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A Union of Choice: Why the Greek referendum opens our eyes

The Greek referendum is an eye-opener for all of us, no matter if it will happen as announced yesterday by Greece’s prime minister Papandreou or not.

It is an eye-opener because it suddenly makes visible the complexity of issues that are intertwined in what is a set of local, national, regional, European and global crises. It is an eye-opener because it puts on our table the inherent conflict between European or global market forces and (supra)national democratic processes, much more strongly than through European or global summits where there remains the impression that global political leaders face global economic leaders on a somewhat (perceived) equal footing.

The Greek referendum will put the Greek people face to face with global market forces. It also puts the Greeks face to face with the rest of the citizens of the Eurozone and the European Union. And it puts all Europeans face to face with global market forces.

All of us watching Greece right now are asking ourselves: Would we have decided as Papandreou did by calling for a referendum faced with strong popular opposition from the streets? And we ask ourselves: How would we decide if a referendum on accepting international aid in exchange for austerity measures that may affect our very personal lives but also the lives of hundreds of million other Europeans?

We are asking these questions because we live in a Union where the choices of the one affects the other. We are living in this Union by choice, because we are fellow Europeans, but we realise we are also living in a Union of choices, a Union in which democracy may mean that there are actual alternatives between which to choose, and that some of these choices may not please us or even affect us negatively.

But it is not Papandreou or the Greeks that are to blame for, it’s those past and present leaders and politicians who badly designed EU and Eurozone institutions who’s fault the present situation is.

Out of fear to lose national sovereignty, past and present leaders have designed EU and Eurozone institutions in way that will allow one of 27 peoples to make choices for the other 26, that 11 million Europeans will make decisions for 500 million Europeans. If our leaders complain today that these choices exist, maybe they should ask themselves where they have failed in designing the Union yesterday.

Now, some say that if the Greeks vote “No!”, this may be the end of the Eurozone or even of the European Union. But this is and remains a Union of our choice, and even if there will be a Greek No! we all will still be able to say:

Yes, we want a European Union, because be believe in open borders, in a common space of economic and social opportunities, in a common continent where it doesn’t matter what language you speak and whether you were born in Estonia or Croatia, Germany or Greece, France or Finland, overcoming the nationalist tendencies of the past.

Even if the Greeks say No!, we can still make the choice that we want a European Union with a common currency and a common democracy. This may mean we will have to make the choice how our Union should look like to overcome the imperfections that make it the Union it is today. We would hopefully make this choice all together, no matter what language we speak or where we were born.

This would be a European Referendum, and it might not be one single leader calling for it but all of us who prefer living in a peaceful and democratic Union of our Choice instead of living on a continent defined by borders and by divisions.

The Greek referendum is an eye-opener, because it makes us realise that we can and should make choices in this our common European Union. It may thus not be the end of the European Union, but a beginning.

9 Responses to A Union of Choice: Why the Greek referendum opens our eyes

  1. avatar Sue says:

    “We are living in this Union by choice”.

    You might be but there are millions of Europeans that weren’t given that choice!

  2. avatar Ronny Patz says:

    I knew such a comment would come if I wrote this sentence, so I wrote it.

    I agree that millions were not given the choice but so do billions of people when it comes to the nationality they are born into. The Union has an exit clause – so if those who had no choice being born into a country want to make the choice continuing to live there but to leave the Union they can do so. That’s much more choice than you have within classic countries.

  3. avatar Sue says:


    Thanks for your reply. Many bloggers don’t bother so it’s nice to have some interaction. The question of a referendum wouldn’t be quite as popular if the EU were not so undemocratic in its structure. Even the Americans are now commenting on it.

    R.I.P. European democracy, 1945-2011
    Back in the EUSSR

    Perhaps you are too young to remember what “living free” actually means?

    May I point you to this for your comments?

