Tuesday 18 February 2014

The two mistakes of Venizelos in front of the EP last week!

The EP is a very fascinating institution, even more so for a social scientist. There are so many things one could research on, from an anthropological study of the different casts’ social relations (MEPs, assistants, staff and stagiaires) to how national politics are being uploaded to the EP level; or perhaps a study on different fashion trends in the EP? What I am researching in my project is how the international ambitions of the MEPs translated into practice. At this moment I am working on what they call inter-parliamentary delegations and their role and how they developed in the last 30 years. But today the subject of my blog post is not related to my research. It is more related to my political activism. As a Greek living in Germany I am very sensitive to the stigmatization that both Greek and German media (to a large extend supported a part of the political elite) have created against the other. I was in Strasbourg this week for the plenary; I decided to give you an example of how national politics are being played out in the EP.

Greece happens to have the presidency of the Council of the EU for the next 5 months. Therefore, the Vice-President of the Greek government Evangelos Venizelos (President of PASOK) was in the EP to represent the Council in front of the Parliament. He also claims to be a Social Democrat – hence there was a speech before the S&D group of the EP. It is no secret that Greece has been in trouble for some years now and that the current government, a coalition between the conservatives and the “social-democrats” of PASOK, has implemented some very harsh reforms that have entirely destroyed the welfare state in Greece. This had dramatic consequences not only economically but also socially as we have witnessed the rise of Nazis in Greece. At the same time, the two traditional Greek parties (the ones in the coalition) have seen their percentages drop with the Social Democrats having the biggest loss. On the other side we have also seen the rise of the non-Communist left wing party Syriza and the appearance of another social-democratic party, the Democratic Left.

You might have heard that the Social-democrats all over Europe have a common candidate for the Head of the European Commission: Martin Schulz. This will probably come up in the election campaign; at least it is what they are trying to achieve. In Greece, the Democratic Left wants to join the S&D and will also support Schulz and has already made contact with the leadership of the S&D. With the European elections approaching and considering the very pessimistic polls for his party and the direct competition from the Democratic Left, Venizelos is under extreme pressure.  Venizelos therefore came to discuss with Martin Schulz and Hannes Swoboda (leaders of the European social democrats) how they could ‘save’ Social Democracy in Greece. That meeting was not public, but Venizelos announced their decisions in front of the S&D MEPs on Tuesday night. He said that there is going to be a common electoral list of all parties that support Martin Schulz. How is that problematic? Well the Democratic Left understandably does not want to be associated with PASOK under any circumstances (to be honest I get them; PASOK is responsible for the situation in Greece) and is more likely to refuse that deal. For the Greek public PASOK has mutated into some kind of neo-liberal party, as most of its left-wing has left the party and I suppose that more are to leave. By making that announcement he wanted to a) threaten some of his own MEPs who might want to join the Democratic Left and b) discredit the democratic Left in the eyes of the leadership of the S&D by accusing them of being uncooperative and selfish. Hopefully, Swoboda and Schulz are not stupid. And in any case, rendez-vous  after the elections.

The second mistake of Venizelos during that meeting was to tell the head of the German S&D delegation that Greeks are not corrupted and that “if we look behind every major scandal in Greece there is a German company”. I suppose he said that because there were cameras in the room and he was probably talking to a Greek audience rather than to Mr Bullmann. In any case, this move is a sign of an incompetent politician who plays on the polarization between Greeks and Germans. He is no better than the Bildzeitung or Focus magazine. Right now I am seriously trying to be pull myself together because I am so furious with that guy. You cannot tell something like that to a German Social Democrat who is part of your political family and from my personal experience with German Social Democracy there is no discourse like “Greeks are corrupted”. On the one side you polarize the situation even more because to your Greek audience you are saying, “It’s not us it’s them.” On the other side you are making yourself not very likeable to your allies in Germany. 
story is also sad because it shows a bit how politics are made in the EP. National considerations prevail, and most of the timespeechesare made toward you own national audience and not toward a European public. It makes me furious with the European political elite because the conservatives and PASOK are the parties they want to see in power; the same parties that brought on the crisis in the first place. And you end up seeing Greek politicians who hold discourses about the ‘corrupted Greek state’ when they were in power for the last 20 years! If we want a massive change in Greece, we need to remove all the political elites in power right now and replace them with young people. 
Well, I guess I went a bit further away and shifted a bit toward Greece. In any case this is the kind of blog post you can expect from me. I hope you enjoyed it and see you soon!