After all the initial euphoria and hopes placed upon the original concept of a non-aligned, social-democratic Euro-bloc, the reality has turned out somewhat differently.
By Francis Lee for the Saker Blog
In 2011 I drafted an article in an obscure publication called ‘Chartist’. It was entitled: ‘’Europe: The Unfinished Project’’. It ran as follows.
‘’At the present time the EU project seems to be stuck in no-man’s land, unable to press ahead with full political integration, or retreat back into a northern European protectionist Deutschmark zone and leaving the peripheral member states to the tender mercies of unfettered, globalized capitalism. However there seems to be a sufficient residue of the original EU idealism in the present stage of development to persevere further with the political struggle taking place.’’ (Ibid, page 19)
But alas one lives and learns.
I now believe that this view, justifiable and plausible enough at the time of writing, has now become difficult, if not actually impossible, to sustain. And the reason for this came in the next sentence, viz.
‘’One only has to consider the Anglo-American alternatives (to the Euro model) and globalization more generally to make this choice.’’
This was, however, based on the tacit assumption that the Euro model of capitalism was somehow fundamentally different from the Atlanticist model, a paradigm exemplified by the US/UK/EU axis. It was not. In the fullness of time this turned out to be a fundamental misconception. The UK of course has always been bound hand and foot to the US in terms of both foreign and economic policy with the ending of the system of imperial preference demanded by the US as the quid pro quo for the American loan negotiated by Keynes, shortly before his death in 1946; next came the American intervention in the Suez crisis in 1956 which effectively ended any independent UK foreign policy. This dog-like British devotion to American imperatives – the so-called ‘special-relationship’ – then extended with the neo-liberal turn and the Reagan-Thatcher counter-revolution of the 198Os. True, the UK was always more Atlanticist in its outlook than its European neighbours. However, continental Europe was to become as enamoured of Atlanticism as is the UK – and those more recent EU ex-communist states, probably even more so.
‘’It is not only the UK, which is Atlanticist, the continental European states are no less so … proof of this is given by the central position of NATO in this political construction. That a military alliance with a country outside the union (the US) has been integrated de facto into the European constitution – in terms of a common foreign and security policy – constitutes an unparalleled anomaly. For some European countries (Poland, and the Baltic States) NATO’s protection – that is, that of the United States against their ‘Russian enemy’ is more important than their adhesion to the European Union.’’ (Samir Amin – The Implosion of Capitalism – 2014)
This Americanization of Europe – this invisible annexation – was achieved by a combination of soft and hard power – a cultural, political, economic and militaristic assimilation of the old world by the new. It should be understood that the US does not do ‘partnerships;’ any geo-political relationships the US enters into with other states is always on the basis of ‘Me Tarzan, You Jane.’
‘’ It follows from this that the European Union nor any of its component states any longer have an independent foreign policy. The facts show that there is one single reality: alignment behind whatever Washington (perhaps in agreement with London) decides on its own.’’ (Amin – Ibid)
European Economic policy is similarly aligned to US interests and US practises. This is hardly surprising since the US has been the dominant economic force (although now in a declining trajectory) for the last 100 years. It has control of the world’s reserve currency which allows it to run persistent deficits on its current account since it can simply pay for its imports by printing its own currency. The US also tends to dominate the multilateral institutions such as the IMF, World Bank and WTO and having the largest bloc of votes in the IMF. American policymakers have used their influence in the IMF to pursue American financial and foreign policy objectives. The IMF offers larger loans to countries heavily indebted to American commercial banks than to other countries. In addition, the IMF offers larger loans to governments closely allied to the United States. (International Politics (2004) 41, 415–429). New York is the second largest financial centre (after London) with the most deeply liquid capital markets, and in absolute terms the US is – in nominal terms at least – the largest economy in the world. (Although in terms of purchasing power parity, the Chinese economy is now larger.)
