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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.

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