We should be happy here in Germany that none of us has to make this kind of decision. Because when the Greeks vote, it is not only their own future that will be decided.
You, dear Greeks, also will be making a decision about the fate of 500 million people in Europe. You will decide how things will be for all of us.
It is only fitting for this insidious and confusing crisis that everything now comes down to a seemingly simple “Yes” or “No” by the Greek people, even though so many very painful decisions are involved.
One way or another, you, dear Greeks, must turn against the policies you voted for just five months ago. You must take the side of the creditor nations, even though you voted against their crisis policies in the parliamentary elections. You must come to terms with your creditors, even though many of you have the impression you have been betrayed in the past couple of years. That is a lot to ask. And yet, that is where our hope lies.
No one can tell you how you should vote; not a minister from abroad and certainly not a foreign newspaper. But a lot of people in Europe now have grown very concerned.
When in January of this year, Alexis Tsipras set out to win the Greek parliamentary elections, I wrote in this newspaper that he might be the one to ensure Europe stays together. I assumed Mr. Tsipras, as a man of the people, finally would provide the unpopular bailout policy with the legitimacy it never had in your country. I expected Syriza would tax the rich Greeks and use their wealth in fighting the crisis. But once in office, it seemed your head of government was less concerned about justice than gaining satisfaction. It was less about what we have in common than what separates us. And, to be perfectly honest, many people here in Germany didn’t understand this.
Many Germans believe that more and more money seems to be flowing to Greece without ever improving the conditions of the Greek people.
Yes, it is true that Greece is suffering three great injustices: the inequality between the rich and the poor; between those who have government jobs and the unemployed; and between the Greek people and the seemingly all-powerful troika.
It also is true the troika has made immense mistakes and taken an arrogant stance with you that harmed its own interests. But, with all due respect for your government, from our admittedly somewhat distant point of view, it seems as if Alexis Tsipras and Yanis Varoufakis have tried to spectacularly twist the whole direction of Europe’s economic policy. They lack the power to do that as well as the democratic legitimacy.
At the same time, some progress definitely was made during the long negotiations in Brussels. Mr. Tsipras can take credit for the European Union having grown wiser and for the fact many heads of government now are prepared to change the crisis management policy. But Mr. Tsipras has not been able to use this political capital. Instead, he has systematically turned the other 18 members of the euro zone against him. By doing so, he took himself out of the game.
Many of you will have the impression that we Germans don’t want to help at all any more, that we would prefer to have you out of the euro. That might be the impression created by comments coming out of Germany, for example, from our finance minister, and some journalists. And, many Germans lately have indeed been having doubts. There are people here too who work hard and don’t know how they are supposed to make ends meet. Many believe that more and more money seems to be flowing to Greece without ever improving the conditions of the Greek people. Despite that, there was never a majority here in favor of a Grexit until the critical developments of the past few days.
If there has been one critical mistake since the start of the euro crisis, it is this: We have talked too much about money. We allowed it to be only about the level of debt. The question about whether it really is the right thing to continue to help Greece ultimately became a math problem with the motto, “What would we Germans get out of it.” And what would the Greeks? A common currency, however, is more than that. It is a promise, minted in coin, to stand by one another.
Everywhere across the continent today, divisions are breaking out, not just within the monetary union. Many British people want out of the E.U. Many people want to see fewer refugees arriving in Europe. Right-wing populists are stirring up hatred against other Europeans. Hungary’s government is planning a four-meter high wall on the border with its neighbor, Serbia. That is why the vote on whether Greece keeps the euro or not isn’t just an economic decision. It is about much more.
If the promise to stand by one another no longer holds true, it could tear the continent apart. That is why you now have a huge opportunity. If you decide to stay in the euro, then that would in turn create an enormous responsibility for all the citizens of the other countries. They then will also have to do much more for Europe.
This is a wonderful democratic moment. You can now conclude a pact with the heads of government of the creditor nations much more directly than via any election. This also would completely change the responsibilities placed on Angela Merkel and Wolfgang Schäuble. If Greece stays in the euro, there most likely will have to be a debt restructuring and an investment program. We all will have to be patient with one another, much more than before.
That is why it is not only critical how the Greek people will vote, but also how Europeans and we Germans react to it.
This article first appeared in German weekly Die Zeit. To contact the author: [email protected]