The term coined earlier this year when Greece was negotiating a write-off of part of its debt to the banks, “Grexit” (a portmanteau of ‘Greek’ and ‘exit’ referring to the possibility that the country will be obliged to leave the Eurozone) continues to hang like a sword of Damocles over the Greek population. Both the markets and Greece’s European partners have let it be known, as they did in response to George Papandreou’s October announcement that he would submit the his country’s bailout to a referendum, that, in the absence of “good will” from Athens, the Greek issue will quickly boil down to a simple question: “Do you want to remain in the euro or not?”
Today, in the aftermath of elections that have demonstrated the strength of those opposed to austerity policies demanded by the EU and the IMF and the steep decline in support for the major traditional parties in the country, a Grexit is more than just a rhetorical threat, but a real hypothesis — and one which could definitively materialise in the re-run of elections scheduled for 17 June.
But should we be convinced that a Grexit is the solution? The economists and politicians who have weighed the pros and cons of such a move have failed to provide a convincing case for a Eurozone either with or without Greece. Rather, as Il Sole-24 Ore has noted, the current debate resembles a bluff — and a particularly dangerous bluff for all involved.
Europeans are faced with an impossible choice. A decision to expel Greece from the Eurozone, in a procedure not covered by any European treaty, could result in a loss of confidence in the entire European economic system and undermine the credibility of the EU both as a political project and as world power. At the same time, a drive to maintain the status quo will not only perpetuate policies that are destroying Greece’s social fabric and weaken the cause of democracy in a country that was — as we never tire of saying — its birthplace, but it will also expose Europe to the risk of spending billions of euros for nothing, because the Greek state is now to all intents and purposes a fiction.
In response to a dilemma which has emerged over the fate of a country that accounts for less than 3% of its GDP, Europe has been unable to provide an effective solution. Instead it has been caught in a deadlock arising from its own equivocal status: it is too integrated, both economically and politically, not to be endangered by the Greek crisis, but not sufficiently integrated to provide itself with the means it needs to overcome such an obstacle. Without the single currency and without the single market, it would have been easier to allow the Greeks to default and devalue their currency. At the same time, with the mechanisms for increased coordination of budgetary policies and measures that allow for the imposition of reforms in Greece, particularly with regard to the collection of taxes and the fight against corruption, Europe may be able to push the country towards recovery.
But how can we say to the people of Europe that the solution to the current crisis is more Europe? EU leaders are now paying the bill for more than two decades (from the 1986 Single European Act to the 2009 Lisbon Treaty) of accelerated progress on a road to European integration paved with promises of prosperity which has consistently avoided the issue of democracy in the Union.
Now that the wear and tear on Europe’s institutions has been compounded by the debt crisis, the European project has been caught like a Minotaur lost in a labyrinth, where it is vainly seeking a way out. Or should we say… a “Grexit”?