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If we leave aside Mister Draghi, ‘the politician’, we realise that the European Union is currently in shatters. Greece’s endless vicissitudes testify to the EU’s limits, and the substantial failure of its integration project. Moreover, new players have emerged and are already changing Europe’s political and social perspectives; in particular in the problematic Mediterranean region.

 

The European project of the ‘founding fathers’ was a political one, based on strong principles of peace, democracy, and intra-European solidarity. After all, West Germany was reconstructed in such context and drawing on these ideas and values. The current EU, by contrast, has become a merely economic organisation. Countries are assessed according to data and other technical parameters, and citizens are treated like a commodity. This is particularly true for Greek citizens. All the possible faults of Athens’s governments before the crisis do not justify the tremendously commodified and short-sighted way in which Greece’s inhabitants have been treated. Furthermore, the EU has proved totally unable to deal with the problems of a relatively small country, with a population of some 11 million.

 

The Greek problem has then been treated as a ‘Germany vs. Greece’ confrontation, in which Merkel and Schäuble’s voices have usually been pitted against those of Tsipras and Varoufakis. In reality, it is a European problem on which all EU (or at least Eurozone) countries and citizens should have a say. France and Italy for example are heavily exposed to Greek debt and Athens’s choices are crucial to all other member states. If Greece left the Euro, a strong precedent would be set. Other countries would feel entitled to do the same, and ‘blackmail’ the whole EU. After Grexit, what would happen? What if large countries like, say, Spain, decided to leave?

 

In addition to all the above, throughout the whole crisis the role of the most democratic EU institutions (the Commission and especially Parliament) has been noticeably weak. Where is Mr Juncker? Where is the often acclaimed High Representative, Mrs Mogherini?

 

While the EU has slow decision-making processes and is hardly ‘in the game’, new and powerful players are stepping in. One of them is Russia and Mr Tsipras is highly aware of it. He immediately visited Russia’s Ambassador in Athens, Mr Andrey Maslov, after the election win. Greece and Russia have deep links – cultural and political – which go way beyond mere economic considerations. Tsipras has strongly criticised EU sanctions to Russia (see http://www.themoscowtimes.com/news/article/greece-s-tsipras-calls-sanctions-on-russia-hypocritical/516148.html) and proposed his country, together with Cyprus, as ‘a bridge of peace and cooperation between the EU and Russia’ (see http://www.euractiv.com/sections/global-europe/tsipras-says-greece-and-cyprus-could-be-eu-bridge-russia-311762). In addition, he was invited to Russia by President Putin with the aim of discussing ways to deepen ties, in particular in the energy sector. While Greece’s links with Russia are steeped in history and well-known, other powers are in the game as well. China is second in line, and its premier Li Keqiang has already invited Tsipras to Beijing (12 February; see http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-02-12/china-s-li-invites-tsipras-to-visit-amid-port-sale-uncertainty). China intends to further invest in Greece, in particular in the Piraeus harbour, and could potentially offer a lot. Together with the other BRICS, Beijing has recently established a 100 billion dollars Development Bank which promises to be a real alternative to the IMF-World Bank system; the latter, amongst others, has contributed to Greece’s troubles. Will Greece receive funds from the BRICS? Would they prove better than the ‘troika’? It is early to say, but the BRICS system is taking shape, and Greece might be tempted to play the card. Another option could be that of the USA itself. Mrs Merkel visited Obama on 9 February, ostensibly to talk about Ukraine. Yet the rumour of a direct US intervention to rescue Athens has circulated, and it is highly likely the two leaders discussed this point, too. If the EU were unable to deliver, would the USA be ready to step in to prevent a BRICS financial intervention in a Western and European country?

 

Interestingly, the Mediterranean is facing tough challenges on both shores. Southern European countries are hardly recovering from the economic crisis, while those in North Africa are still victims of the ‘Arab Spring’’s failure. In this context, Putin’s visit to Egypt (9-10 February) has been particularly important. Egypt is a ‘sleeping giant’ with a population of almost 90 million, but has never achieved an economic status in line with its ambitions and historical greatness. Could Egypt join the BRICS club? In the future, perhaps, yes, but everything is contingent on regional stability. Good relations between presidents Putin and Al Sisi are important, because Egypt is in turn well-connected to Saudi Arabia and can help fight ISIS and terrorism at home and in neighbouring countries such as Libya. The latter, too, is paying the price of an ill-conceived Western intervention and is now torn by a horrendous civil war.

 

Overall, the Mediterranean region is having issues with ‘the West’, which usually claims to trace its history back to ancient Greece or even the Nile valley. Unfortunately, problems are emerging everywhere; from Italy’s and Greece’s financial troubles to tragedies in Libya and Syria; not to mention the awkward position of Turkey, which a decade ago was looking to the West and the EU and is now more often co-operating with Russia, China, and Central Asian states. New players in the region are and will be more and more welcome; it is the EU’s task to return to its political inspiration and offer a palatable alternative to the dull and traumatic options embodied by the various ‘troikas’.

 

Photo: politiken.dk

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