The human cost of the Greek crisis is shameful

The EU's austerity measures were never about helping ordinary Greeks

 

Europe has escaped the chaos of a Grexit, but for the Greek people there is no happy ending. The latest dose of austerity has killed off any hope of recovery.

Take, for example, the 30 per cent VAT hike in the Aegean islands. Inevitably, this will drive hotels and restaurants out of business, swelling the numbers of unemployed (already a staggering 51 per cent of young people).

The new deal also kills off any pretence that Greece is a free, sovereign country. The government must now seek the approval of Troika officials before it can pass any legislation, and will see 50 billion euros of its assets hived off into a fund to satisfy the rapacious demands of its creditors.

What is painfully clear is that the austerity measures imposed by the EU over the last five years were never about helping ordinary Greeks but always about making sure French and German bankers got their money back – normally with extortionate interest.

90 per cent of bailout money has not been spent in Greece at all, but gone directly to repaying loans. The human cost is tragic.

Take health care, where hospitals have seen their funding slashed by 50 per cent. The state is behind in payments of health care staff and medicines for cancer patients are in short supply. TB, malaria and malnutrition are on the rise, fuelled by the fact that 40 per cent of children now live in poverty.

Then there is the devastating brain drain. Take my high school teacher friend – after seeing her salary cut from 1500 euros a month to just 780 euros a month she left the country. Thousands of able, qualified young people have made the same decision. Who can blame them?

This is not a European Union that socialists can be proud of. It has acted more as a thuggish enforcer for loan sharks than an engine for solidarity and social justice. Along the way Greek democracy and independence have been fatally undermined

In the lead up to the in/out referendum the EU will take centre stage in British politics. In that campaign I don’t believe Labour should simply be a cheerleader for the status quo.

Just like the Tories, we must be arguing for a reformed Europe. However, their vision is not our vision, and their shopping list of reforms is very different to ours. For example, where they want to opt out of protection for workers we see that as a vital part of the architecture.

Beyond that, we need a Europe where bailing out the poor is every bit as important as bailing out banks, where the focus of economic policy is relentlessly on growth and jobs for the millions of unemployed young people.

We need a ‘New Deal’ to provide investment for Europe’s poorer, failing economies. We also need a more democratic Europe that respects the sovereignty of nations. A Europe that is more transparent, for example, in relation to the EU budget process.

A Europe less dominated by bureaucrats where, for example, legislation can be initiated by MEPs or national parliaments rather than just by the unelected commissioners.

As the Greek drama has unfolded, Labour has stood mute on the sidelines. I hope in the months ahead this changes and the party seizes the chance to argue for a socialist vision of Europe.

Tim Starkey is a barrister and candidate for the Labour National Policy Forum. Follow him on Twitter

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