In Greece the 1967 coup d’état drove King Constantine of the Hellenes and his family first to Rome, and then the comparatively Arcadian peace of London, where his British royal cousins took him in. He was all right, but Greece was not. A regiment of crypto-socialist colonels threw out the Greek monarchy. It became known as ‘The Regime of the Colonels’. The fragile monarchy itself was abolished in 1973.
A civilian republic was set up in 1974. In the 1981 general election Andreas Papandreu was the first real socialist to become Prime Minister, and he was in office until 1989, which gave plenty of time and licence to politicians, bankers and other members of the ruling classes to establish themselves in the seats of power and privilege they craved.
Sadly for Greece, it had joined the European Union in 1981, though just how remains a mystery for economists the world over. By changing from the drachma to the euro, despite Greece’s continuously failing economy, European bankers obviously took European monetary union at face value (Hurray! We all have the same money!). Greece began to accept its politicians’ prospectus, and dived into sovereign debt, clearly believing that there was no significant difference in risk between Germany, say, and Greece.
Tariff barriers were reduced according to EU rules, and a balance-of-payments crisis developed almost immediately. In 1992 there was strong opposition to recognising a proposed independent republic of Macedonia, a former Yugoslav republic and intense arguments led to the fall of a centre-right wing government headed by Constantine Mitsotakis in 1993. Back came Papapandreu, eager as ever to combat the idea of independence for Macedonia. But the bullying European Union recognised Macedonia willy-nilly, whatever Greece might think. Then came bad relations (as per usual) with Turkey, worsening in 1994/5.
Things went from bad to worse; A. Papandreu eventually resigned for the sake of his failing health and was replaced after a time by another Papandreu, George. While corruption flourished, the poor became poorer and the newly rich bought another yacht, George took on the big bully. He actually dared to suggest to the Brussels bullies that their austerity package for ailing Greece should be put to public referendum. How dare he!
For George Papandreu it was a fatal political error. Brussels told him he must step aside and make room for a ‘united’ government in Athens whose purpose would be quite simply to implement the Union’s measures and control. It is said in financial circles that nothing infuriates the bullies in Brussels more than persons daring to comment on their policies. The $8 billion parcel that Greece needs would only materialise if the Greek government consists of people with nodding heads.
The new Prime Minister is called Lucas Papademos and at least he is no Papadoc. One is not quite sure who he is actually but we do know he is a technocrat who has never stood for any election anywhere. Aha! He was for eight years vice-president of the European Central Bank. Oh dear. In Spain this would be like waking up one sunny morning to find that Mariano Rajoy had said something irritating to Brussels and been replaced as President of the Government by the chairman of Banco Santander. Given that throughout Europe at least forty-five percent of the blame for European collapse in the last five years is entirely due to mismanagement of banks, both national and private, the mind tends to boggle. *
The people of Athens are weary of it all. “Our Prime Minister should be chosen by us, not Angela Merkel” is the general opinion in the street, but since when did Brussels or any other bully stop to think about the opinion of a mere tax-payer. The fact that Papademos is not a politician, unelected, dull and a prince of bureaucracy is just what Brussels wanted. Athenians shake their heads and agree that Athens is now the birthplace and graveyard of Democracy; having said that one should remember that the collapse of the European Union was bound to happen sooner or later. The whole idea was in theory magnificent and should have ended in success – a powerful European success story set firmly between America, emerging India and China (where incidentally there will shortly be a revolution that will leave all other revolutions in history looking like a playground scuffle). But a United States of Europe required a loving gathering-together of dozens of states that basically have been at war with each other for a thousand years.
To take just one example: it seems that there is now a happy marriage between France and Germany – at least there was while Sarkozy represented France.** France and Germany have been at each other’s throats since a united Germany existed. The first thing that Bismarck’s new Germany did in the 19th century was invade France and take Paris. Both 20th century world wars basically came about because of intolerable and intolerant relations between France and Germany; and yet starry-eyed persons who should have known better thought in the 1950s that a Common Market should solve the differences and turn Europe into a United States across the Atlantic. What a conceit! And now it is all falling apart. Who is surprised? Switzerland was intelligent and refused to join. Great Britain was perceptive and joined the Union but not the Eurozone. Poor Spain, Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Italy fell into the bully’s trap.
*The latest news has it that the Chairman of the Banco de España is leaving his job a month before he should. What can he have done to deserve this, or the colossal pension he will get from the Spanish taxpayer?
** M. Hollande is not much admired by Angela Merkel. This is to her credit.