My OXI vote in the Greek referendum

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Friends and family are asking for my opinion on how to vote in the forthcoming referendum. Being, as they are, constantly bombarded about the ramifications of a negative vote—the Grexit phantasm—they are inclined to go for the “Yes”, even though they have been on the receiving end of about five years of grinding austerity. Given the current state of affairs, I wish to share my thoughts with the public. They might be of use to some fellow citizen.

My outlook is that of a pro-european. European integration is, I believe, a laudable objective that can deliver most of what is constitutive of a genuinely good life on this otherwise historically blood-stained continent. My commitment to the ideal of European unification concerns the potentiality of existing structures, as I tend to be critical of their actuality.

The European Union, as it currently stands, falls short of being a genuinely democratic polity. The Euro Area alone, lacks essential elements of a proper economic and monetary union, such as a fully functioning fiscal union, an all-encompassing financial union, and a coherent policy-making capacity consistent with principles and norms of representative democracy. What the euro area now is, is a quasi-confederal technocracy.

I am a pro-european because I want a European Democracy. I am not a pro-european for the sake of being the apologist of a suboptimal political entity (see my analyses: Constitutional subject and order, and On Habermas’ European Democracy).

How one relates to “Europe” is crucial, for the political debate surrounding the issue has, rightly or wrongly, been framed along the lines of approving or rejecting a shared European future. That is in contrast to the actual topic of the referendum, which concerns a regime of fiscal and economic reforms. As I have argued in my analysis concerning the illegality of Grexit and the conditions that would necessitate the introduction of a parallel currency, the dilemma between Europe and isolation is false; it is a crude and crass misrepresentation of reality, playing into the short-sighted politics of EU’s conservative establishment.

What does YES signify?

A positive vote on the stated question of the referendum is an unambiguous approval of a certain troika-inspired set of measures. Granted, the documents of June 25 were drafts, subject to revision. Still their substance would never undergo any major alteration, given that they were confined to the parameters of the now-expired second bailout programme.

A positive vote is an outright approval of the regime of pro-cyclical fiscal policies that have been implemented all these years. The Greek people will effectively be saying “yes” to more of the same cocktail of measures that contributed to the deepening of the crisis, to the exacerbation of the initial financial shock.

As Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel laureate in economics, so eloquently put it:

Of course, the economics behind the programme that the “troika” (the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund) foisted on Greece five years ago has been abysmal, resulting in a 25% decline in the country’s GDP. I can think of no depression, ever, that has been so deliberate and had such catastrophic consequences: Greece’s rate of youth unemployment, for example, now exceeds 60%.

What does NO signify?

A negative vote on the stated question of the referendum is an unequivocal rejection of those very measures and of their underlying rationale. Greece’s much-needed reform can no longer afford to occur within the framework established by the troika.

It is pointless to insist on implementing fiscal policies that can only have a marginal and ancillary function in the broader process. The central issue is sovereign debt, the vast majority of which is in the hands of official entities. Instead of continuing this inopportune moralistic game of “extend and pretend” and of blaming the Greeks, it is time to reframe the agenda, starting from the necessity of providing debt relief.

A negative vote will not bring the apocalypse. Greece will still be a member state of the European Union. Its currency will continue to be the euro, litanies to the contrary notwithstanding (read my latest analysis on Grexit, in particular the penultimate section).

Indeed, Greece will still be in need of support from its European partners. The “No” option is no panacea to either the current socio-economic conditions or to Greece’s structural institutional flaws (corruption, clientelism, media dominated by oligarchs etc.).

False dilemma

Though far from ideal, the referendum does not concern the fate of Greece in the European Union and the Euro Area. It is solely about a specific approach to economic reforms. The citizens of Greece are asked to approve or reject a regime of pro-cyclical policies. The much-touted narrative of “yes to Europe, yes to the euro” is not representative of the facts.

As a pro-European, as someone who is committed to the ideal of a Europe of democracy, I vote OXI/NO. Greece and Europe do not deserve the sort of technocracy that clings on to impossible fiscal targets, while disregarding the socio-economic realities.

The OXI is not the ultimate end. It is a new beginning. European leadership must finally rise to the occasion. As I wrote in my last article:

If the political leaders of this Union remain oblivious to the gravity of the matter, clinging on to relatively minor fiscal issues of a cyclical sort, then they may well be incompetent to complete this project or, conversely, this project may have degenerated to a degree where it is not worth completing.

UPDATE July 4, 2015 at 07:39 CET—Also read my analysis Greek referendum: Decisions in the face of radical uncertainty.