Additionally, the ‘soft power’ of the US (and UK) which includes, university economics departments, economic think-tanks, publications – The Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, The Economist – Business and Financial circles, and the universal language of business and diplomacy – English – have effectively dominated and structured the global ideological discourse. The ‘Washington Consensus’ along with the deadly weapons of financial mass destruction – the lethal weapons of financialization – have come to dictate policy and policy making in the western world.
However, the neo-liberal, neo-conservative project was to run into difficulties as instanced in the twin crises besetting the Euro-Atlanticist bloc: namely, Greece and Ukraine.
At the outset it was wholly predictable that the accession of Greece into the eurozone was going to lead to trouble. In order to qualify for admission Greece needed to demonstrate that it conformed to the Maastricht Criteria. The Maastricht rules threaten to slap hefty fines on euro member countries that exceed the budget deficit limit of three percent of gross domestic product. Additionally, total government debt mustn’t exceed 60 percent. It is interesting to note that both France and Germany both exceeded the Maastricht criteria, but there was a mute silence on this.
The Greeks had never managed to stick to the 60 percent debt limit, and they only adhered to the three percent deficit ceiling with the help of blatant balance sheet cosmetics.
Not to worry, in 2010 some creative accounting was supplied by the premier (infamous?) US Investment Bank, Goldman Sachs. GS’s selling point for financial legerdemain is well known; in this instance cross-currency swaps where government debt issued in dollars and yen was swapped for euro debt for a certain period – and then exchanged back into the original currencies at a later date. Hey, presto! The figures added up (for a while at least). Goldman Sachs collected a $15 billion kickback for their labours.
As members of the eurozone the Greeks then had access to cheap credit from eurozone banks, particularly French and German. But any deal between borrower and lender means that both should act responsibly. The creditworthiness of the borrower has to be assessed before the loan is made. But such rigorous investigations of this sort were not conducted; with the deregulation of finance such tiresome procedures had been done away with and banks lent to almost anyone who had a pulse
The rest as we say is history.
But if these lenders knew that borrowers would not be able to repay the loans, this would have amounted to ‘odious debt.’ That occurs when the national debt incurred by a regime for purposes that do not serve the best interests of the nation, should not be enforceable. Vulture capitalism is another equally unprepossessing term for the policy toward Greece. Vulture funds target distressed firms and/or countries and buy their bonds and stocks at knock-down prices, then when the company fails, they sue the owner not only for the interest but also the principal. The Troika policy toward Greece has been one of Loan and Foreclosure.
If Greece remains in the eurozone it will continue to be bled white, privatised and ultimately dismembered. An example must be made to stop others in the southern periphery from getting ideas. And just as Mrs. Thatcher was the junior partner of Reagan in shaping the EU, Merkel was Obama’s enforcer in the Euro’s restive provinces.
It is interesting to note that one, Victoria Nuland, rabid neo-con – more of which below – Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs at the United States Department of State, visited Athens on 17 March 2015 and had talks with the Greek PM Tsipras regarding the present turmoil. Suffice it to say it was geopolitics and the retention of Greece in the EU and NATO she was concerned with, rather than debt. She no doubt reminded Tsipras that there might be consequences if Greece did not toe the EU line. As Assistant Secretary for regime change in the State Department the redoubtable Ms Nuland’s brief has been to threaten or bring about regime change in countries of which the US and its vassals disapprove.
Earlier the peripatetic Ms Nuland was also busy in Ukraine – which was not and is not an EU member – promoting regime change, a process which had been going on since 2004, with the so-called Orange Revolution, and later was responsible for the events on the Maidan which resulted in the installation of the oligarch-fascist regime paid for ($5 billion according to Ms N) in 2014, and whose leaders were hand-picked by herself and the US Ambassador in Kiev Geoffrey Pyatt. Since this the IMF largesse has kept on flowing and kept the Ukraine on a drip feed of IMF subventions with no end in sight.
