Is a two-tiered Europe what’s next after Greece?

July 8, 2015
A couple makes a transaction at an ATM outside an Attica bank branch in Athens

A couple makes a transaction at an automated teller machine outside an Attica bank branch in central Athens, August 28, 2012. REUTERS/John Kolesidis

The continuing euro crisis is providing Europe with some tough Greek lessons.

First, Europe must avoid overreach. What was politically feasible on the eve of monetary union in the late 1990s is proving less economically sustainable today.

Greece should never have been admitted to the euro in 2001. It did not qualify. The numbers were largely fabricated. By 2004, the Greek government confessed its budget deficit was 3.8 percent, not the statutory 3 percent required for admission. The euro zone refused to question Greece’s membership, though. This was compounded by years of economic profligacy and endemic political corruption. In addition, a feeding frenzy ensued through an influx of short-term money seeking big profits and readily available credit.

Since the European Union’s inception, the prospect of membership has carried enormous leverage. After all, if aspiring member states were able to meet European standards — often achieved by instituting sweeping economic and political reforms — they would win a ticket to first-world status. The inclusion of Spain, Portugal and Greece in the 1980s, and the post-Cold War accession of former communist states of Central and Eastern Europe, were history in the making.

The vision of modern Europe’s founding fathers, including German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, who rebuilt his country into a powerful state after World War Two, and Jean Monnet, the key economic architect of European unity, was becoming a reality.

Pensioners struggle to enter a National Bank branch to receive part of their pension in Iraklio

Pensioners struggle to enter a National Bank branch to receive part of their pension in Iraklio on Crete, Greece, July 2, 2015. REUTERS/Stefanos Rapanis

The current woes, however, prove even Europe has its limits. The EU must now be more realistic about its ability to deliver on and manage expectations. The euro zone needs to get its existing house in order and streamline its institutions.

Any talk of further expansion must be placed on hold for the foreseeable future — with the exception of the western Balkans. The security factor still looms large there, particularly in the states of  former Yugoslavia. More than 20 people died in Macedonia in May after violence broke out between government forces and an ethnic Albanian paramilitary group. The incident sparked fears of renewed ethnic conflict in the region. Even in pursuit of geopolitical aims, however, the European Union must insist on full compliance with accession standards.

Another Greek lesson for Europe is the need to reconnect with ordinary citizens. A greater sense of inclusion is required throughout Europe. While Brussels often operates in overdrive in pursuit of greater unification, ordinary citizens feel ever more adrift. They struggle to understand their place in Europe. This has contributed to a growing sense of disconnect and disenfranchisement across the continent. It is helping to galvanize antiestablishment movements on both left and right.

In addition, one size does not fit all in Europe. Different political cultures and contrasting outlooks hold sway in a variety of EU states. How a German or Swede views his or her civic duties and rights may differ significantly from citizens in Greece and other countries in Southern Europe. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, for example, Greek tax debts are equivalent to about 90 percent of annual revenue — the largest deficit in the developed world. On the other hand, despite its notoriously high taxes, Sweden’s national tax agency enjoys more than 80 percent approval ratings from the public.

Such differences inevitably affect the economic and social realms, which can lead to contradictions and conflicts. The diverging perceptions and reactions to the unfolding economic problems in Greece, as well as the differing responses to the Mediterranean migration crisis, provide considerable insight.

If some states resist further economic integration, increased debate on the possible creation of a two-tier Europe is inevitable. A core first-tier Europe should be pursued only by the most willing nations. Because attempting to force or impose standards can backfire.

The euro is a case in point. It is a single currency with one monetary policy and 19 different fiscal policies. This inherent and systemic dysfunction needs to be addressed sooner rather than later. Failure to tackle it could, over time, lead to an eventual euro zone implosion — the worst-case scenario.

Europe could also use an updated narrative. The postwar generation of Europe’s founding fathers was driven by the desire not to repeat the traumatic experiences of two world wars and an economic depression. For a new generation of Europeans, however, all this is history.

Though it must never be forgotten, it is often overlooked at Europe’s grassroots and highest political levels — particularly during diplomatic negotiations. Enormous resistance to burden sharing in the current migration crisis has exposed serious disunity in the European Union. In 2014, more than 150,000 migrants arrived on Italian shores. Even more are expected in 2015. After heated discussions, 40,000 migrants will be relocated around Europe. The divisions left a bitter taste and there’s more to come.

European nations remain bound together by common histories, interests and experiences. But it is the strength and conviction of  their shared values that underpins Europe’s foundations. Leaders and citizens must appreciate and reinvigorate them regularly. Failure to do so will only lead to a weaker union among the peoples of Europe.

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Why would there NOT be a multi-tiered Europe when there are obviously multiple tiers of people? You want some white-washed BS lie that “everyone is the same” “everyone is equal”? That is a lie. Greece is the Mexico of Europe. Bunch of lazy ruled by a few rich, they just take what they get, no ambition to rise.

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