This week many commentators criticized Greek’s new Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis for his decision to travel to Paris and London before travelling to Berlin to meet his German counterpart Wolfgang Schäuble. The message is clear – all states within the EU are not equal.
The unelected European Central Bank, the European Commission and Germany are seeking to bully the newly elected Greek Government in negotiations over Greek’s unsustainable debt.
The reality faced by the Greek Government is the extent to which nation states have lost sovereignty – the extent to which they have lost the ability to act in the best interest of citizens.
They are also confronted with the reality of a democratic deficit at the heart of the EU and its institutions.
Some have suggested that the demise of the nation state is imminent, that it is an outdated concept in an increasingly globalized world.
Without doubt, those seeking to create an EU state or a federal Europe see the attachment of citizens to the nation state as standing in the way of political union and have worked successfully to take power from those states which are members of the EU. They have endeavored largely in vain to promote an EU identity.
Most people feel distant from the EU, distant from its decision making, unrepresented, irrelevant and peripheral.
The direct influence of individual citizens is minimal – Irelands 14 MEPs are a mere 1.8% of the MEPs of an EU parliament that has limited powers to hold the Commission to account.
On the other hand, there is real concern that Brussels is becoming overrun with lobbyists.
According to a recent report by the Corporate Europe Observatory, there are at least 30,000 lobbyists in Brussels with some estimates suggesting they influence 75% of legislation.
Despite decades of European integration and institution building the idea of EU citizenship is abstract and remote for the vast majority while others simply do not want it.
The attempts to push towards a ‘United States of Europe’ has been rejected by citizens when they got a chance to have their say. In 2004 the EU constitution was defeated by French and Dutch citizens in referenda. Citizens in Ireland rejected both the Nice Treaty and the Lisbon Treaty only to be forced to vote again in both cases.
The actions and decisions of the EU and its institutions confirm criticisms and concerns about the lack of democracy in how it functions.
Where was the democracy when the then head of the ECB Jean Claude Trichet effectively bullied the Irish government in 2008 into implementing a bank guarantee that was detrimental to the interests of the Irish people?
Philippe Legrain, the former advisor to the then EU Commission President Barroso summed up this situation saying, “It was outrageous of Germany, the European Commission and above all the ECB to threaten to force Ireland out of the euro if it did not follow through with that foolish guarantee, lumbering Irish people, who have already suffered enough from collapsing house prices and a sinking economy, with a €64bn bill to bail out bust banks, €14,000 for every man, woman and child.”
Where is the democracy in the secret EU negotiations with the US in relation to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) which seeks to drive forward an increasingly discredited neo liberal agenda that is contrary to the best interest of citizens?
A European Citizens’ Initiatives petition in opposition to TTIP has now been signed by almost 1.4 million people across the EU.
The EU, once seen as advancing and protecting the rights of workers, citizens and consumers, is now actively participating in a race to the bottom.
States need defend their right to the policy space in which to manage their economies and protect their social contracts – the space and the ability to act in the best interests of their citizens.
This is the battle that is now being fought in the birthplace of democracy – Athens, as Alexis Tsipras, Yanis Varoufakis and their colleagues fight for a fair deal for their citizens.
History has taught us that people will not in the long term tolerate the denial of their sovereignty and democratic rights.
For those who want to see a future for the European Union this is a lesson of history that should not be lost on them.
If the EU project is about forcing the Greek people to live in extreme poverty and deprivation it is something that many people across Europe will reject.
As child poverty in Greece rose to 40.5%, as its youth unemployment rate reached 52%, as pensioners and families scavenge for food in dustbins, as suicide rates hit an all-time high we need to defend to right of the Greek government to stand up for their people.
The nation state still provides the most effective way of ensuring democratic participation and this, as we have seen, cannot easily be transferred to law-making authorities at an international level.
Today, we need to stand with the Greek government and with the right of nation states to act in the best interest of their citizens who have elected them in democratic elections.