worth considering - like Mayor of Thessaloniki G. Boutaris - whether there is any sense in Greece holding the presidency. Only Europe could create such paradoxes: “You rule us but we preside over you.” I struggle to think of any other civilization on Earth that could invent something so twisted: “You destroy us and we will coordinate you (to destroy us).”
Tuesday 10 December 2013
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