Greece and the Future of the European Union

Marko Savković

06. November 2015

Greece and the Future of the European Union

On November 4, 2015, the Kozmetsky Center at St. Edward’s University in Austin hosted a forum with leading experts and scholars from Europe and the United States to discuss the Greek financial crisis and the implications of the crisis for the future of the European Union.

The panelists represented leading academic and policy practitioners in the United States and Europe, featuring:

  • Ambassador Daniel B. Smith, Assistant Secretary of State, U.S. Department of State
  • Dr. Panos Tsakloglou, Chair, Department of Economics, Athens University of Economics and Business
  • Prof. Dr. Julian Lindley-French, Institute of Statecraft; Europa Analytica; National Defense University; Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute
  • Peter Sparding, German Marshall Fund
  • Marko Savkovic, Belgrade Fund for Political Excellence

United States Ambassador Smith provides opening remarks for the session

Former U.S. Ambassador to Greece, Dan Smith offered his perspective suggesting that the crisis stemmed from unsustainable economic systems, such as large monopolies, a bloated public sector, and unorganized bookkeeping in the government accounts. Ambassador Smith also reaffirmed the United States’ commitment to maintaining a strong relationship with Greece, arguing that it is in the U.S. interest for the European Union to stay politically and economically strong and united and for the organization to continue to serve to as a key agent for promoting democracy.

Dr. Tsakloglou provides an economic analysis of the crisis from the Greek perspective

Dr. Panos Tsakloglou followed to provide a perspective from Greece on the economic issues that led to the current crisis. He argued that the crisis was due to the Greek external and internal accounts running high deficits, and that the first rounds of austerity programs were poorly designed and further fueled the crisis. However, he was optimistic that Greece is slowly recovering as a result of the current economic adjustment program. Dr. Tsakloglou concluded that despite some of the issues attached to membership in the Eurozone, exiting the monetary union or the European Union would have negative consequences for Greece.

 Peter Sparding gives an overview of the crisis from a German point of view

Peter Sparding described how Germany has been a key player in the crisis as a major holder of Greek debt and a powerful actor within the European Union. Sparding argued that Germany’s stern attitude towards the crisis stemmed from its original anxiety over the Euro and economic integration more generally. Despite Germany’s skepticism of the monetary union, he argued that Germans needed to stop asking what Greece did to create the crisis and instead consider what may be structurally wrong with the Eurozone. He also shed light on Germany’s political interest in seeing Greece recover, as a financially stable Greece would slow the rising momentum of extreme right-wing parties that are highly skeptical of European integration.Sparding did not think there is a “pain-free exit” from the crisis for Greece and instead argued for a continuation of effective structural reforms.

Marko Savkovic offers a perspective on the crisis from Serbia

Marko Savkovic provided the perspective from Serbia, a nation that has been committed to implementing reforms over the past several years aiming toward eventual membership in the European Union. Savkovic stressed that Serbia had previously looked to Greece as an example for joining the EU, but that the crisis has led Serbia to reconsider the benefits of membership. Savkovic argued that this crisis has revealed the need for Europeans to critically examine the institutions of the European Union and consider the core values of European integration, which is necessary for a strong, integrated Europe.

Prof. Dr. Lindley-French outlines the challenges for managing the crisis and provides recommendations for reforming the political and economic structure of the European Union

Finally, Prof. Dr. Julian Lindley-French suggested that the outcome of the European crisis would not only affect Europe but also the transatlantic community as a whole, shaping future U.S. policy towards Europe. Dr. Lindley-French suggested that the Eurozone was not an economically sound plan from the beginning, but instead was a political plan that was poorly implemented.

He argued that the EU is facing three options as a result of the crisis: “Make up, break up, or bumble along.”

Making up would involve the EU taking a critical look at further integration and to confront the structural issues that led to the crisis. Breaking up, he argued, would be bad for Europe and would leave the U.S. with no strong allies in the West. Lastly, bumbling along would result in a Europe that is “doomed to decline as an economic and military power.” Western hegemony and democracy are at stake, he argued, emphasizing that now is the time for the EU to take a close look at itself and its aspirations.

Although the panelists offered a diversity of national perspectives and chose to emphasize varying issues in analyzing circumstances that led to the difficulties in the Greek economy and turmoil in the Euro-zone, each argued that this crisis marked a critical turning point for the European Union. The panelists agreed that despite the ongoing challenges, a dissolved or weakened European Union would be in no country’s interest. Due to this shared belief, the overall message was one of hope that if the EU can manage the current crisis, it will come out stronger and more stable because it will have answered fundamental questions that have been ignored for too long.  Several of the questions were directed at gaining better understanding of the impact of the migration crisis in Europe in further compounding the challenges for Greece and the European Union.

Event summary prepared by Victoria Seekman and David Mowry, Kozmetsky Center staff, St Edward’s University

Original report available at: http://think.stedwards.edu/kozmetsky/greece-and-future-european-union