Wednesday 18 September 2019

Do not pass by Greece's tragedy

Ashoka Mody of the IMF
Ashoka Mody of the IMF
Editorial

Editorial

It will come as a source of relief to all across Europe that Greece has secured a four-month stay of execution. But a stay of execution is just that and the economic hangman is still waiting for that unfortunate country. And whilst Europe may have secured a temporary ceasefire, the issues of a Greek exit, Europe's democratic deficit, the survival of the euro and contagion will remain on the political agenda during this period. They are issues which pose our Government with serious political and ethical dilemmas.

Politicians as diverse as Woodrow Wilson and Tony Blair have learnt the hard way that the benefits of a 'moral foreign policy' are few. Of course, small countries, in particular, rarely have the luxury of grandiose policy objectives. But they can sometimes make a difference in times of crisis. That certainly is not the objective of a Coalition which has made it abundantly clear it had absolutely no intention of engaging in any diplomatic adventuring. However, whilst its pragmatic positioning was understandable, there was something less than edifying about the enthusiasm with which Ireland played the role of a German satellite on the Greek front.

Ireland is a small nation that has experienced great oppression over many centuries. One would think, therefore, that we would have some empathy with Greece. Like the Czech Republic in 1938, Greece is a small inconvenient state, on the point of being cast adrift by the self-interested big powers, whose fate matters little to Ireland. But, in a European Union which now resembles a German economic colony rather than a genuine league of nations, small states, if they are to resist the German hegemonic impulse, should support each other. This, however, is not merely a matter of self interest. Greece may have constructed its own economic Trojan horse. But, something profoundly amoral surrounds the wrecking of a country and its people at the altar of German-driven austerity.

The current policy of diplomatic appeasement may not be as wise as it appears to be for satraps rarely win the respect of their masters. Some degree of domestic embarrassment may have informed the Irish hard-line willingness to facilitate the ongoing status of Greece as a debt colony of Brussels and Berlin. The claim by Ashoka Mody that the Coalition could have negotiated a far superior deal on austerity certainly attracted a response that cast more hysteria than light upon the situation.

The greatest error that has dogged our response to austerity is the belief that it is informed by logic. In fact, as Greece illustrates, the barbarous reign of the Frankenstein of austerity in Europe has evolved into a socially destructive failed experiment. Of course, governments must balance the books, but not by crushing their citizens. The virtue of an excessively moral foreign policy can, as we noted earlier, be over-rated. It might be no harm though for the Coalition to remember the parable of the Good Samaritan.

As we come up to the centenary of 1916 and all that it reminds us of the evil consequences that follow the oppression of small countries, does Ireland really wish to position itself with the Pharisees of the world? Sometimes even in the grim world of foreign policy we should follow the heart rather than the head. If austerity really is the moral issue of our times is it really acceptable that a small nation like Ireland will stand idly by, or worse still cheer from the sidelines if Greece is thrown to the wolves? We need not agree with Greece but we should at least not pass her by.

Sunday Independent

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