A European Tyranny?

Note kindly translated by Anne-Marie de Grazia

Alexis Tsipras decided to call for a referendum on July 5th, asking the sovereign people to decide in the disagreement opposing him to Greece’s creditors. He took this decision in the face of the threats, pressures and ultimatums to which he had been confronted during the last days of negotiations with the « Troïka », i.e. the European Central Bank, the European Commission and the International Monetary Fund. In so doing, in a move which one could call « Gaullian, » he deliberately threw back into the political domain a negotiation which the partners of the « Troïka » wanted to retain within the technical and book-keeping domain. This move has induced the Eurogroup into a reaction of the most extreme gravity. We are faced with a characterized abuse of power which was perpetrated in the afternoon of June 27, when the Eurogroup decided to hold a reunion without Greece. What is playing out at present is not only the question of the economic future of Greece. It is the question of the European Union, and of the tyranny of the Commission and of the Council which is openly raised.

Alexis Tsipras’ declaration

The text of the declaration made by Alexis Tsipras during the night of June 26th to 27th on Greek State television is extremely clear from this standpoint :

« After five months of negotiations, our partners have ended up giving us an ultimatum, which contravenes the principles of the EU and undermines the recovery of Greek society and economy. These proposals are in absolute violation of European acquisitions. Their aim is the humiliation of a whole people, and they display more than anything the IMF’s obsession with politics of extreme austerity. (…) Our responsibility in asserting democracy and national sovereignty is today historic, and this responsibility compels us to respond to the ultimatum by founding ourselves on the will of the Greek people. I have proposed to the council of ministers the organisation of a referendum and this proposal has been unanimously accepted.” [1].

This brief text, filled with gravity and determination, will probably enter into History. It is spoken by a man still young, who has been confronted for four months with bad faith, with manipulations and with what must be called the whole gamut of baseness in politics. It also expresses his cold and determined anger. And here may well lay the main failure of the Eurogroup and of the European institutions: to have transformed a supporter of Europe into a resolute adversary of the European institutions. Tsipras was not, five months ago, an opponent to the European idea. But the multiplying of humiliations, of attempted coups de force, have forced him to revise many of his positions, some of which belonged to the realm of illusions. Tsipras and Varoufakis are now on a collision trajectory with the Eurogroup and the EU, not from their own doing, but from the one of the « European institutions. » This is of immense importance for what will follow.

Lessons of Tsipras’ declaration

In this short declaration, we can make out three important points:

The first is that the disagreement between the Greek government and its partners has been political from the beginning. The ECB and the European Commission never stopped striving for a capitulation of the Greek government, what Tsipras calls « the humiliation of a whole people. » What the European Union wanted to achieve by way of the Eurogroup was to cauterize the precedent created by the election of January 2015 in Greece. The point was to show that not only in Greece, but much more importantly in Spain, Italy and France, one cannot get out of the austerity framework, such as it has been organized by the treaties. We must here remember the declaration of Jean-Claude Juncker for whom there can be no democratic choice going against the treaties.

The second important point in this declaration is that for the first time a leader, legally elected and in function, is declaring that the European institutions are making proposals which, in form as well as in substance,« are in absolute violation of European acquisitions. » This is a very grave accusation. It is tantamount to saying that European institutions, which are meant to be the guarantors of democracy, are acting against it. And to saying that these same institutions, the legitimacy of which rests only on delegation of the legimitacy of the member States are behaving in violation of the legitimacy and of the sovereignty of one of the member states. This comes down to saying that the European institutions have constituted themselves as Tyrannus ab exercitio, that is, a power which, albeit resulting from legitimate processes, is nevertheless behaving as a Tyrant. This ends in radically contesting all legitimacy to the instances of the European Union.

The third point can be deduced from the preceding ones. It is contained in the part of the text saying: Our responsibility in affirming democracy and national sovereignty is today historic, and this responsibility compels us to respond to the ultimatum by founding ourselves on the will of the Greek people. He forthwith places the stakes no longer at the level of the debt but at the level of principles, democracy and national sovereignty. And this is where one can speak of a truly « Gaullian moment » with Alexis Tsipras. If one wants to push historical analogy – whereas Paul Raynaud in 1940 did not submit to the Council of Ministers the question of whether the war should be continued, Alexis Tsipras dared to ask the question of austerity and of a referendum and received unanimous support, including from the members of ANEL, the small sovereignist party allied with SYRIZA. He has raised himself to the stature of a historic leader of his country.

The reaction of the Eurogroup, which called the news of the referendum “sad” [2], indeed confirms the antidemocratic options which are holding sway today within the European Union. But this reaction itself has been overtaken by a decision of a truly dramatic importance.

The coup de force of the Eurogroup and European Tyranny.

The reaction of the Eurogroup which convened in Brussels on Saturday has consisted indeed in an action joining the most glaring illegality with the will to impose one’s views onto a sovereign State. In taking the decision to hold a reunion in the absence of a representative of the Greek state the Eurogroup has decided to exclude de facto Greece from the Euro. This constitutes evidently an abuse of power. We must here be reminded of several points which are not without consequences from the standpoint of the law as well as from the one of politics.

