The financial calamities of Greece have been with us for some time, years in fact, and they have always been dramatic – in substance and appearance.
Various Greek governments have taken turns trying to come up with viable solutions but they have all failed – either because of not meeting the demands of creditors or those of their bankbenchers, presumably representing voters’ expectations.
The financial crisis of 2008 hit Greece particularly strong, bringing to the fore the various structural and systemic weaknesses inherent in its political system and economic growth model – per se and as member of the EU monetary union. Subsequent attempts to stabilize the situation and reverse the trend have worsened conditions, not least because of the apparent inability of Greek governments to design and implement reforms in a consistent and trustworthy manner whilst paying attention to both short- and long-term issues as well as the partly conflicting requirements of public sector modernization, on the one hand, and growth policy, on the other hand. Thus a vicious cycle was established: every time a Greek government tried to implement unpopular reforms it was voted out; as a result reform efforts were stopped. This aggravated the economic crisis thus increasing the dependency on financial institutions but also the severity of their demands … and so on, and so forth.
A further complicating factor has been the way the crisis has been used to conduct ideological and normative debates: about the pros and cons of liberal economic policy as opposed to the social democratic model; the perils of post-national democracy in conjunction with loss of national sovereignty; the moral burden of living in debt – and the like. Thus instead of talking policy, considerable time was wasted discussing principles, but none of procedural relevance.
The Grexit option is more realistic than ever before – and thought preferable by some, especially in economic terms. Its political consequences are less clear and far more risky. Theoretically it is, of course, possible to re-launch the Union with one partner less and agree on stricter rules that consolidate the project of integration. But this is not a theoretical exercise. The problem is psychological: Why care for a Union that has failed to act as a Union when going got tough?