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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21 Responses to “The human cost of the Greek crisis is shameful”

  1. Rick

    This has shown the EU in its true light. Its a pro-corporate business and pro-banking organisation with little to do with the normal people.

  2. stevep

    As a Greek citizen said on TV when the deal was announced: R.I.P. democracy in Greece 2015.
    One of the last European countries to bow down to capital and they put up a valiant stand for social democracy.
    They`ll be made to pay the price for it now.

  3. Mike Stallard

    “…we must be arguing for a reformed Europe”
    We are indeed going to get a reformed Europe. In the Spinelli Document, and in the Declaration of the Five Presidents and in a recent statement by Guy Verhofstadt, what we need is a new constitution which will enable the EU Commission to have its own federal police force, its own federal bank, its own federal taxation and its own control of the federal budget.
    The Constitutional Congress is already sitting (it started on June 1st) and will produce a constitution by 2017 – the date of the referendum. By 2025, the European Union under the Commission will be complete and working perfectly.
    So all your stuff about the poor, the vulnerable, the Greeks and so on is just, I am afraid, hot air. Nobody is interested in what you, or the Labour Party, or the Greek Government, or the Tories under Mr Cameron want. The Commission is in charge.

  4. Mike Stallard

    So what is the Labour movement going to do about it?

  5. Mike Stallard

    So what is the Labour movement going to do about it?
    Diddley squat.

  6. Peter Martin

    “”…we must be arguing for a reformed Europe”

    Wasn’t that Syriza’s line? Did that get them anywhere?

    How that ours should be “we must be arguing to leave the EU” ?

    We’ll still be a part of Europe geographically! We’ll still be able to come last in the Eurovision song contest and struggle to qualify for European Football championships. Life will still go on!

    Note that Switzerland and Norway are a part of Europe but they aren’t part of the EU. The EU and Europe aren’t synonymous!

  7. Matt M

    Now, finally, the Left realises that the EU is an anti-democratic organisation. Isn’t it sad that the broader Left has been happy for so long to go along with reduced democracy in order to enact its agenda?

  8. stevep

    Interesting that the Greeks have to raise VAT and cut pensions to qualify for the bailout. The less well-off bearing the brunt of it again. Rampant privatisations too, no doubt. The “liberalisation ” of labour markets. Why not close tax loopholes and put up the upper rate of income tax?
    Maybe Greece would be better off out of the European farrago. They would go bust and suffer in the short term but could nationalise a Greek central bank, raise it`s own currency and set an economic agenda to suit itself.
    Life for the Greeks wouldn`t be cosy and they would still have to deal with harsh realities, but they would have the satisfaction of doing it their way and keeping their version of democracy relatively intact.

  9. stevep

    The Labour movement in Greece is taking industrial action In protest. It`s one of the few left in Europe that hasn`t been neutered.

  10. Torybushhug

    They crave capital, another £300bn of it, paid for my Slovakian and German workers, this on top of vast billions they’ve already happily taken from the same workers. Democracy applies to those Slovakian and German workers too.

    Having said this, I agree Greece should exit and at least enjoy its own autonomy. Defaulting isn’t nearly as bad as all the pundits suggest, Argentina did it and soon found a queue of new lenders happy to lend to a nation freshly relieved of its vast costly debt.

  11. Torybushhug

    As many labour figures keep reminding us, the social democratic left across Europe has been in rapid decline. The left needs total renewal. Most on the left are brain imprisoned by old lefty ideals that no longer apply but as with religion, thinking in new ways is almost impossible once your reality tunnel is constructed.

  12. Lucisan

    10 Year Old leftfoot work . <……. Find Here

  13. Torybushhug

    The EU is highly socialist if you think about it. Taking from workers and nations that do the right things and giving to those that do the wrong things. Socialism writ large.

  14. Matt M

    They probably should be taxing to maximum capacity. But maximum capacity is much lower than most on the Left wish it was. First, people can always change their behaviour (emigrate or stop working). Additionally, it is the rich who are most able to do these things. The UK, for example, has never managed to collection more than about 38% of GDP in tax. Second, there simply aren’t enough of “the rich” to raise major revenue in this way. Substantial increases in the tax base have to take in the majority of the population. That’s why a large state apparatus is always regressive. Beyond a certain size, state expansion is always financed by the poor.

  15. Selohesra

    There have always been opponents of the EU on Left & Right you just don’t here much about them because the establishment politicians & media like to make out the anti-EU brigade to be xenophobes & nutters. I love Europe but not the EU.

  16. stevep

    Good point. An interesting book to read is “The future of money” by Bernard Lietaer, one of the early architects of the Euro. He makes some salient points about how banks actually operate as opposed to how we think they do.
    He also points out that money is basically an agreement, within a community, to use something as a means of payment. people have to have “belief about a belief” that it will work and that it is worth something.
    If the Greeks don`t believe the Euro is working for them, maybe they would be better off defaulting on their national debt and raising a currency they have belief in.
    It would take a lot of soul-searching to agree on politics that worked for how Greeks see themselves as a community and a lot of hard decision making to get the economics right.

  17. stevep

    The right make the same argument that has prevailed for centuries – Greed.

  18. Mike Stallard

    The old joke is the EUSSR. Are you absolutely sure that you are not right in your assessment? I do hope not!

  19. Steve Larson

    Arguing for a reformed Europe, lol.

    They don’t listen to the electorate, they do not listen to MEPs.

    Rules are overturned when it suits.

    Why keep pretending that it can be reformed.

  20. Steve Larson

    The EU is cracking down on basic democracy, not just social democracy.

    Slovakia, Finland, Slovenia, they’ll all have the boot on their neck some day. The latter two sooner than the first.

  21. Steve Larson

    The left need to modernize, the world has changed but its approach has not.

    It is refusing to respond to the needs and views of its voter base in the modern world, that is why it is dying. There is still a need and market for a social left.

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