It was interesting to note how the IMF’s treatment of the Kiev regime differs significantly to that meted out to Greece. Firstly a $40 billion aid package was granted to Ukraine over the next 4 years. Secondly Madame Lagarde has stated that “In the event that a negotiated settlement with private creditors is not reached and the country determines that it cannot service its debt, the Fund can lend to Ukraine consistent with its Lending-into-Arrears Policy” (12 June 2015) In other words when the Ukraine defaults, the IMF will – in violation of its constitution – come up with the cash. Moreover, the IMF is also not mandated to lend to states which are at war. Of course this is hardly an even-handed way of operating, but of course the IMF is a highly politicised and partisan institution and a key part of the neo-liberal, neo-conservative global establishment. Ukraine missed a bond coupon payment 17 July 2015, setting off a default on about $19 billion of debt, as a standoff with creditors shows no sign of abating – it was interesting to see what happened in light of Madame Lagarde’s statement. (1) See below
Well in the Spring of 2016 the Poroshenko regime was gifted yet another 600-million-euro loan to Ukraine. But of course it didn’t stop there. Considering this loan the overall amount of EU assistance to Ukraine added up to 2.8 billion euros since the Maidan events of 2014. This ‘assistance’ had been forthcoming in the same year, and this was the largest macro-economic assistance ever sent to a non-EU country. But it didn’t seem to make any difference.
Things are so bad in Ukraine that in spite of all the IMF largesse it now vies with Moldova as being the poorest country in Europe. The United Nations predicts that the country will lose a fifth of its population by 2050.
Moreover, Ukraine has also one of the highest crude death rates in the world. Poor health conditions and the widespread abuse of alcohol and drugs have led to a rise in Ukraine’s death rate. The country also has the highest global mortality rate from infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, meaning that inadequate medical care has contributed to the rise in Ukraine’s mortality rate. The coronavirus pandemic has only exacerbated these health care Issues.
Ukraine’s fertility rate has also declined. According to the World Bank, Ukrainian families were having two children per household during the 1990s. Recent economic hardships, however, have forced families to have only one child per household. The effects of Ukraine’s struggling economy and the Donbass conflict have also discouraged many young couples from having children, and this has contributed to the decline in Ukraine’s fertility rate. I could go on, but it would be indecent to do so. Let’s just say that the EU-NATO meddling in the internal affairs of this beleaguered nation has resulted in an economic-political catastrophe.
The decision to expand the EU, and along with NATO, right up to Russia’s borders, initially under the guidance and policies of the Clinton administration, was a clear indication that the governments of the EU had come under American domination. With this decisive shift the EU project was over. It has been replaced by a North Atlantic military project under American command.
The hegemonistic strategy of the US – made abundantly clear in both the Wolfowitz doctrine and the more recent enunciations and actions of the dominant US war party, a coalition of neo-cons, liberal hawks and liberal interventionists – is clearly visible behind the disappearance of what was once the European project.
However it is quite possible that even against US wishes and geopolitical imperatives the EU might well fracture internally due to inter-state tensions and economic contradictions. One thing is certain: in its present structure the EU cannot endure, nor does it deserve to.
This 20/21st century ‘Great Game’ is being played out with one party getting stronger – the Eurasian bloc – and the other party – the Atlanticist bloc – becoming weaker.
It reminds me of a scene in the film ‘Apocalypse Now’ where Captain Willard (played by Martin Sheen) sums up the deteriorating US geopolitical situation (I can’t remember the exact words) but it went as something like this:. ‘’Charlie (the Vietcong) sits in the Jungle getting stronger, and I sit in the hotel room getting weaker.’’
True, very true.
(1) When it comes down to enforcing nations to pay inter-governmental debts, the IMF and Paris Club hold the main leverage. As co-ordinator of central bank ‘stabilization’ loans (the neo-liberal euphemism for imposing austerity and destabilising debtor economies, Greece style) the IMF is able to withhold not only its own credit but also that of governments and global banks participating when debtor countries need refinancing. Those states who do not agree to privatise their infrastructure and sell it to western buyers are threatened with sanctions, backed by US sponsored ‘’regime change’’ and ‘’democracy promotion’’ Maidan-style. (Michael Hudson)