Anyone who thinks that Greece’s predicament is unique is kidding themselves, because the situation here is part of a larger global phenomenon.
From an economic standpoint, Greece is the weak link in a Europe that is becoming poorer and less able to react. The European Commission recently said that it estimates the standard of living in the bloc to be at only 60 percent of US levels by 2023 due to international capital flight from the declining continent. As one acclaimed British historian put it, Europe may not come to a spectacular end like Pompeii but it is certainly on the same path as other fallen empires in the past.
Greece was the first country in the bloc to enter a crisis of debt and economic sustainability. Many believed that France, Italy and Spain would follow. If one of these fell by being shut out of international credit markets, this would have signaled the end of Europe as we know it today because countries of that size are almost impossible to save. Spain stopped this from happening two years ago but the danger has re-emerged as political instability grips that country, as well as Italy and France, with economic problems being compounded by the refugee crisis and the threat of terrorism.
Europe is feeling vulnerable and under fire from all sides, and Greece is still the weak link. From an economic perspective it appears unable to push ahead with reforms and keeps falling victim to its inadequate institutions and political personnel. It is also floundering in regards to the refugee crisis, as the state lacks the structures needed to rise to such a challenge.
We’ll see how Europe fares over the next three or four years. The threat of a mixture of nationalism, isolationism and populism is already evident as a reaction to the growing pauperization and insecurity of a large part of European societies. Even in the US, insecurity among the middle classes is breeding extreme political reactions that are the product of a deep-rooted suspicion of all things systemic. Donald Trump’s popularity, for example, is not just a passing phase but the result of a subculture of conspiracy theories and anti-establishment sentiment that has been cultivated through social media. The same is happening in France, Spain and Scandinavia.
Greece has already been through all this – both the economic and political crisis – and I firmly believe that as a people we have shown great maturity and fortitude, despite the mistakes. If a country like France experienced what Greece has in the past few years, I am pretty certain it would face another mass uprising.