Germans showing solidarity with Greeks
If you get your news from the papers or broadcasters, you’d think that the dispute over Greek austerity and debt is a national struggle between (primarily) Greece and Germany. In reality, of course, this is simplistic and wrong. The German government – and in particular the CDU members like Chancellor Angela Merkel and Finance Minister Wolfgang Schauble – has certainly been unwilling to concede the new Syriza Government’s demands about a Europe-wide debt conference, the end of the Troika, and reversal of austerity.
But that isn’t necessarily what all of Germany thinks (the Greek position is slightly different: although the outgoing New Democracy-PASOK government was willing to maintain at least a modified version of the Memorandum imposed on Greece by the Troika, anti-austerity parties secured about two thirds of the vote in January’s general election.) German trade unions, in particular, and like trade unions around Europe, have urged a more positive response to Greece’s new government.
In this recent interview, DGB President Reiner Hoffman urges that serious consideration be given to a debt conference: a similar event in 1953 saw Germany’s post-war debts written off and laid the foundation for the German economic miracle. He also stresses the need for austerity to be replaced by a pan-European investment programme, as called for by the European Trade Union Confederation. He says:
“The key thing now is for Greek GDP to grow again and the interest rate repayment schedule to be more protracted. The country and its people need to breathe again. The moderate proposal of Varoufakis to reduce the EU demand for a primary budget surplus of currently 4% to 1.5% seems to me reasonable and justified. His proposal to couple the rate of interest payments to economic growth in future should be viewed non-prejudicially.”
And Reiner is not alone – this statement has been signed by the leaders of most of Germany’s main trade unions, as well as the President of the Austrian trade union movement. And it is in line with what Frances O’Grady wrote before the Greek election and the response of the ETUC General Secretary, Bernadette Segol, after the election. Several European Commissioners have accepted (some so far only in private) Syriza’s call for the Troika approach to be abandoned, and even the President of the Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, told the European Parliament, during his confirmation hearings last autumn that:
“The rescue of the euro was necessary but was weak on the social side. It is unacceptable to me that workers and retired people had to shoulder the burden of structural reform programmes, while shipowners and financial speculators became even richer. In the future we need a more democratically legitimate replacement for the Troika and thorough social impact assessments for any new support programmes.”
As usual, European politics is much more about left and right than national disputes. Solidarity with the people of Greece is, in that context, solidarity with working people all over Europe, and the struggle Syriza are waging could still change the hegemony that austerity has established.