    “Unlike the Charter of the United Nations, Article 6 of which expressly provides for the possibility of a UN member being expelled for persistently infringing the principles of the Charter, there is no treaty provision at present for a Member State to be expelled from the EU or EMU. [at which point Athanassiou adds a footnote: ‘This is hardly surprising, considering that the creation of the acquis’ — the body of EU law — ‘has been cumulative, with the institutional “ratchet effect” denying the possibility of reversals of course (and, implicitly, of withdrawals.)]’

    ‘The closest that Community law comes to recognising a right of expulsion is Article 7(2) and (3) TEU [note from me: look, chaps, I read this stuff so you don’t have to], allowing the Council to temporarily suspend some of a Member State’s rights (including voting rights in the Council) for a “serious and persistent breach by a Member State of the principles mentioned in Article 6(1) of the Treaty…’

    ‘If a right to expel Member States from the EU or EMU does not exist, could such a right be asserted or should it be introduced? Several considerations are relevant here, all of which militate against the assertion, by way of interpretation, or otherwise, of a collective right of expulsion from the EU or EMU”

    So, no real exit clause?

  4. avatar Sue says:

    We have a Constitution and it was broken by UK governments by allowing powers to be transferred to Brussels. In effect, they are deemed traitors and criminals.

    If I wanted to live in a country where most of the decisions are taken by an UNELECTED ELITE, I move to a Communist country.

    “Britain has a constitution of considerable standing, the foundations of which were established almost 800 years ago with the signing of Magna Carta in 1215, and reasserted 322 years go with the Declaration of Right and Bill of Rights in 1688.

    Parliament was not party to either Magna Carta or the Declaration of Right and thus has no authority to impinge upon the contract agreed i.e. our constitution. They are, however, obliged to obey its provisions. The Bill of Rights is a parliamentary affirmation of the Declaration of Right, it does not replace it or stand above it, it is merely a confirmation of it.

    If parliament breeches our constitution, it renders itself illegitimate to us, for as long as the breech remains. No breech may stand as binding upon us.

    Our constitution has been emulated by countries around the world as it is recognised as a benchmark for the protection of the people against the tyranny of rulers and errant politicians.

    Our constitution provides a stalwart barrier to dictators, tyrants, and the political elites engorged with their own self-importance – but stands only subject to the vigilance of the people who must be prepared to defend it or lose it. The dire consequences of the latter being once lost it will take civil war and bloodshed to reinstate its provisions which are the very foundation of our rights and freedoms. The natural instincts of the politicians are to grasp power for themselves and to try to diminish any authority which stands in their way.

    Our constitution has for the past 100 years (since the 1911 Parliament Act) been progressively and deliberately undermined by the progressive political elite party system, which has sought to destroy it in pursuit of greater power for themselves”.

    Greeks of all people know the meaning of “democracy”… and they deserve to be consulted on serious matters that affect their lives. Now, to preserve the “project”, we are all suffering. The only ones who have truly come out unscathed are the corrupt authoritarian civil servants who pay themselves far too much of our money.

  5. avatar Ronny Patz says:

    Well, I’m actually too young to know what it is to be unfree as I was born behind the Iron Curtain. One of my parents for example got in trouble for not saying what the authorities wanted to hear. And my parents had to wait until quite an age before they were allowed to move around freely and to get in contact with those “on the other side” of Europe.

    Regarding the European Union and choice: What I was referring to in my previous comment wasn’t the possibility to expel a member state but to the right of each member state to “decide to withdraw from the Union in accordance with its own constitutional requirements” (50(1) TEU). That leaves a free choice to any member state’s people to leave the Union, something unique – if I’m not mistaken – in any federation.

