The Guardian on the paperback edition of ‘And the Weak Suffer What They Must?’

07/03/2017 by

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Writing a book should be a life-changing experience for its author. This book was no exception: it was as if, halfway through writing it, the subject matter jumped off the page and demanded a real-life response. I soon found myself in the belly of the beast I had been writing about.

I started researching and writing And the Weak Suffer What They Must? in response to a series of questions. Why is the European Union disintegrating (Brexit being the first symptom of its malaise)? Why is Europe so clearly failing to emulate the US, which also began life as a loose confederacy of fractious states before consolidating magnificently in response to its various existential crises?

While researching these questions my own country, Greece, was already becoming the sacrificial canary in the coalmine. This was an early warning that the EU was incapable of turning the 2008 financial crisis into a programme of consolidation, opting instead for a self-defeating mixture of authoritarianism and incompetence.

Soon after I finished the book’s sixth chapter, which tells the story of how countries like Greece were being marched off the cliff by self-defeating austerity policies, accelerating the EU’s fragmentation, all of a sudden duty called. On New Year’s Day 2015 I had to stop writing and throw myself into a short election campaign that would see me installed as Greece’s finance minister. My book’s subject matter had indeed jumped out of my laptop and demanded that I put, so to speak, my money where my mouth was.

During the six months I spent in government I strove to strike a deal that would be mutually beneficial for Greece and the EU – an agreement that would begin the healing process of a Europe already at an advanced stage of disintegration. Brussels, Berlin and Frankfurt responded with indescribable brutality, as if intent on quickening the breakup of the EU.

By the summer of 2015, the writing was on the wall: Greece would be locked into a debtor’s prison and I, refusing to sign the surrender documents, resigned my ministry. The EU would again pretend that it had solved a crisis by throwing new debt into the bottomless pit of unpayable older debts. And the peoples of Europe would lose what little confidence they had left in the EU’s institutions.

Within weeks of Greece’s fresh humiliation, countless refugees were being washed up on our shores, and before long the EU had disgraced itself by signing a scandalous deal with Turkey that effectively bribed an increasingly authoritarian Turkish president, enabling European governments to violate international law concerning the rights and protection of refugees.

Freed from ministerial duties, I returned to my book convinced that my initial questions had become infinitely more urgent and that I could now bring a wealth of new insights to the subject. The book was completed during the summer of 2015, after the EU had lost its integrity by crushing Greece and while it was in the process of forfeiting its soul by abrogating its responsibilities to refugees.

When my manuscript was complete, I feared that British readers might find the book too distant from their daily concerns. David Cameron promptly put my mind to rest, however, by scheduling the EU referendum for June 2016. The British media was suddenly abuzz with parallels between Grexit and Brexit. Debates on the merits and future of the EU were raging. My book had unexpectedly found a mass British audience.

Within weeks, I was traversing Britain campaigning against Brexit. Audiences were puzzled: “How can you, given the way the EU treated you and your country, tell us that we should remain?” The confusion was not eased by Michael Gove and other Brexiters, who heaped praise on my book, mischievously presenting it as the best argument for Britain to leave the EU.

Suffice to say that those who think that Brexit will bring about closer links between the UK, the US and the rest of the world misunderstand the origins of the EU, the role of the US in piecing it together and the negative effects that the EU’s fragmentation is already having on the rest of the world.

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