Greece Trap

The Undemocratic Politics Of Austerity

When the first international effort to impose an economic austerity regime on Greece was completed, George Papandreou, then prime minister, surprised and infuriated the negotiators from the IMF, European Commission, and European Central Bank by proposing that the draft agreement be submitted to a popular referendum in Greece. The negotiators and their governments knew very well that the Greek people would reject it. Papandreou was hustled out of the limelight, and foreign leaders, the EU, international financial officials, and right-thinking commentators in Europe and the United States deplored his proposal, as democracy was not part of the deal.

If it had been, some forty-five buildings would not have burned in Athens on February 12, and some hundred thousand or so Greeks would not have taken to the streets, smashing shop windows and the marble walls of banks. If they couldn’t express their opinions one way, they would do it in another.

This gives reason to doubt that the international austerity plan that was presented in Athens and reluctantly voted on—the Diktat, as the Greeks call it—will actually be carried out. (The vote was 199 members of the National Assembly in favor, 74 opposed, with 27 abstentions.) A failure to enact the plan will bring about the disastrous consequences for Europe, the monetary union, and Greece that nearly all have predicted. The figures are such that, of the...

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About the Author

William Pfaff, a former editor of Commonweal, is political columnist for the International Herald Tribune in Paris. His most recent book is The Irony of Manifest Destiny: The Tragedy of America's Foreign Policy (Walker & Company).