The Greek revelator

Note kindly translated by Anne-Marie de Grazia

The European Union claims for itself the highest of values. Through the voice of its own leaders as well as of those of the member countries it claims to represent democracy, liberty and peace. Yet, concretely, it gives a very different image. Not only has it violated its own values repeatedly, but it is developing an ideology which is in reality at the opposite of the values it is pretending to embody.

The European Union claims to establish common rules and rules of solidarity between the member countries, and even beyond; but the facts tragically belie, ever more so, any idea of solidarity within its own fold. The communal budget, already reduced at 1.25% of GDP, is to be reduced yet further.

These two conditions are feeding the crisis, both political and economic, which the EU is undergoing. They are undermining its foundations and are greatly darkening its future.

The Greek revelator.

The treatment inflicted upon Greece is a good example of the reality of what is practiced in the European Union; let’s add that, alas, it is not the only one. But it can serve as a revelatory and it exposes the profound hypocrisy of the European construction.

Let’s recall the facts: Greece underwent a crisis of its sovereign debt in early 2010, the consequences of which risked to be costly for the banks of the main European countries which had lent money to Greece, in full knowledge of the facts on the ground and at highly lucrative interest rates. The various plans qualified as “aid” to Greece had no other purpose than to avoid a default in order to allow these private banks, mainly French and German, to wriggle themselves out and to resell the Greek titles which they had bought. These “aid” plans have made the debt considerably worse. As a counterpart, austerity plans were implemented by what has been called the « Troïka », that is the European Central Bank, the European Commission and the International Monetary Fund. These austerity plans have in turn provoked an economic and social crisis of great amplitude in Greece, with an unemployment rate over 25%, galloping impoverishment and the destruction of the systems of social protection. This austerity was imposed upon Greece by the teams of experts sent by the “Troïka” which settled down in the ministries and dictated their conditions.

At the end of their tether, but also at the end of their patience, exasperated by the permanent humiliation represented by the presence of the « Troïka » experts, the Greek voters sent, on January 25th 2015, a strong message: the population was refusing an austerity which worked for the benefit of the bankers of Frankfurt or Paris. By bringing to power a party of the left whose program promised to put an end to that austerity, while engaging into reforms that the other governments, socialist (PASOK) as well as of the center-right (New Democracy) had always refused to undertake, such as a reform of the fiscal basis and of the administration. The leaders of SYRIZA decided, in order to carry out their program, to ally themselves with a party of the right, the “Independent Greeks.” One must be reminded here that An.El is indeed a rightist party, but of a right which would be qualified in France as republican. This party has, as it happens, good relations with the party Debout la France lead by Nicolas Dupont-Aignan. It is not therefore an extreme-right party, as sad sack Colombani is declaring, foaming at the mouth [1]. They could have allied themselves with a centrist party, explicitly pro-European (To Potami – The River) or with the debris of the socialist party, the PASOK. They made a choice which can appear strange only to those who do not understand the stakes of sovereignty.

Far from rejoicing at the accession to power of a party, then of a coalition, decided to take on frontally the structural problems of Greece [2] which have name corruption, pork and nepotism, the European Union has insistently strived at breaking this government, and to impose upon it another program than the one for which it had been elected. In so doing, it is showing its total contempt for the very democracy about which its leaders are otherwise boasting. Whatever the issue of the current crisis, be it a bad agreement, a default, or even an exit of Greece from the Euro, the odious attitude of the European Union will remain in the memories of all Europeans, and in everyone else’s, too. One discovers here that the European Union is not behaving any differently from the deceased Soviet Union imposing a theory of limited sovereignty as it did in Prague in August 1968. In so doing, it shows how little case it is making of democracy. If a political community is no longer master of its destiny, there can be no democracy in its fold. If a proof of this is to be administered, let’s only recall this quote of M. Jean-Claude Juncker, who succeeded the ineffable Barroso at the head of the European commission: “There can be no democratic choice against the European treaties.” This is the tranquil and satisfied affirmation of the superiority of non-elected institutions over the decision of the voters, of the superiority of the technocratic principle over the democratic principle.

 

A new reading of the European Union.

The Greek revelator then leads us to re-read other actions of the European Union.

Be it on the international trade negotiations, which it is conducting in the most total opacity as in the case of the Transatlantic Treaty, or on the question of the GMOs where it is foisting products upon European consumers which they do not want, all for the greater benefit of a giant of North-American industry, MONSANTO, to spell out its name.

