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Save Greece by Democracy!

By Maxime Parodi @MaximeParodi, Thomas Piketty (Director of research at the EHESS and professor at Paris School of Economics), and Xavier Timbeau @XTimbeau

The newspapers have been full of the Greek drama since Syriza’s election to power on 25 January 2015. Caught in the noose of its loans, Greece’s government is defending its position by threatening to leave the euro zone. The situation today is at an impasse, and the country’s economy is collapsing. As bank deposits flee and uncertainty mounts about the times ahead and the measures to come, no-one is really able to think about the future.

Europeans, for their part, are wondering what has led to this state of affairs. There has been a diagnosis of Institutional incompleteness, with proposals to reinforce the construction of the euro zone. But what is emerging is not up to the challenges facing Europe.

So let’s take the problem by the other end of the stick and give European democracy a chance to evolve. Let’s entrust the resolution of the Greek debt crisis to a body of representatives of the euro zone’s national parliaments, that is to say, an embryo of a true parliamentary assembly for the euro zone.

Such an Assembly would arbitrate the conflict between the creditors and the Greek government, shifting the debate and decision-making to the big questions: what responsibility should the younger generation bear for the debt of their elders? What about the creditors’ rights? How have other large public debts been resolved historically, and what lessons can we draw for the future?

As any agreement reached would be legitimated by a formal assembly that would also act as its guardian, it would no longer be in danger of being denounced – once again – on the morrow. Since what’s at stake is to resolve a debt and to not reach an agreement through force, the first step would be to suspend Greece’s debt for the time needed. This step is a matter of common sense and the ordinary practice during the resolution of private debt in nearly all the world’s countries.

A lasting agreement

This would require leaving the IMF out of the discussion by letting Greece reimburse this institution. It would be necessary at the same time to eliminate the possibility of Athens leaving the euro zone. By accepting the principle of negotiations, Greece and the other European countries would take this option off the agenda and pledge to accept the agreement reached. This embryonic Assembly would periodically review the situation and monitor the contingencies of the Greek economy. This is in effect what is already being done today, but now this would be explained and legitimated.

The technical institutions (the Commission, the European Central Bank) would continue to assess and support the reforms envisaged. They would inform the Assembly and answer to it. The Assembly would be a body set up to arbitrate, whenever necessary, any conflicts. Nor would there be any reason not to involve the European Council and the European Parliament. But clarifying the issue of legitimacy would open the door to a solution that was both more constructive for Greece and the other heavily indebted countries and fairer to the taxpayers of the euro zone.

We would be experimenting with a scheme for the resolution of sovereign defaults within the euro zone by building a political union – while remembering one thing: that Europe was reconstructed starting back in the 1950s by investing in the future and forgetting the debts of the past, in particular Germany’s.

Finally, this Assembly would be competent to establish a common fund for euro zone debt, to undertake its global restructuring and to establish democratic rules governing the choice of a common level of public deficits and investments – which would help to overcome today’s Do-It-Yourself approach to our euro zone.

 

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