A road sign on the island of Samos, Greece

And if Greece goes...

What if Greece leaves the EU? Professor George Prevelakis argues that it is an eventuality that would prompt a new geopolitical upset in the Balkans. As for the EU, it would be forced to acknowledge its inability to “Europeanise” a member state of 30 years standing.

Published on 4 November 2011 at 15:33
A road sign on the island of Samos, Greece

For Greece, November 2011 will mark the end of several cycles: the cycle that began with Papandreou’s mandate in 2009 and, perhaps more importantly, the cycle that began in 1981 with Greece's entry into the EEC, which was followed by PASOK’s first election victory.

These two cycles have left us with a social and economic situation that is in marked contrast to Greece’s European dreams. Recession, debt, state negligence, a demoralised population: when you consider all that has happened, it is as though Greece had never belonged to NATO or the European Union. It is as though it had just emerged from the dark night of communism like the other Balkan countries.

Is this the revenge of geography? Or is it the result of having a state that is managed by a family: the Papandreou family which many Greeks believe is responsible for all of the ills of the country?

Right now Greece and Europe are both concerned about the future, which does not look bright. The management of the economic crisis by an opportunistic government and by a Europe, that was overly preoccupied by its own business, has resulted in a succession of crises, which were initially economic, then political, and could be geopolitical in the future.

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Hostility to the West

Over the last few months, a new gap has opened up between Greece and Europe. In the press, Greek cartoonists are increasingly portraying the European Union as a reincarnation of Nazi Germany. Anti-Europeanism and anti-Western attitudes are rapidly developing.

We have become imbued with a nostalgia for a relatively prosperous and dignified past — the era of the drachma — and a feeling of humiliation prompted by comments in the European press and on the part of European leaders that are often evil-minded, and, last but not least, government propaganda that blames the austerity policy on the supposed diktats of Europe.

And all of these elements have contributed to a hostility to the West that seeks to resurrect a view of history solidly anchored in the schism of 1054, the Fourth Crusade, the Nazi occupation and US support for the Regime of the Colonels …

An inadequate response

You only have to look at Greece’s geopolitical context to realise that this situation is fraught with new dangers. The Western Balkans are by no means stabilised and Turkey is moving away from the West, while the economic crisis has deprived the United States of much of its influence. At the same time, Russia and China, which have re-established cooperation with their former spheres of influence, have set about creating new economic and political networks.

Greece remains the West’s main point of anchorage in its geopolitical region. And this is probably the reason why Europe has tolerated Greece’s flouting of economic standards. If the the country leaves the European Union, or even if it exits the Eurozone, it will once again be transformed into an arena for the confrontation of English, German, French, America, Russian and Chinese interests.

And above and beyond the consequences of this development for regional stability, what a humiliation for European prestige! Europe, which wants to act as a model and a pacifying force for surrounding states, will be obliged to acknowledge its failure to “Europeanise” a member state of thirty years standing, and one which is considered to be the “cradle of democracy.”

An inadequate response to the economic crisis has now resulted in a political crisis, and it is imperative that we learn from this failure. That is only way to avoid a new transformation of the political crisis into a geopolitical crisis.

Translated from the French by Mark McGovern

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