  6. avatar Spyro says:

    Sue, really, what the hell are you talking about? What constitutional stalwart barrier exists against the “elective dictatorship” of British governments? And what Human Rights protection, when papers like the Daily Mirror are allowed to rubbish international institutions like the European Convention of Human Rights (unrelated to the EU, mind you) because they just can’t post sensational personal stories on celebrities to sell more? Institutions whose pressure has freed activists fighting for freedom and recognition, and that have made Europe have a world-class record in HR. The whip system, the rampart delegated legislation, the media-politics collusion, the police state with the centuries long public CCTV footage, all these are distinct British things that were not influenced by Europe at all. What relevance has EU dismantling/exit to what you’re saying really? Take your complaints somewhere else, to your MP maybe.

    Ancient Greece wasn’t just the birthplace of democracy, it was also its grave. Greece became a Roman province exactly because of that, because “democracy” degenerated into a populistic mobocratic PR mess, where pandering and emotiveness supplanted truth and expertise. If we want to talk about democracy we should look at Switzerland, with small thriving political cells and a weak national government.[Not perfect of course, but at least better] Instead the population of countries like England buy whatever the media and the corrupt politicians sell them and are feeding the national governments with more and more power in dictating horrible policies, in spreading the hate, in becoming more inward than ever to their detriment. Alas, EC was created back when politicians had balls, English politicians, Austrian politicians… and it was what people wanted. Two centuries of wars and destruction, of resource-grabbing in the name of nation-states, of nationalistic illusions of grandeur. It’s disheartening to see those who really have the luxury of free will right now being manipulated into making the wrong choice anyway. Grow up and give Europe a chance. It’s not a project, it’s not an experiment, it’s the future; and we need to make it right.

  7. avatar Jurnan Goos says:

    The option to leave the union – unique in any federation, and introduced by the Lisbon Treaty, which was a (somewhat limited) attempt at oiling the European machine, while making it more democratic.

    I don’t really agree with the entire democratic deficit talk, regardless if the Americans (whom, when it comes to politics, I do not set as an example) think that is the case. The democratic deficit is just as much a political deficit – the refusal, inability or simple unwillingness of politicians to present decisions in a European light, rather than a national one.

    I agree that the Greek referendum might be an eye opener, but I wander whose eyes will be opened. Surely most Greeks by now realize that austerity is the only option if they want any prospects at all for future growth, and they’re right in demanding that simply making governments cuts is not enough – we cannot (as Europeans) expect the Greek people to cut their economy in half, without any prospect of growth in the decade to come.

    Yet this is “popular politics”, in the sense that everyone is now involved and the EU is finally where it wanted to be for the last forty or so years: In the hearts and minds of people, even if annoyance or outright skepticism are the emotions rather than EU recognition and identification. I don’t know if the Greek people will vote in favour of this new plan, which is better than anything they’ve had so far (as it at least decreased their future burden), but which will still be seen in light of all that went wrong in the past 18 months. Though democracy is the only form of government I would want to live under, popular sentiment is not its best adviser.

    The rest of the EU will again be presented with the fact that we’re all in this together. But what if the Greek people say ‘no’? That would hardly bolster any form of pan-European identification, nor would it – I think – be a welcome outcome for Greek citizens. In a latter by Barroso and Van Rompuy yesterday (Tuesday), two things stood out for me. First they stressed the upcoming referendum:

    “We take note of the intention of the Greek authorities to hold a referendum.”

    Immediately followed by:

    “We are convinced that this agreement is the best for Greece. We fully trust that Greece will honour the commitments undertaken in relation to the euro area and the international community.”

    ..Which feels to me as another way of putting ‘we’re gonna drag you on board anyway’! Of course we’d have to, as our economies are so intimately tied, but the referendum can only succeed in one way: When Greece embraces this rescue package. Only then will the government have legitimacy in face of the opposition, and only then do we avoid more delay and more political bullying.

  8. avatar Maxime says:

    Hi Ronny,

    I thought that it was a very well written piece and finally a positive one.
    Here is my thought on the question:

  9. avatar french derek says:

    Well written piece, Ronny; and an excellent addition from Jurnan. Thanks to you both.

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