Dominique Reynié is a professor at Science Politique, Paris, and executive director of Fondapol (The Foundation for Political Innovation). On the eve of the agreement signed by members of the eurozone on financial aid for Greece and the of publication of an important Fondapol opinion poll carried out by Ifop entitled "Europe, the Greek crisis and us", Touteleurope.fr discusses this unprecedented crisis affecting the single currency
Touteleurope.fr: Eurozone member states finally agreed on the mechanism for giving aid to Greece. Was this agreement predictable ?
Dominique Reynié : It was never a certainty that all players would reach agreement on an aid package, as this issue was initially very divisive.
I do not think the result was expected but I think that it was necessary in the sense that Europeans could not have comprehended that the European Union, in times of crisis, was not able to make a decision to help a country in difficulty.
However, this was not a decision that was taken easily given that it was unprecedented. Let’s not forget that this is the first crisis of this type and the fact that primarily the package deals with procedures that had not even been established.
The percentage of Germans that did not want their country to come to assist Greece financially. The figure stands at 78% in Great Britain. The Fondapol poll shows a divide in the European Union between countries who are in favour of solidarity such as France, Spain and Italy, and other countries that are in favour of greater austerity
See the results of the poll [pdf]
Touteleurope.fr : Why did Germany, having been the most hesitant about this aid, finally come to soften its position ?
D.R.: Angela Merkel was not necessarily hesitant but she did give her decision with certain conditions which seems all the more understandable as this may be the first crisis but it certainly won’t be the last.
I mean that she was not hesitant in the sense that nobody could have imagined a major crisis in the eurozone which would also affect Germany.
Neither could we imagine a decision that did not have conditions attached because, for Germany, it is not possible to come to the aid of a country in difficulty without questioning the causes of the problem and asking the country in difficulty, Greece in this case, if all measures have been taken on the domestic front
Touteleurope.fr: The influence of Angela Merkel on the wording of the agreement is very apparent.
D.R.: Yes indeed. I think that what we have learnt from this crisis is that while Europe creates the decision model, it is Germany that has the power to make or not make a decision, or to make a decision with conditions – the conditions being obligatory rules both at European level and national level.
Touteleurope.fr: Is it possible that the mechanism planned for Greece could be applied to other states such as Spain and Portugal ?
D.R.: Yes, it’s conceivable. It is however preferable that the crises do not occur too close together and are not too dramatic.
Europe does not have the capacity to deal with a series of crises like the Greek crisis in quick succession and these crises would oblige an ever-decreasing number of 'valid' states to make costly decisions.
Touteleurope.fr: Will the agreement of March 25th bring confidence back to the eurozone markets ?
D.R.: I do not think that it was enough. Without the agreement, the situation would have been catastrophic. However, this agreement does not go far enough to totally reassure the markets and to change opinions on the euro.
Certainly, the first step has been taken and, I will say it again, if this step had not been taken, the situation would have been catastrophic. Europe has taken the right direction in a way.
What I think is very important is that as of now, an important message has been sent to all member states of the Union and this message is that they do not want to find themselves in this kind of situation. It is a very uncomfortable situation for Greece. From now on, member states must take austerity measures and money-saving measures at national level, and balance their finances to avoid deterioration of this type.
Touteleurope.fr : Fondapol yesterday published the results of a European opinion poll on the Greek crisis and, more generally, on the public finances crisis within the Union. What are the “two Europes” that this poll reveal ?
D.R.: What we have is one Europe that wants a providential and redistributing system. This is perhaps the part of Europe that is now fragile and in difficulty. We see this opinion in Italy and Spain but also in France.
Then there is another Europe with Germany at the head which considers Europe capable of bringing solidarity mechanisms into play but on condition that national efforts have already been decided and agreed upon in advance.
There are therefore two ideas of Europe. The German idea is likely to prevail meaning that EU countries cannot count on a redistribution mechanism if they have not made the necessary efforts at domestic level.
So either there will not be a Union as imagined, i.e. capable of helping in the context of crisis or Europe will be converted to the model of German conscientiousness. So, time is needed.
Touteleurope.fr: Your poll reveals that 76% of Germans and 78% of British do not want their country to come to Greece’s financial aid. Was such a lack of solidarity to be expected ?
D.R.: I do not think that there is a lack of solidarity. As you know, Greece is largely at fault including with regard to the quality of the figures they published.
If the state-published indicators, which are responsible for showing how they have adhered to European agreements, are not trustworthy, harsh judgement is to be expected.
So I do not know if there is a lack of solidarity per se. In any case, Europeans have now found a way to help Greece. What is most telling is the presence of the IMF which shows that the Union, in spite of the euro, is far from the Union it claims to be. It gives us no pleasure to say that yet it must be said.
But Europeans did not have a choice as they needed a supplementary fund. States that will lend to Greece are already indebted. They are therefore lending money to help a country that is more in debt than they are.
Touteleurope.fr: Does the euro crisis not risk creating a withdrawal of States ?
D.R.: I do not think so. European nations have no future outside of the Union. Countries know this and governments also know this.
On the other hand, what could happen is fragmenting of Europe into sub-groups of countries who come together in mutual recognition of the fact that they adhere to the same type of rules.
We will not see lax countries and conscientious countries coming together because the crisis makes this type of cohabitation very difficult. This is where we see the artificial aspect of the Union in the sense that at the first hint of a storm, differences appear between countries who have maintained their public finances and those that have not.
Touteleurope.fr : Will the European Monetary Fund ever come to pass ?
D.R.: I cannot predict if the European Monetary Fund will come to pass as such but this is a possibility as the crisis has shown that such an institution is required.
What seems to me a certainty is that we cannot have a European Union that does not deal with economic and monetary crises and this necessitates as system of solidarity. So, we need rigorous national rules, a legitimate and transparent European system but also a fund that can be used to help countries facing an economic crisis or even a disaster, environmental crisis or technological crisis.
If the European institutions are not capable of doing this, then we must admit that there is no European Union. Nonetheless, this type of system cannot be created without rules.
To find out more :
The Europeans in front of the Greek crisis - Main results[pdf] – Fondapol poll (France, Germany, United Kingdom, Italy, Spain) in French