State Building in Europe

Now with a few weeks passing, the heat of the moment gone, there’s a chance to put some perspective on the position of the European Union post-Greece. Politically, the problem is the aggressive nature of German bargaining and the demands it made on the Greeks. It may be unfair to compare it to the past, but in politics, this is how it goes.

But the real lasting damage comes from the fact that not much was done to improve the effectiveness of the Greek state. As far as I can tell, it was left to figure out how to implement the payments at the ground level within some parameters, but there was no help given in creating effective tax collection or reforming the bureaucracy to reduce corruption and patronage. Greece has, in the recent past, gone through a few cycles of political cleansing of its bureaucracy.

This is the kind of thing that can often only be done one bite at a time. Perhaps the taxing agencies need to be given some independence, civil service exams and protections, and so on. Maybe this means waiting to deal with other sectors, but it might be a good start.

I haven’t seen any suggestion, in other words, that the EU has offered to help Greece develop an effective state other than perhaps by osmosis. This is probably not going to be good enough in the long run and the remaining political challenges to European Unification won’t make it much better.

With centrifugal forces fracturing the UK, the Labour Party Naderizing itself, and an upcoming referendum on the UK’s membership (which if it gives an answer of “out” will almost certainly lead to another move towards Scottish independence) and the rise of anti-establishment parties everywhere include Sweden of all places, there are some immediate challenges and long-term trends endangering the situation from within—and this is before we get to the external threats of Russia, ISIS, mass migration from destabilized nations across the Mediterranean, and the increasing ambivalence of the United States (which spearheaded the efforts in the former Yugoslavia up until about 1999, but now has taken a very backseat role in the Ukraine issue a mere 15 years later).