Socrates drank the conium – but the convulsions will be felt everywhere

08/04/2011 by

In the Theatre of the Absurd the playwright utilises the bizarre, an element of   surprise, copious vagueness and frequent non-sequiturs, blended in with dramatic shifts in mood and some great confrontations, in order to throw helpful light on our commonplace, ordinary lives. In contrast, Europe is writing a different script. One that I tend to think of as the Ritual of the Absurd. In that Ritual the actors are not personifying roles. Instead, they impersonate them in the context of pieces that lack any dramatic quality but are packed with scapegoating and ritualistic sacrifices which many anthropologists associate with degenerate communities.

Take for example the hapless Portuguese prime minister. For months now he has been betting his political career on a defiant stance against the prospects of an EFSF ‘bailout’. Since at least January, it had become clear that the ‘bail out’ is inevitable. Trichet’s ECB postponed the inevitable by actively buying enough Portuguese bonds to prolong Socrates’ act for as long as there was a chance of a EU comprehensive solution. When our great leaders connived to undermine all hope for such a solution, Trichet pulled the plug. Terrified by the endless demand for liquidity by Europe’s banks, that is the result of the ongoing euro crisis, he decided to force the pace. With two moves (stopping the Portuguese bond purchases long enough to drive interest rates beyond 7.5 per cent; and foreshadowing an interest rate hike for the eurozone as a whole) he pushed Portugal over the edge. It was like shouting from the ECB’s rooftop: “Let the main games begin!”

Socrates’ behaviour is indicative of the degenerate state of European politics. Once it was clear to him that his bet had not paid off, he tabled a set of austerity measures in Parliament that he knew the opposition would vote down, thus paving the way to an election and freeing himself up to drink the conium. Rather than a form of poison, the conium (i.e. the request for an EFSF bailout) offers Socrates a second chance. The  opposition, having pretended to loathe Socrates’ austerity measures, must now convince the Portuguese electorate that its rise to power will not come hand in hand with even fiercer austerity measures. There is no chance it will succeed. Thus the conium gives Socrates a modicum of hope.

Meanwhile in Europe’s centre, the Ritual of the Absurd takes its highest form. Germany and Finland pretend that they are reluctant to extend a helping hand to Portugal, the IMF-EU-ECB troika is threatening Greece that the April ‘bail out’ installment may not be paid (citing Athens’ failure to reach its tax revenue targets) and, most comically, Athens and Lisbon are pretending to fear that their respective ‘bail outs’ are in question. In reality, the ‘bail out’ payments to both Portugal and Greece are foregone conclusions; for if they are not made the euro system will come crashing down within hours.

In short, nothing is as it seems. Europe is caught in a web of obfuscation of its own making. Entangled in this self-made web of ritualistic subterfuge, Europe is utterly incapable of facing down the crisis. Alas, reality is waiting around the corner. Trichet’s interest rate move will go down in history as the man’s second grave error – the first one being his stupendous mistake of raising interest rates in July 2008; a sure sign of a central banker out of his depth. This time round, the interest rate rise (which he fully intends to build upon in the next couple of months) is an even graver error. By itself it will do nothing either to stem inflationary pressures in Germany or to alleviate the crisis in the banking sector or the periphery. Except that it comes with a silver lining: The quicker it helps spread the malaise to Spain the greater the chances that Europe will wake up from its slumber, cut a hole through the web of obfuscation that it has so idiotically created, and head for a rational resolution of the crisis. Or so one hopes…

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