Happy Europe Day! Well, Not in Greece

Ultimatums in Athens
Protesters create barricades during a riot in Athens, Greece Photograph by Enri Canaj/Redux

Today is officially Europe Day, honoring a proposal by French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman on May 9, 1950, that led eventually to the formation of the European Union. Break out the deflated balloons!

At last report, Greeks were not exactly thronging Syntagma Square in Athens to celebrate Europe Day. Instead many are ruing Greece’s having joined the euro zone in 2001. The low interest rates that Greece paid after adopting the euro currency lulled Greeks into a false sense of security, inflating a debt bubble that has popped disastrously. And now, because it shares a currency with economically stronger countries like Germany, Greece can’t devalue its way back to competitiveness.

The language of politics has turned ugly in Athens in recent days. Leftist leader Alexis Tsipras, who has been given a chance to try to form a coalition government with a parliamentary majority, issued an ultimatum to the two major parties that support staying in the euro zone and complying with the bailout rules. He told them to revoke their pledges to implement austerity measures if they want to join his Syriza party in the government. New Democracy chief Antonis Samaras said he was being asked “to put my signature to the destruction of Greece.

“He interprets, with unbelievable arrogance, the election result as a mandate to drag the country into chaos,” Samaras said Tuesday in televised remarks.

Even though Greece just held elections on May 6, it’s looking increasingly likely that it will have to hold another round within the next few weeks. If that happens, New Democracy and PASOK are likely to grab back some of the votes they lost in the May 6 voting, predicts Thanos Veremis, vice president of the Hellenic Foundation for European & Foreign Policy. “The Greeks have to blow their top to let the world know they are unhappy,” Veremis told Bloomberg News on May 7. “Once they do that, they tend to go back to the real world.”

Meanwhile, the rest of Europe is starting to air doubts as to whether Greece can stay in the euro.

Here, by way of comparison, is an excerpt from Schuman’s 1950 proposal:

World peace cannot be safeguarded without the making of creative efforts proportionate to the dangers which threaten it. The contribution which an organized and living Europe can bring to civilization is indispensable to the maintenance of peaceful relations. … Europe will not be made all at once, or according to a single plan. It will be built through concrete achievements which first create a de facto solidarity.”

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