Or be it on the question of solidarity between member countries. Italy was left alone to manage the humanitarian catastrophe resulting from the French-British intervention in Libya which brought the death of Gaddafi. Similarly, Greece has been left alone to face the migratory fluxes coming from Turkey and the Middle East. On its own side, France has been left quasi alone in the fight against radical Islamicism in the Southern Sahel (Mali, Niger) at a moment when the European Commission demanded that it tighten its belt. The structural funds, which had an important modernizing effect on countries such as Portugal and Greece, are today reduced to a minimum. The budget of the European Union, already derisory at 1.23% of GDP, is slated to be reduced yet more, under the combined pressures of Great-Britain and Germany, over the coming years.

In all these fields, one can see a wide stepping back in relation with the practices of the 1970s and 1980s, when one did not talk of the European Union but, more simply, of the “Common Market,” or the European Economic Community. This stepping back comes with an increased shrillness in discourse. The more the EU is moving away from the principles of solidarity and democracy, the more it talks about them. The more it oppresses the member countries, the more it presents itself as a liberator of others. We have had a tragic example of this in the Ukrainian crisis, in which the irresponsible behavior of the EU has not been immaterial in sparking the crisis.

Whence the logic of oppression into which the EU is falling, out of its will to negate the principle of sovereignty.

 

A theorisation of Europeist theses and its critique.

A Hungarian author, broadly lauded by European institutions, has attempted to produce a refutation of the fundamental role of Sovereignty, such as it emerges from the works of Bodin and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. From this point of view, Andras Jakab can be considered to be an ideologue of Europeist power. His theses are perfectly convergent with the discourse held by the European Union. Jakab, after a compared analysis of the diverse interpretations of sovereignty, advances in the French case that : « Pure popular sovereignty was compromised by the extensive abuse of referenda under the reigns of Napoleon 1st and Napoleon III, pure national sovereignty having been perceived as insufficient from the standpoint of its legitimacy [3] »

This is akin to maintaining that abuse would pervert the principle which are abused. But this can only be the case if the abuse demonstrates an incompleteness in the principle, and not in its implementation. Would it come to anybody’s mind to destroy the railroads in the name of their having been used by the Nazis in the genocidal destruction of the Jews and the Gypsies? This, however, is at the bottom of Jakab’s reasoning. Yet, it is far from evident that, in the political use made of plebiscite, this usage is the only one possible. If a plebiscite is indeed a non-democratic instrument, all referenda are not, fortunately, plebiscites. The confusion which the author establishes between these two notions is very dangerous and frankly dishonest. The ploy consisting in assimilating referendum and plebiscite, for this is what the text is about, is an error in logic. The discussion moves on to the significance which must be given to the decision of the Constitutional Council in the matter of New Caledonia where it is said that “the law voted… expresses the general will only within the respect of the Constitution »[4]. Here again, the strategy of confusion is voluntarily put at work. What the Constitutional Council was recognizing is, in this case, the logical superiority of the Constitution over the Law. It is by no means, as Jakab wrongfully pretends, putting sovereignty in chains. In fact, saying that the legislative process must be framed within a Constitution is only repeating Rousseau’s Social Contract [5]. What is at stake is indeed this author’s commitment to refuse or to seek limits to the concept of Sovereignty. For this, he is calling on the work of Hans Kelsen[6]. We know that, for the latter, the Law of a State is subordinate to International Law, existing implicitly through a system of “natural laws” which are supposedly proper to the human condition, and therefore are serving as norms for the law of states.

But one can consider that International Law derives in the contrary from the Law of every State, that it is a Law of Coordination [7]. This is the logic developed by Simone Goyard-Fabre[8]. Andras Jakab finds himself then obliged to recognize that: « unfortunately, from the standpoint of the definition of this notion, sovereignty as such is not defined in any international treaty (maybe because an agreement on this question would be impossible »[9]. He is adding, a few lines later: « But the total acceptation of the first right of the sovereign, namely exclusivity, is not satisfying in view of the new challenges, notably of globalisation »[10]. In so doing, he is sliding in one single move from a position of principle to one determined by the interpretation which he is giving – and which can be refuted – of a context. Such an approach has been criticized in her time by Simone Goyard-Fabre : “That the exercise of sovereignty can be carried out solely by the means of differentiated organs, endowed with specific competences and working independently one of the other, implies nothing as to the nature of the sovereign power of the State. Organic pluralism (…) does not divide the essence of the form of the State; sovereignty is one and indivisible »[11]. The argument pretending to be founded upon a practical limitation of sovereignty is, at bottom, of a great weakness. The States have never pretended to materially control everything, even and including on their own territory. The most powerful and absolute despot is helpless in front of a thunderstorm or a drought. One must not confuse the limits linked with the domain of nature and the question of the limits of the competence of the Sovereign.

