Thursday, July 2, 2015

An open letter to Angela Merkel

I know you're probably fed up with Alexis Tsipras. You know, that irritating Greek demagogue who can't afford a tie? I can quite see why you want rid of him.

But I urge you - I beg you - please stop pandering to your own voters. Yes, I know you have to bring them along too. I know you can't keep giving their money to the Greeks. That's not what I'm asking for.

First, let's consider Mr Tsipras's position. As you know, the job of a head of government isn't easy at the best of times, and Mr Tsipras was catapulted from relative obscurity into his current role at a moment when the difficulty slider was already pegged at '11'. He has no friends, no substantive supporters, and no resources.

Yes, it was dishonest of him to call his referendum when he did, instead of a week earlier, before the IMF default. And it is obviously dishonest of him to offer concessions at precisely the moment when he knows you (and your friends at the ECB) can't accept them. But - setting that aside for a moment, because it's no more than you'd expect from a politician of his questionable training - would you not agree with me that the referendum itself is not only the right thing to do, but the only thing he can do?

His voters hate austerity. That's his party's entire raison d'etre; for him to cave on that would be political suicide. And yet his voters love the euro. For a long time now, it's been obvious that Greece can't preserve the euro without sharp austerity; but for almost as long, it's been equally obvious that austerity is not, contrary to what certain technocrats on your own side would argue, "expansionary". Quite the reverse. If it were, Greece would be doing fine by now.

Calling a referendum was the only way to square that circle. This is a decision that absolutely should be made by Greek voters - not by their government, or by the ECB or the IMF, or even by you. The European Union is supposed to be fiscally sound, honest and transparent, but above all it's supposed to be democratic. That means, nobody is fitter than the Greek people to make a decision about their future. And that is why the rhetoric of some Eurocrats who have described the proceeding as "irresponsible" or "in bad faith" is both unfair and unhelpful.

Making Mr Tsipras an offer he couldn't accept - accept precisely the same terms that he'd just won an election on the basis of rejecting - was also cackhanded. If you want to finish him off - and as I said up front, I completely understand that impulse - you need to be a lot more subtle about it. It's not your job to pressure him - leave that to his own voters.

The jackbooted approach you're currently pursuing is profoundly damaging not just to the euro, but to the EU itself. If the EU isn't democratic - to the very core of its being, overruling every other consideration - then it's basically just a rebranding of the Holy Roman Empire. And it will die the same way, with blood and iron.

And that death may come quickly. Britain's referendum is only two years away. Press the Greeks too hard, and the British will take notice. The euro can, probably, survive Grexit; but can the EU survive Brexit?

If it comes down to a choice between saving the euro and saving the EU itself, which would you pick?