How Europe is failing the test again: geopolitical effects of the financial crisis and the Covid19 pandemic

In July 2015, Greece was almost kicked out of the Eurozone over a difference of opinion on how to deal with the economic depression, because Europe’s finance ministers didn’t like Varoufakis (the Greek minister of finance at the time), and because of the “Sparpolitik“—a German phrase refering to austerity measures—mentality that characterized the attitude of important northern European member states. The negative impact this debacle has had on the public image of Europe is enormous, and no doubt did little to convince Britons to remain in the EU. The message is clear: net contributors with a solid budget are okay, everyone else should shut up and bend over to receive a stern caning. In light of these events, one is tempted to think it hardly a coincidence that the only other place we call ‘Europe’ in our solar system is the inhospitable cold dark ice-moon in orbit around Jupiter.

What are the effects of the way the financial crisis was dealt with? Well, to start with it evidently brought the ‘Brexit’ closer. And ever since a major country like Great Britain turned its back on the EU, more cracks have begun to develop in the European dream. Indeed, it isn’t just the UK we should be worried about. Look at Turkey, for example. Turkey is one of the biggest economies on continental Europe, and 13th world wide. It is also the second most powerful member of NATO, after the United States. And Turkey used to aspire to EU membership. But Turkey’s potential membership of the EU is conditional upon a number of important reforms. Yet having seen the mess Europe is in right now, do you think Turkey will be in a hurry to make those reforms? Even if Turkey ever did, they certainly won’t for the foreseeable future, if indeed ever. In fact, considering the strategic location of Turkey in todays geopolitical arena, Europe needs Turkey more than Turkey needs Europe. The interests of the EU have thus been dealt heavy blows on two critical fronts. But it doesn’t stop with the deluge of poor war refugees Turkey is holding near it’s borders as “trump” cards, mere pawns in a terrible chess game, ready to be let loose upon the West.

Speaking of Trump; despots everywhere must certainly be rejoicing as the United States have withdrawn military support from key regions in the middle east. Is it really a coincidence that any region Trump is unlikely to build a golf resort or hotel seems to require no military intervention from the US these days? Yet how else does one explain Trump’s willingness to use military force against mostly peaceful anti-racism protesters in his own country, while withdrawing his troops from an actual warzone in Syria filled with ISIL militants? And Europe’s lack of cohesion and flacidly scattered armies cannot hope to fill this void in any meaningful sense. One wonders if Europe is really just an Economic entity, there are certainly politicians who view Europe as such. But who can possibly be that naive? This is the time for a united European military presence. Call it a European army, or call it a coalition force. Whatever, just do something. What is the alternative? We are seeing it. Look at the millions of refugees collecting in Greece and Turkey: one country hardest-hit by the financial crisis, the other glad to have a bargaining chip. One would hope the EU would be smarter than that, and more than just an Economic union designed to line the pockets of a few oligarchs and multinationals, using lucrative international trade agreements, corporate tax benefits, and mercantilism. But apparently that’s really all it is.

And then there is Russia. If there is one thing Russians are good at, it is exploiting weakness. And right now, Greece and Syria are the Achilles’ heels of Europe in that sense. What is the economic leverage Russia has? Gas pipelines! And what is coming to Greece all of a sudden? Gas pipelines! Straight from the Kremlin, into the boiler of Mr. Mitsotakis. After Greece, Russia has also expanded it’s influence in the middle-east. Trump withdraws his troops, Turkey invades the border zone of Syria, and all of a sudden Poetin rides in barechested on a full-blooded Arabian stallion to settle the conflict and save the day. This is not a coincidence. The US have left the world stage, and Poetin is one of the players happily stepping in to fill the void. How does the increased clout of Russia, combined with the USA’s increased aggression against the International Court in The Hague, improve the position of the relatives of the MH17 victims? Is it more, or less likely that justice will be served, and that the bereeved will receive compensation? I’ll give you a minute to think about that, bearing in mind that six years after the fact—and long after the responsible parties have been identified—little if any progress has been made. That’s not just Russia’s fault, it is also the EU’s fault and a consequence of USA’s growing weakness in the global political arena.

And then Covid19 happened. And again we see the EU falling apart like a clumsy first move in a Jenga game. After all the bickering during the financial crisis, and just as southern Europe was seeing clear signs of recovery, it starts all over. Again the northern European states withdraw to their trenches of austerity. But then how ironic that this time the North is assuming a more Keynesian economical view for their own countries: spend now when the crisis hits hard, make cutbacks when things are fine again. We have a huge buffer and interest rates are at an all time low. Yet when it comes to the southern states, it’s the “Sparpolitik” message all over again. That’s just as stupid as saying that antibiotics works for everyone in your country, but not for anyone with a foreign passport. Do we really need to be in a European union that is this idiotic, that looks no further than what is right in front of its nose? What’s the point?

Through tragically incompetent, it is at the same time not entirely unamusing to look to the way the USA is “handling” the Covid19 problem—mostly by doing nothing, it seems. Much like each country in Europe, each state in the USA is dealing with covid19 individually, without any meaningful coordination with the surrounding states. Oh, and they need not look for leadership at the White House, because it has gone golfing. The lack of unity mirrors Europe almost exactly. States that impose stricter lockdowns are typically hit less hard, and poorer states are left to fend for themselves for access to life-saving resources. It will be interesting to see, though tragic for those severely afflicted by the corona virus, how the situation will develop in the coming months. Like many epidemiologists I predict resurgance of the virus in the USA (mostly) and Europe (to lesser extent), with densely populated relatively poor areas hit hardest of all, and expediated by the lifting of air travel restrictions. But it will be a lesson for Europe and USA alike: the best strategy is to fairly distribute resources amongst the (member)states, to listen to experts for advice to develop informed policy, to impose equal measures for all, to intervene at the highest possible level when necessary, and to promote solidarity throughout. This advice has the virtue of being universal: it applies to covid19, to wars and economic malaises alike, to Europe, to the USA, to the world… indeed, to the known galaxy. But if history has taught us anything, it is that good advice is unlikely to be followed and  history lessons are rarely learned. So as folly again blindly marches forth, every sensible person should fear for the future of the European Union.

The surprising connection between the Greek financial crisis and the availability of D-cup bikinis on Corfu

And now for something completely different. Corfu. Greek pearl in the Ionian sea. But right now, thanks to a relentless heat wave, most pearls on the island are those of sweat. And the sweltering temperatures are causing locals and tourists alike to converge unto the beaches in droves. Among them, my Greek girlfriend.

Her daily trips to the sea made her realize she needed a new bikini. However, having arrived a bit late in the season, she had missed the opportunity to acquire a bikini when the new collection came out. Her choices would be limited, she knew. Still, there seemed to be plenty to pick from. But then she discovered that virtually none of the bikini designs she liked were available in her size—cup D.

This was a bit odd, so she asked the sales woman for an explanation. And the answer she got was pretty amazing. Unbelievably, almost all of the D-cup sized bikinis had already been snatched up by Russian women earlier that season. And while the Greek manufacturer would normally just have increased the production of D-cup bikinis in July, they were not able to do so this year. Why? Because of capital restrictions. As the Greek financial crisis reached a new climax in July, money transfers to foreign banks became impossible and the bikini factory was simply unable to pay its suppliers for the necessary production materials. 

And that is how on Corfu this summer, the Greek financial crisis appears to have ruined the late-season bikini market for all women from Russia… and also for at least one from Greece. ;-)