One can well understand, then, that this approach is aimed, consciously or unconsciously, at presenting us with the context as being determinant over the principles. The confusion between the levels of analysis here is reaching it’s peak. The purpose of this confusion is of course to present as logical something which is not: the subordination of Sovereignty. However, this subordination is contrary to the principles of the Law. It is little wonder therefore that Jakab’s article has been showered with so many distinctions by the institutions of the European Union.

 

Sovereignty and international Treaties.

Then the supporters of Europeism advance the hypothesis that international treaties limit the sovereignty of States. One then holds up the fact that, having acquiesced to the Treaty of Maastricht, the member countries of the European countries have relinquished part of their sovereignty. Treaties are, indeed, perceived as absolute obligations in the name of the principle Pacta sunt servanda [12].

But this principle can give rise to another interpretation. Either theses treaties are nothing else but an implementation of another principle, the one of instrumental rationality. In which case it implies the supposed existence of an Immanent Reason and the complementarity of these contracts which are treaties, two hypotheses the falsity of which is easy to demonstrate, but where we find again the trace of Kelsen’s Grundnorm[13], divested of its religious rags. But no treaty is destined to last until the end of days. Or one may consider that this principle signifies that the material capacity of governments to take decision surmises that all anterior decisions not be at all times and all together put in question. This argument, as far it is concerned, appeals to a realistic vision of the cognitive capacities of the agents. A treaty which would be immediately disputed, the ink of its signing barely dry, implies a world of confusion and incertitude which is damageable to all. But to say that is to be wished that a treaty not be immediately contested does not imply that it should never be. It may be opportune to be able to count, at some times, on the stability of the frameworks organized by the treaties, but this is by no means founded upon their superiority over the decisional power of the signatory parties, and therefore over their sovereignty. Which is why international law is necessarily a law of coordination and not a law of subordination [14]. It’s rule is unanimity, not majority. This means that the political community is the one of the participating States, not the undifferentiated sum of these States’ population. A treaty is only constraining to its signatories, and every signatory enjoys an equal right when he engages his signature, whatever its size, its wealth, or the number of its inhabitants [15]. A striving to substitute le right of subordination to the right of coordination means only one thing: the creation of a law which would be separated from the principle of sovereignty and would have no other foundation to its existence except itself. Such a law, if it attaches itself or pretends to attach itself to a democratic principle negates the principle of legitimacy. It then becomes immoral to the extent that it does no longer distinguish the just from the legal.

Sovereignty and decision.

The question of sovereignty therefore depends no longer on who takes the decisions, in other words, on knowing if the process is internal or external to the political community in consideration. Sovereignty also depends on the pertinence of the decision which can be taken about the situation of this community and of its members. A community which, under the sway of treaties, could only take decisions without any importance as to the lives of its members would be no less enslaved than one effectively subjugated under the boot of a foreign power. Here we are now rejoining with a conception of democracy developed by Adam Przeworski. For this author, democracy can only result from a compromise over the result. Any attempt in order to pre-determine the outcome of the political game, be it in the domain of the political, the economical or the social, can only vitiate democracy; Compromise can only affect the procedures organising the political game [16]. It ensues that we are coming back here – and not without reason – to the decisionism of Carl Smitt. One must be able to think the decision, that is, an act which would not be the mechanical application of a norm but indeed the subjective creation of an individual or of a group of individuals. Such a decision allows to think institutional innovation without which men would be condemned to live in a stationary society. This decision, which in reality defines who is the holder of sovereignty in a society, is at the heart of the political [17].

Yet, this attempt to predetermine the result of the political game is very precisely the one to which tends the whole reflexion carried out in the European instances and theorized by Jakab. In this, it is revelatory of the anti-democratic content of Europeist thought.

Europeist ideology and its consequences.

In fact, the construction of the thought of an « ungrounded » Sovereignty, reduced to a principle which is not applied, reveals the political project carried, unconsciously or not, by its author: one must limit, as much as possible, national sovereignty in order to leave the way open for the European Union [18]. It is therefore not surprising that he is proposing the solution of a neutralisation of Sovereignty, which consists in admitting its existence but throwing it back into limbo for the benefit of concrete compromises [19]. There is no longer any need to wonder over the dissolution of societies within such a framework, for that which “makes society” is indeed negated.

The principle of sovereignty then founds itself upon that which is common in a collectivity, and no longer upon him who exercises this sovereignty. [20]. Sovereignty thus corresponds to an awareness-taking of the effects of interdependence and of the consequences of what has been called the principle of density. It translates the necessity to found a legitimation of the constitution of some meta-coherent space, conceived as a framework where local and sectorial coherences are articulated. This necessity exists only as a subjective taking into account of common interests in articulation with conflicts.

