By Michalis Psilos*
“They’ll talk about money again. This is the very classic issue the fourth teleconference of the European Union heads of state and government will be revolving around this afternoon amidst efforts to combat the crisis caused by the coronavirus”, the flagship of the German press, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ), underlines in its front page today. Of course, it avoided adding the word “Bloody Southerners”. They will talk about money again those… Bloody Southerners. The author of the article was this close, but he managed to hold it together in the very last minute. He wouldn’t want to be accused of racism!
What is it about the Germans and other Northern Europeans that gets them sick when it comes to opening the European vault, even under those critical circumstances the whole “civilized” world is facing these days. (For Africa and the rest of the underdeveloped world, obviously no one cares). The Northerners are reluctant to open the European pot, as if it’s theirs to keep! They rule Europe, they decide who gets what.
So should the Southern Europeans – along us Greeks – be expecting anything more from tonight’s tele-summit of 27 other than the inadequate – and with loan terms for the most part – aid package of 540 billion euros that has already been approved by the finance ministers?
A look at today’s European press is enough to undercut our hopes. FAZ cynically reports: “In recent days and weeks, several Member States have submitted proposals, requests and documents. It is absolutely impossible for a compromise to be reached between them”. Put simply, the German newspaper is letting us know that we should be keeping our expectations really low. Of course, the Euro-bond or corona-bond or joint debt management scenario has been taken off the table. Does it matter? Time heals everything! We are flattening the curve; and summer is coming, blessed is the heat that will vanish the virus! Luxembourg’s Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn has called on Germany and other northern countries to agree to a “recovery bonds” solution. But an EU representative clarified yesterday that “there will be no immediate solution – there may be some progress by June or even July”. See? Let’s wait till Summer…
But let’s get serious. At the previous Eurogroup Summit almost three weeks ago we were left expecting that today – at the leaders’ summit- we would be witnessing some brave solutions. Instead, all we get is the Northerners insulting us again. As if no time has gone by. Despite the fact that thousands of people in Europe alone have lost their lives since then… “It’s not clear how much money the European Union really needs”, FAZ reports. “Senior EU officials say that as long as they do not know what kind of money they need, we should not be talking about numbers… Spain is talking about 1.5 trillion euros. In fact, it is not even possible to pinpoint the exact severity of the coronavirus crisis on the European economy. Ultimately, there does not seem to be an end to the pandemic or to the related efforts to contain it. European Council President Charles Michel has warned many times not to commit too early. The funding question cannot be answered with a solution that seems appealing. Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte continues to strongly demand such common bonds, while Chancellor Merkel adamantly rejects them.
Forgive me for this tiring overview of the German news headlines. But we need to understand how the North thinks, in order to react accordingly! And, of course, we cannot react with wishes and pleas as we hide behind the curtain. The disagreements are still very intense, and no one expects this Summit to be the final one. The economic gap between the North and the South, which began in 2007-2008 with the financial crisis and the looting of the South, will widen. Because even the most hardcore Europeanists know it by now: The North is getting rich because of the single market and the euro, but not all partners are benefiting from this wealth. Even amidst those critical conditions we are facing today.
Well-known British Telegraph journalist Ambrose Evans-Pritchard put it very clearly: “Europe is facing the most poisonous confrontation between North and South yet. However, the exacerbation of inequalities and the socio-economic crisis they engender become the populists’ heaven, as they can argue that Europe, which deprives them of all weapons in the face of increasingly unfair competition with the North, is sabotaging the national interests of the countries of the South”.
Arnaud Marès, a Citigroup executive and former right-hand man of Mario Draghi, also warns that “social cohesion between European countries has been testing its limits to such an extent that the EU and the euro may not be able to take it”.
As Pritchard puts it, though, “if the eurozone and the EU collapse, the northern countries will obviously suffer as well. Germany, Austria, Denmark and the Netherlands owe their wealth to the common market, not to mention the geopolitical consequences: Berlin will no longer be surrounded by allies, but by countries that are unwilling to forgive the arrogance of Germany”. /ibna
* Michalis Psilos is a journalist and former Director of the Athenian and Macedonian News Agency