EU 'blackmail' of indebted member states must cease

Irish MEP Nessa Childers tells the Parliament Magazine that she believes the 'extend and pretend approach' to Greek debt cannot continue.

By James O'Brien

05 Mar 2015

The lack of solidarity among the indebted nations of the eurozone with Greece has been the subject of recent scrutiny, given Syriza's efforts to seek a debt write-down; something S&D group MEP Nessa Childers says hasn't gone unnoticed.

The Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras is reported as having told a meeting of his Syriza party that efforts to seek a write-down was frustrated by "an axis of powers".

Childers is critical of the treatment of indebted countries by international lenders and believes "Ireland and Greece are both being subjected to a form of blackmail, except people are more concerned about Greece, particularly the United States."

Ireland, which exited its three year debt restructuring programme with the European commission, European central bank and international monetary fund in December 2013, accumulated debts of €203bn, compared to Greece's €319bn, has publicly stated it will not support calls for a Greek debt write-down. A similar position has been adopted by other highly indebted member states, including Spain and Portugal.

"Ireland and Greece are both being subjected to a form of blackmail, except people are more concerned about Greece"

Childers, along with six other Irish MEPs, co-signed an open letter distancing themselves from comments by prime minister Enda Kenny, who remarked that Greece should follow Ireland's example and not ask for a write-down of its debt.

The MEPs' letter condemned Kenny's remarks, saying that, "at worst Ireland should have maintained a neutral position, […] at best we could have offered our support" and the comments were "the equivalent of kicking a friend when he/she is already on the ground".

The letters' signatories, which also comprises of deputies from parliament's ALDE and GUE/NGL groups, said the Irish premier "needs to be part of the solution, not the problem" and that, "despite the spin and propaganda emanating from Ireland, we are among the weak [and] we need a debt write-down".

Childers felt compelled to add her voice to these concerns and characterises Ireland's stance towards Greece as "not particularly sympathetic" adding that, "there is such a thing as solidarity and to hell with money and political optics and being seen to be part of some northern or mythical European Union".

Ireland has won praise for the implementation of austerity measures, something German chancellor Angela Merkel has described as a "tremendous success story", but Childers notes that while "there are more jobs, a great number of people remain in difficulty".

She would favour Ireland embarking on an approach of "enlightened self-interest" in relation to Greece, as Ireland "would stand to gain from any flexibility as regards the structural deficit".

The Irish MEP highlights the imposition of a number of regressive tax measures, high levels of personal debt and the imposition of much reviled water charges, which have triggered mass protests and a campaign of civil disobedience. She views this as "symbolic of the struggle people are confronting".

The sole remaining Irish S&D deputy following last year's election considers "internal political anxieties" to be the reason behind the stance adopted by eurozone governments, including her own.

Upcoming elections and the growth of left-wing groupings are leading to fears among established political parties, especially in the aftermath of Syriza's victory, and the Irish MEP predicts "rhetoric is going to enter the stratosphere" with more national elections on the horizon.

"This extend and pretend approach [to the Greek debt crisis] isn't working and there are different opinions in the Socialist group"

Childers points to the emergence of Podemos in Spain, affiliated to the GUE/NGL group in parliament, which opinion polls suggest could overtake the Socialists (PSOE) to become that country's second largest party. The deputy also notes the rise of Sinn Féin in her own country, another affiliate of the GUE/NGL group, which polls suggest could emerge from an election planned for early 2016 as Ireland's second largest party.

The Dublin MEP believes "there are many problems with the current negotiations" which she describes as "highly complex", but the main point being missed is that "Greece cannot repay its debts".


Health of a nation?

The deputy, who is a member of parliament's environment, public health and food safety committee (ENVI), is particularly concerned about the effect of austerity on Greece's health service.

A qualified psychoanalyst, Childers is of the view that the deterioration of Greece's health service constitutes "a humanitarian crisis" and she believes that what has been allowed to occur "breaches the charter of fundamental rights of the Lisbon treaty".

Childers said, "It became very obvious when they entered a 'programme' that there was a collapse in their health service."

The ENVI committee member considers the impact of austerity on the Greek public health system to be too high a price to pay in order to repay international lenders: "It must be asked what we are doing to the Greek people who have become numbers on a spreadsheet."

While acknowledging tax evasion and "corporate cronyism" are issues for Syriza to overcome, the deputy highlights that these are issues not unique to Greece. Childers told the Parliament Magazine that, "Greece cannot be made a scapegoat".

Last month, the S&D group president Gianna Pitella said that the Socialists are against cutting the amount of Greece's debt, emphasising "what was given must be returned".

However, the strong views expressed by Childers in relation to Greece are not something the deputy feels puts her at odds with the S&D group's official position.

The subject of debt repayment is "not a question of morality", as "this extend and pretend approach isn't working and there are different opinions in the Socialist group", the deputy acknowledges.


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