We can make out the extremely negative consequences of the turn taken by the leaders of the European Union which is revealing its nature by the way in which they treating Greece, but also by the way that they are tackling many other problems, from the refugees in the Mediterranean to the problem of our trade relations with the United States in the framework of the TTIP. In order to try to resolve the dilemma of the sovereignty of States confronted with that of the European institutions, they found it advisable to deny in reality all principle of sovereignty. And it is not by chance if, around this term and its political derivative, I mean sovereignism, are concentrated the opinions of those who are revealing all the contradictions and incoherence in the European construction. The partisans of the European Union such as it exists then rush to pretend that sovereignists are merely nationalists. But in so doing, they demonstrate their profound misunderstanding of what is at play in the principle of sovereignty. As a matter of fact, it is the logical order going from sovereignty to legality by the intermediary of legitimacy and which is constitutive of all societies. But acknowledging this swings interrogations one level above, to the level of symbolic forms where the representations of sovereignty as well as those of legitimacy are moving.

We must not be surprised if, in the various countries of the European Union, anger is on the rise. The parties which are qualified as « populists » or as « extreme-rightists » only reflect this anger.

 

Notes

[1] Colombani J-M, « Quels chemins pour les grecs ? », in Direct Matin, n° 1630, 2 Fevruary 2015, p.3.

[2] See the article of the Ministre of Finances, Yanis Varoufakis, http://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/greece-debt-deal-by-yanis-varoufakis-2015-04

[3] Jakab A., « La neutralisation de la question de la souveraineté. Stratégies de compromis dans l’argumentation constitutionnelle sur le concept de souveraineté pour l’intégration européenne », in Jus Politicum, n°1, p.4, URL : http://www.juspoliticum.com/La-neutralisation-de-la-question,28.html

[4] Décision 85-197 DC 23 Août 1985, See: Jacques Ziller, « Sovereignty in France: Getting Rid of the Mal de Bodin », in Sovereignty in Transition. ed. Neil Walker, Oxford, Hart, 2003.

[5] Rousseau J-J., Du Contrat Social, Flammarion, Paris, 2001.

[6] Kelsen H., «La méthode et la notion fondamentale de la théorie pure du droit »Revue de Métaphysique et de Morale, T. 41, No. 2 (Avril 1934), pp. 183-204.

[7] Dupuy R.J., Le Droit International, PUF, Paris, 1963

[8] Goyard-Fabre S., “Y-a-t-il une crise de la souveraineté?”, in Revue Internationale de Philosophie, Vol. 45, n°4/1991, pp. 459-498.

[9] Jakab A., « La neutralisation de la question de la souveraineté. Stratégies de compromis dans l’argumentation constitutionnelle sur le concept de souveraineté pour l’intégration européenne », op.cit., p. 11.

[10] Jakab A., « La neutralisation de la question de la souveraineté. Stratégies de compromis dans l’argumentation constitutionnelle sur le concept de souveraineté pour l’intégration européenne », op.cit., p. 12.

[11] S. Goyard-Fabre, “Y-a-t-il une crise de la souveraineté?”, op.cit., p. 480-1.

[12] Idem, p. 485.

[13] Kelsen H., «La méthode et la notion fondamentale de la théorie pure du droit »Revue de Métaphysique et de Morale, T. 41, No. 2 (Avril 1934), pp. 183-204.

[14] R. J. Dupuy, Le Droit International, op.cit…

[15] A point stressed as early as the XVIII. Century by De Vattel, E., Le droit des gens, Londres, s.n., 1758, éd. de 1835. It must be pointed out here that the expression « droit des gens » stresses in reality the organization of relations between nations.

[16] A. Przeworski, “Democracy as a contingent outcome of conflicts”, in J. Elster & R. Slagstad, (eds.), Constitutionalism and Democracy, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1993, pp. 59-80.

[17] Schmitt C., Théologie politique. (1922), Paris, Gallimard, 1969.

[18] Wind M., Sovereignty and European Integration. Towards a Post-Hobbesian Order, Houndmills e.a., Palgrave, 2001

[19] Jakab A., « La neutralisation de la question de la souveraineté. Stratégies de compromis dans l’argumentation constitutionnelle sur le concept de souveraineté pour l’intégration européenne », op.cit., P. 22-23.

[20] Bodin J., Les six livres de la République, Librairie générale française, Paris, Le livre de poche, LP17, n° 4619. Classiques de la philosophie, 1993.


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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