It was hard to see last night what the rulers of Europe wanted.
What they’ve arguably got is a global reputational disaster: the crushing of a left-wing government elected on a landslide, the flouting of a 61 per cent referendum result. The EU – a project founded to avoid conflict and deliver social justice – found itself transformed into the conveyor of relentless financial logic and nothing else.
Ordinary people don’t know enough about the financial logic to understand why this was always likely to happen: bonds, haircuts and currency mechanisms are distant concepts. Democracy is not. Everybody on earth with a smartphone understands what happened to democracy last night.
National sovereignty is an illusion in the Eurozone. But this particular penny took some time to drop in the hapless countries which joined the project. I remember well the euphoria which greeted Irish entry into the EU: at last we were a ‘proper’ country. EU membership enabled us to get out from under the shadow of our former colonial master. When it was Ireland’s turn to hold the Presidency for the first time, I was in Dublin for the first Summit. The city was en fete. I was staying in the Westbury, the conference hotel for all the national delegations except the British, who were accommodated in the British Embassy.
Outside the hotel stood the longest line of black limousines ever seen in Ireland. I fell into conversation with one of the drivers of same, who was lounging outside his vehicle waiting for his delegation to emerge from the hotel. I said that I hadn’t known there were so many stretch limos in Ireland. He laughed and said confidentially: “Between you and me, this would not be a good weekend to die in this country”. It transpired that the government had rented every funeral director’s car for the great weekend!
And so Ireland learned to strut the world stage. And then came the Celtic Tiger — an outbreak of madness and greed that still leaves one transfixed — during which my countrymen “lost the run of themselves”, as my old friend Frank McDonald puts it. And then the banks imploded and the Fianna Fail government decided in a panic-stricken weekend that they (or, more accurately, the hapless Irish taxpayers) would underwrite the foreign bondholders of those same banks, thereby saddling every man, woman and child in the country with a debt running into thousands of Euros. But it would all be ok, they thought, because the European Central Bank and the EU would see them right.
And so the ‘bailout’ came, administered by three technocrats from abroad who arrived in Dublin to teach the feckless Irish some neoliberal manners. But even then, the penny didn’t really drop.
What finally did it was the night in November 2011 when it was revealed that the top-secret details of the budget to be revealed the next day by the Finance Minister in the Dáil (the Irish parliament) were, in fact, already being discussed by members of the Bundestag in Berlin.
And then my countrymen finally understood why they had traded national sovereignty for that brief moment in the global sun.
The Greeks are now making the same discovery.