The political debate in Greece seems to be taking place in a common sense vacuum. The centre-right ND party insisted for almost two years that the austerity programme was a result of the PASOK government’s lack of negotiating skills and asked for elections so they could renegotiate it. All this despite the fact that it was more than obvious that Greece’s creditors would not, at the time, listen to anyone on this – and there was hardly anyone else who thought the programme had any chance: world renowned economists and analysts left and right, the markets, think tanks, almost unanimously warned that it was flawed, but they just refused to listen. Mr. Samaras would have us believe that he could single-handedly talk some sense into the troika, as if that was just a matter of lack of economic expertise on their part and not a conscious policy decision. This lasted until George Papandreou proposed a referendum and Merkel and Sarkozy run amok, showing plainly what room for negotiation there was. Afterwards, the anti-austerity camp started to claim they had won, since the troika was revising the programme(!), when it was clear from the beginning that their strategy (if you can call it that) was to stick to their programme until forced by hard realities to modify it, as few reluctant little steps as possible at a time.
Meanwhile, the Left and the far-Right was assuring everyone that we needn’t fear an exit from the Eurozone because there was no such provision in the treaties (as if that has ever stopped anyone who was in a position to enforce his will in international relations), plus it would be irrational for the Eurozone to choose to expel Greece – too costly/risky for itself. Is it too much to ask that people who aspire to be leaders don’t forget that rationality is perspectival, determined by subjective priorities or perceived self-interest, and all too often overruled by prejudice, misjudgment and miscalculation? Wasn’t it in this very continent that the two World Wars of the previous century begun?
The outcome has been that Greece was left divided at a time when some of the hardest and most critical policy decisions of its modern history had to be made, its negotiating power was crippled, its public life dominated by non-issues, democracy threatened by extremists, and its future hanging in the balance – just at the time when European leaders seem to be running out of delusions at last.