Nigel FarageThe piercing anti-EU pronouncements of the Member of the European Parliament (MEP) present nothing new or surprising. As a former trader from the City of London, and the founding leader of the UK Independence Party (UKIP), Farage has gained a reputation as a fearless Euro-skeptic in Brussels and Strasbourg, where he has profoundly criticized the President of the EU Council, Herman van Rompuy and the EU’s Commission President, José Manuel Barroso. This time (March 22, 2012), he had a special message to deliver to the Geneva business community at an event organized by the British Swiss Chamber of Commerce (BSCC). The Greek crisis took center stage and rightly so.

Greece is due to receive its second bailout package after its private creditors agreed to accept losses, cutting Greek private debt from 206 billion Euros to 101 billion Euros. The remainder of Greek liabilities held by the European authorities and the IMF constitute 162 billion Euros, while the total Greek debt is projected to reach 120 percent of the country’s GDP by 2020.

Farage noted that the Greek situation represents not only economic - but also a political – disaster, “When the former Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou dared to stand up and say that ‘I will give the referendum to the Greek people so that they can decide on whether to be in the Euro’, the Brussels boys got him removed and replaced by a puppet. Democracy really does matter, and it matters for this reason: in a democracy, when you hate something, you will initiate political change. And through that process democracy acts as a safety valve because it keeps us peaceful. Put yourself in the position of a young Greek person, who is unemployed and without hope. You now see your country run by Euro bureaucrats telling the Prime Minister of your country what he can and can’t do. In the next election, it does not matter how you vote because the real power is being exercised elsewhere. If that safety valve is removed, all you are left with is civil disobedience, civil disorder and violence."

On 2 February 2012, an estimated 80,000 young Greeks stormed the House of Parliament in Athens, where the vote on additional austerity measures was taking place. In the country's second largest city, Thessaloniki, around 20,000 protesters marched through the streets in protest against the austerity package awaiting approval to receive a 130 billion Euro ($171 billion) bailout. The Greek economy is currently contracting at an annual rate of 7 percent. Its youth unemployment rate is 51 percent, and one in four businesses have gone bankrupt since 2008.

Contemplating the possibility of Greece leaving the Euro and the view of the EU leaders on this option, Nigel Farage noted, “I recently had a private meeting with Angela Merkel. I said to the Chancellor: ‘Wouldn’t it be better to recognize that Greece is being bullied around, and what good Europeans would try to do is to help Greece by stopping the capital flight from that country. What if we allow Greece to leave the Euro?’ ‘No, Mr Farage’, she replied, ’we cannot do that because if we do so, other countries will follow and the European project would fail."

Farage is convinced that EU leaders have become too removed from the real concerns of the majority of the European population, contributing to the growing democratic deficit. The rejection of the Lisbon Treaty by French and Dutch voters in 2005, and later by the Irish, clearly pointed to the existing gap between EU citizens and their EU-level leaders. After all, it was Mr. Barroso who has defined the EU project as “the first non-imperial empire”, based on the will of individual member states to form a political and economic union. But, as history shows, all empires eventually come to an end. The Greek conundrum represents a true test for EU institutions and their leaders. As Greece is being driven to the edge by onerous austerity measures, it becomes the responsibility of the EU and the Greek political elite to prevent a severe civil outcry in this debt-ridden European country. Despite Farage’s brutally blunt Euro-skeptic position, his vision of the EU as a purely economic project based on trade might prove to be the only meaningful solution in the years to come.

(Photo © Grégory Maillot/ Point of Views)