Riots, gas bombs, and arson once again filled the streets of Athens last Sunday, as 100,000 protesters challenged new austerity measures approved by Greek lawmakers. The financial cuts, which were approved in a 199-74 vote, “will ax one in five civil service jobs and slash the minimum wage by more than a fifth.” In return, Greece will receive another $170 billion bailout from the IMF and other European contributors. We've seen this before. Protesters have been loud in the past few years, sparked by the financial crisis that surfaced in late 2009 with the downgrading of European government debt. Greece, Ireland, and Portugal have been hit especially hard, and each has received bailouts from the IMF and EU to rescue their economies. However, the money cannot solve the deeper problems plaguing Europe; without real structural change, the wounds are going to keep bleeding.
Initially willing to provide loans, Germany has become more skeptical, as Greece has struggled to make the demanded cuts to social spending. It’s hard to create policies of austerity and responsibility when each cut sparks new and increasingly fervent protests.
Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy, the leaders of the two largest economies in the Eurozone, chastised Greece verbally last month, and both are extremely hesitant to lend more support. They are feeling pressure from their domestic constituents, who believe they should not be responsible for the perceived malfeasance of the Greeks. As protests engulf Greece, their cautious and conservative judgment has been well received. Merkel’s approval rating in Germany has climbed to its highest level in three years.
Euroskepticism is stronger in the United Kingdom. Last fall, members of the Conservative Party demanded a referendum on EU membership. In a public poll, almost 50% of voters wanted to withdraw from the EU. Although a vote in Parliament for the referendum failed, more than 80 Conservative MPs voted for it, against Prime Minister Cameron’s instructions.
Europe’s problems go beyond money. There are some fundamental, ideological problems that lie at the core of the EU, and it’s creating deep fissures that are now visible in the streets.
First, state sovereignty is threatened. Domestic legislation must compete with, and often yield to, the decisions of the EU. Monetary policy is now determined by the European Central Bank, leaving critical economic decisions out of the hands of national leaders.
In many ways, the EU’s power has begun to overwhelm national governments. Critical decisions have come more and more from Brussels. Furthermore, at the heart of the EU is a consolidating, centralizing ideology. Its Constitution states it plainly: “…the peoples of Europe are determined to transcend their former divisions and, united ever more closely, to forge a common destiny…”
I don’t think the current fiasco is the destiny that the people want to share, nor the utopia that the framers imagined. Culturally and economically, the twenty-seven member states are too dissimilar to form a lasting partnership. If there was ever any sense of a greater Europe that transcends national boundaries and identities, it’s not evident any more
Nick Fedyk is a sophomore at the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service and editorial assistant for the Georgetown Journal’s online content.