  1. There is no procedure presently in existence allowing to exclude a country from the Economic and Monetary Union (the real name of the « Eurozone »). If there can be separation, it can only occur in a common accord and on a friendly basis.
  2. The Eurogroup has no legal existence. It is only a « club » operating under cover of the European Commission and the European Council. This means that if the Eurogroup has committed an illegal action – and this seems to be the case – the responsibility for it is incumbent upon both of these institutions. The Greek government would therefore have grounds to attack the Commission and the Council both before the European Court of Justice as well as before the International Court in The Hague. Indeed, the European Union is at base an international organization. As can be seen from the statute and fiscal exemptions of European However, the rule in any international organization is the one of unanimity. True, the Treaty of Lisbon has foreseen mechanisms of a qualified majority, but these mechanisms do not apply to the Euro nor to the questions of fundamental relationships between the states.
  3. The coup de force – for this is what it is – which has been committed the Eurogroup, does not concern Greece alone. Other member countries of the European Union, think of Great Britain or Austria, could also sue before the European as well as the International court the de facto decision taken by the Eurogroup. In effect, the European Union rests on rules of law which apply to all. Any decision to violate these rules against one particular country constitutes a threat against all the members of the European Union.
  4. We must therefore be clear. The decision taken by the Eurogroup could well signify, in time, the death of the European Union. Either the European leaders, taking measure of the abuse of power which has been perpetrated, will decide to annul it or, if they persevere in this direction, they must expect an insurgency of the peoples, but also of the leaders of some of the states against the European Union. One cannot see well how states which have just recovered their sovereignty, such as Hungary, the Czech Republic or Slovakia, could accept such practices.

It becomes symptomatic then that the crisis induced by a country which doesn’t represent more than 2% of the GDP of the EU took such a turn. In fact, it is bringing to the light of day the fundamentally antidemocratic nature of the institutions of the EU and the fact that the latter is in the process of constituting itself as a Tyranny.

The ghost of democracy in the corridors of Brussels

One cannot, nor should one, prejudge the results of this referendum. It is even possible that, having become pointless, it will not be held. But it must be stressed that it represents the return of democracy in a European space from which it had been absent. From this point of view, the initiative taken by Alexis Tsipras represented the last chance to introduce democracy into the European system.

It is also probable that the opposition parties, Nea Democratia as well as the left-of-center party To Potami (The River), raise a protest and try to impede by way of diverse legal recourses the holding of the referendum. One can no longer exclude the fact that these parties, with the help of some of the fascist stooges of Golden Dawn, attempt to destabilize the Greek government. These reactions are exemplary of antidemocratic conducts which are blossoming today in Europe. They are bringing grist to the mill of Alexis Tsipras. One can feel that the Europeist actors in this drama are today terrorized by the ghost of democracy.

In France itself, one can feel very distinctly the malaise provoked by Alexis Tsipras’ initiative. Be it at the Socialist Party or among the « Republicans, » one cannot oppose such a decision without immediately and brutally contradicting all the discourses held about democracy. But in reality, the Greek referendum conjures up the ghost of another referendum, the one of 2005 on the project of a constitutional Treaty in Europe. The manner with which the French political class, in its large majority, from Nicolas Sarkozy to François Hollande, from the UMP to the PS, had been disavowed by the victory of the « No, » but manage to smuggle by practically the same text at the occasion of the Treaty of Lisbon which was ratified by Congress at Versailles, is one of the most shameful and infamous episodes in French political life. The actors of this tragic masquerade are still among us. There is a continuity in project, if not in action, between the decision not to respect a vote, the one of the French as well as the Dutch voters, and the unheard of coup de force of excluding Greece from the Eurogroup.

Tsipras must not expect support of any kind from François Hollande, unceremoniously sent back to his own mediocrity and his base compromissions, nor from Angela Merkel whose politics are the true cause of this crisis. But he can expect the support of all those who, in Europe, fight for democracy and sovereignty.

[1] Translation by Vassiliki Papadaki, on the site of SYRIZA-France, http://syriza-fr.org/2015/06/27/allocution-du-premier-ministre-a-tsipras-au-peuple-grec-la-choix-au-peuple-souverain-referendum/

[2] Declaration of the President of the Eurogroup, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, Saturday 27 June, http://www.france24.com/en/20150627-eurogroup-says-sad-greece-referendum-closes-door-talks


Jacques Sapir

Ses travaux de chercheur se sont orientés dans trois dimensions, l’étude de l’économie russe et de la transition, l’analyse des crises financières et des recherches théoriques sur les institutions économiques et les interactions entre les comportements individuels. Il a poursuivi ses recherches à partir de 2000 sur les interactions entre les régimes de change, la structuration des systèmes financiers et les instabilités macroéconomiques. Depuis 2007 il s'est impliqué dans l’analyse de la crise financière actuelle, et en particulier dans la crise de la zone Euro.

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