What Israel Should Learn from the Greek Crisis
The current Greek financial and social crisis is not only the result of poor management of many successive Greek governments. A huge contribution to this calamity has also been made by various decisions of the European Union. Like many major political upheavals around the world, this one as well has important lessons for Israel. The importance of the Greek crisis does not lie in whether or not it has an immediate impact on the Israeli reality, but rather what Israel can learn from it.
In Europe, most of the attention on the Greek crisis is placed on its financial aspects. Questions frequently heard are, “Will Greece have to leave the Euro?”, “What will be the financial impacts on the Euro”, and “How will it affect possible other aspects of the European Union?”
This strong focus on financial issues is one-sided and short sighted. There are political aspects to this crisis which, in the long run, may become far more important. One only has to remember that at the Yalta conference of 1945, Stalin and Churchill discussed their spheres of interest in post-war Europe. Stalin agreed to British demands that while the Balkan countries would be in the Soviet Union’s control, Greece would almost entirely be in that of Great Britain.
Chaos in Greece may have a tremendous political fallout. Increased Russian influence within the country could have a substantial nuisance value for the West. Chinese influence, admittedly less probable, might be even worse. For NATO, Greece is very important, and for many reasons. There is a major NATO naval base in Crete at Souda Bay, for example. Greece has not always been a friendly partner. In the 1980s then Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou stated that his foreign policy goal was his refusal to be a “client state of the West.”
A foreign observer recently asked me whether it was conceivable that Greek terrorists would carry out attacks against the EU, whether in Brussels or elsewhere. I was initially taken aback by the question, but after giving it some thought, I answered that although highly unlikely, it was not totally inconceivable. The particularly dangerous Marxist-Leninist November 17 terrorist group for instance chalked up 23 victims including Greeks as well as American, British, and Turkish diplomats during its activities from 1975-2002.
I recalled the years when I worked in Greece at the end of the 1990s. I was then a strategic advisor to the president of one of the country’s largest corporations which were not under state control. As he frequently had time constraints, I accompanied him from time to time to the airport. We could thus have a quiet conversation in the car, a prestigious model of one of the luxury Italian car makers. I doubted whether there was any similar car in Athens. An armed bodyguard on a motorcycle rode ahead of us.
After we reached the airport, I would return to the company’s office in the same car. The bodyguard had no intention of accompanying me back to the office–he had been hired to guard the president and nobody else. During those rides, I would often muse that potential terrorists could not know that the person in the highly visible vehicle was not the company’s president but just me. It was an uncomfortable feeling, but part of my Greek reality at the time.
There are more practical considerations regarding the current Greek crisis. Israeli exports to the EU will be affected by a further decline in the Euro. There would be significant consequences, as the EU is Israel’s largest market abroad. There are also other far reaching considerations which have less to do with Greece’s internal problems and more with how the EU deals with such issues. From my frequent visits to Greece, fifteen or more years ago, it was clear to me that there were huge economic problems, including an overgrown and often incompetent bureaucracy. Its ranks were filled with supporters of the two parties which alternated in having political power: the socialist Pasok and the liberal New Democrats. As a foreigner I could not understand the details of the substantial corruption, but I could sense its impact.
Greece joined the EU in 1981. Over the years, the Brussels Eurocrats must have understood the country’s problems in far greater detail than an outsider like myself. .They should have known that Greece was not a suitable candidate to join the Eurozone under any circumstances, and yet it happened in 2001. Had Greece kept the drachme as its currency, its structural problems would have gradually come to the surface over the years, but they would not have led to such a major calamity as is currently the case.
Letting Greece join was a sign of EU incompetence and of its irresponsibility. When the Greek crisis broke out, the EU focused mainly on the financial side of the problem, as if it was not accompanied by a social one. If the EU would have correctly analyzed the situation, they would have gradually eased Greece out of the Euro. The Eurozone members who lent money to keep Greece afloat were aware that the chances of being fully paid back were close to nothing. They knowingly fooled their own citizens, however, by claiming that there would be a return on their investment.
The Greek problem will not disappear easily. It is but one of a variety of huge strategic mistakes the EU has made. The creation of the Euro in a non-uniform economic system took away the major safety valve of devaluation from the weaker countries. Such a setup was only fine for countries such as Germany and the Netherlands, who had maintained a de facto fixed exchange rate between their pre-Euro currencies.
There are other major strategic mistakes made by the EU which are coming home to roost. One was cutting defense expenditures at a time when Europe was wealthy enough to become militarily independent from the United States. Instead of moving forward toward greater power and stability, the European military forces shrunk further and weakened the EU. After the recently renewed tensions with Russia, the EU’s military weakness became even more obvious.
Another substantial strategic mistake was the initially almost uncontrolled flow of millions of immigrants into the EU. Many of these emigrated from anti-Semitic and non-democratic Muslim countries. Although many immigrants integrated successfully, the presence of millions of who remain unintegrated will continue to cause European countries problems for decades to come. The rise in Jihadism in the Middle East has already aggravated them further.
In regard to its policies concerning Israel, it is crucial to understand that the EU has only its own interests at heart. Those who see it as a moral force in Europe are weakening Israeli society by their lack of insight.
The EU was and is willing to inflict great pain on Greece and its citizens, even though it is a member country. This can help us understand that the EU would care even less about what impact its advice would have on Israel. That alone is a good reason not to place any faith in the EU, but rather to evaluate carefully the advice it offers, and the pressure it exercises which is sometimes contrary to Israel’s most elementary interests.
Sources: Stephen G. Xydis, “Greece and the Yalta Declaration,” American Slavic and East European Review, Vol. 20, No. 1 February 1961, pp. 6-24.
 “NMIOTC – NATO Maritime Interdiction Operational Training Centre – Hellas,” NATO-OTAN, 2015.
 Marlise Simons, “Andreas Papandreou, Greek Leftist Who Admired and Annoyed U.S., Dies at 77,” The New York Times, 24 June 1996.
 Helena Smith, “November 17 terrorist vows return to violence after absconding from prison,” The Guardian, 20 January 2014.
 “Greece and the Euro,” European Commission, 4 May 2009.
 Steven Erlanger, “Shrinking Europe Military Spending Stirs Concern,”The New York Times, 22 April 2013.