Last summer my mum was on holiday on a Greek island and had the misfortune to be bitten by a poisonous snake. She was quickly rushed to a Greek hospital by panicked locals and spent several worrying days recovering before being allowed to travel home (she’s fine now). While in these Greek hospitals (first a rural hospital, then a large hospital in Athens) she experienced first hand the impact of the cuts that had been forced on Greece by the EU. The doctors she spoke to hadn’t been paid in six weeks, but kept going to work out of hope that they would be paid, and sheer duty. Patients relied on friends and family to wash, change and toilet them, as well as bring them water which was not provided. When my mum asked a doctor about the hospital’s condition, she was told all the money available after the cuts were imposed had been spent on as much medicine as the hospital could afford.
Thinking over my mum’s experience, and reading of the behaviour of the EU over the past decade, its confusing to me how so many on the left who oppose Tory austerity, support staying in the EU – an organisation that has imposed even harsher measures upon our European neighbours Greece, Spain, Ireland, Portugal, Latvia, Romania, Cyprus and others.
The EU backed cuts hurt the Greek people. Due to the austerity forced upon the Greek people in return for the EU bailout package, government disease prevention schemes were rolled back. Malaria returned to Greece for the first time in 40 years. The infant mortality rate rose and the number of suicides increased. HIV spread at a faster rate than before. Even vital medicine has not been immune from austerity. Between 2009 and 2011 Greece’s hospital budget was cut by 25% leading to some medicines being made unavailable.
Currently unemployment in Greece is at 24% and showing no signs of reducing. To put that in context- during the Great Depression in the USA, unemployment was at 25%. Worse, youth unemployment is at over 50%.
And the Greek people are not alone in having been badly damaged by their experience with the EU. In 2010, at the demand of the EU, the Spanish government enacted harsh austerity measures leading to labour reform, pension freezes, public sector wage cuts and privatisation. Almost as high as Greece’s unemployment rate is Spain’s at 20%.
The austerity measures imposed on Greece and other member states has not helped their economies or their people. Almost all the money used to bailout Greece went to private creditors, including French and German banks. The aim of these measures was not to benefit the people of these countries, but the banks working hand in hand with the EU.
If your reaction is that this may be happening to our European neighbours but would never happen to the UK, I state this: Just because it is not happening to the UK, is it acceptable to belong to an organisation (and to thus be complicit in its acts) which treats its members in such a way?
Also it is naive to suppose that the stability of the UK is unwaveringly concrete and we would never be in a position which causes the EU to impose harsh austerity measures upon our country against the wishes of our people. I recently had a conversation with a Spaniard who was voicing his distress over the high rate of unemployment, the low wages and rising rent costs in Spain. When I asked his opinion on the EU, he said the politicians answer more to Merkel and the EU than to its own people.
It seems like many on the left feel that essentially the EU is a left-at-heart organisation, that may help prevent the rise of right wing policies or groups that may spring up without the EU as a centre left bastion against extreme right wing ideals. Not only do I think this is untrue, but I’d argue that its partly in response to the EU that right wing groups have been able to gain sway. Golden Dawn in Greece increases its popularity in reaction to the harsh measures the Greek government is forced to enact by the EU. UKIP is a party fixated on the EU- without that central crutch, would it have so much support?
Handing over power to a organisation which can make laws akin to those a government makes – but without the accountability of regular elections – is undemocratic and dangerous. The European Parliament has marginal power, and your own MEP’s power to impact EU laws is practically non existent. Reform from the inside is unlikely at best. Why would the powerful and unelected EU Council of Ministers, able to agree and enact laws without the cumbersome gaze of national parliamentary scrutiny, ever hand power over to more democratically elected officials? Certainly not because of any half hearted attempt by a UK government, one country among twenty eight.
And if you need an indicator of the EUs attitude to democracy, look no further than the treatment of the wishes of the people of Greece, who voted in a party and leader staunchly opposed to austerity but were subsequently forced by Merkel and Hollande to hand over fiscal sovereignty to the EU or face financial collapse.
Democracy and freedom in its current form has not existed for long. In fact, since women have only had equal voting rights with men in the UK for 87 years, our democracy is less than a century old. In the countries around the world that do have it, it is often troubled or fragile. Don’t become complacent and take it for granted. I don’t argue that the EU hasn’t committed acts that have been positive or beneficial, but I believe it’s our ability for self determination that should be prized above all else.
Please vote to leave the EU.
For more information on this topic, see:
Joseph Stiglitz: how I would vote in the Greek referendumhttp://gu.com/p/4a8bp?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other
Greek crisis: surrender fiscal sovereignty in return for bailout, Merkel tells Tsipras
Reclaiming Euroscepticism Tony Benn
Written by Beth Louise
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