Towards a European debt conference

By Eoin Molloy

Alexis Tsipras, the leader of Greece’s left-wing Syriza party, has been sworn in as the embattled country’s new Prime Minister following his party’s landslide victory in a snap election help on Sunday, 25 of January.

Tsipras, who is Greece’s youngest prime minister in over a century at 40 years of age, was sworn in at a secular ceremony sporting his familiar no tie look.

So what exactly do Syriza stand for? They are the first euro-zone majority party to outwardly reject German-backed austerity. They are essentially a populist party who seek to achieve a better deal on the outstanding 240 billion Greek public debt.

Upon his election to power, Tsipras gave a stirring speech, saying: ‘a wind of democratic change is blowing across Europe’. He acknowledged that there is an ‘uphill’ struggle ahead, but waved away claims that he would turn to pragmatism before long.

Tsipras also has ties to left-wing parties across Europe, including Sinn Fein in Ireland, and Podemos in Spain. He said that these two parties should be the next to be elected in Europe if real change is to be achieved.

The link between Syriza and Sinn Fein is a genuine one. Tsipras toured North Dublin last year, accompanied by SF politicians. There he said:

‘Austerity deteriorates everything. In Greece we are facing a humanitarian crisis after six years of recession. Here in Ireland, as in Greece, many young people emigrate to find a better future.’

Proving once more that the link between these parties is far from manufactured, it was confirmed that Gerry Adams spoke with Tsipras on the phone as late as Friday last.

Sinn Fein have welcomed the election of their Greek comrades, with Adams heralding the momentous result as ‘a victory for hope over fear’.

It appears that in Greece, as in Ireland, a predominantly right-wing media has been attempting to smear left-wing parties for quite some time. This is similar to what Pearse Doherty referred to as the Irish establishment attempting to release the ‘fear factor’ on Sinn Fein.

The idea of a ‘debt conference’ should appeal greatly to Irish voters and it is a policy that should be latched onto by all of the major political parties. Or so one would think.

So adamant is Kenny to remain the ‘good student’ of Merkel’s austere Europe, that he has refused to back Tsipras’s call for a debt conference that could potentially wipe away the unfair burden that has been placed on the backs of Irish taxpayers.

The debt of Anglo Irish and other toxic banks was not the debt of ordinary citizens. It was essentially gambling debt racked up by a few dozen individuals buying and selling stock in a volatile and high-variance market.

Kenny’s refusal makes no sense, from a logical point of view. However, he seems to be more concerned with saving face than with saving the Irish people from unjust debt.

If Tsipras and his government get the write-down they are looking for, it will make Kenny and his cabinet look completely inept. There is no downside in simply calling for a European debt conference. As Gerry Adams said, ‘there can only be gains’.

The topic of a ‘debt conference’ was debated by Gerry Adams and Joan Burton on Claire Byrne Live in late January. Adams spoke in grand, sometimes-vague, sweeping rhetoric about the unfair burden that has been placed on the lowest members of our society.

Burton, on the other hand, seemed less concerned with the debate topic, and was hell-bent on interrupting Adams every time he made a logical point. She acknowledged that there was ‘merit’ in the idea of a European debt conference (a viewpoint that puts her at loggerheads with an Taoiseach), however, much of her talking time was given over to parroting off government slogans like ‘job creation’ and ‘the recovery is real’.

More to the point, a lot of the ‘debt conference’ talk has centred on Germany’s hypocrisy.

In 1953, post-war Germany was crippled under 32 billion dollars of external debt. Their economy was on the brink of collapse, and the same ‘misery and want’ that had allowed the Nazis to gain support in the first place was back.

A ‘debt conference’ was held in London between Germany and all of its creditor nations, including Ireland, Greece and Spain. The decision was taken to cut German debt in half, and to extend the repayment period by over 30 years.

60 odd years on, Germany won’t repay the favour.

Should Syriza perform well in government over the next year, they will undoubtedly be held up as a successful blueprint for Sinn Fein come Ireland’s general election in 2016. If more anti-austerity parties come to power across Europe in the next few years, the possibility of a ‘debt conference’ can only grow. Merkel’s austerity will surely be at an end.

A European debt conference is the only way forward. It is time for our creditors to take a bit of a haircut. External debt is crippling EU citizens, and it’s time we dealt with it democratically through an international conference with each member state represented in equal measure. Cutting the debt burden that has been unfairly squared on the shoulders of EU citizens is the moral thing to do.

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