The argument must be made that there is a special relationship that ties countries within the EU together, argues Joseph Mariathasan

The real test of a special relationship between countries, as in the oft-quoted relationship between the UK and the US, is the belief that one’s ally must be supported under all circumstances, even when you know they are wrong.

The UK’s special relationship with the US did see its strength tested during the Vietnam war. The UK’s then-prime minister Harold Wilson managed to avoid any British troops being sent to Vietnam, in contrast to the experience of the Australian and New Zealand governments, despite the pleas of US president Lyndon Johnson, who reputedly begged for at least a Scottish bagpipe band to be sent to show support. 

The UK’s former prime minister Tony Blair took the special relationship to a new height with the George W Bush administration, since Blair appeared to believe in the wisdom of his actions as he followed the US into the quagmires of Afghanistan and Iraq, whilst a large majority of the country looked on with horror. The idea of a special relationship between the UK and US may have its detractors, but it has also had a body of support that has lasted decades.

What, then, of the EU and the countries within it? The argument must be made that there is a special relationship that ties countries within the EU together.

That also means a special relationship between Greece and the EU, which also implies the EU supporting Greece even if it disagrees with the actions of the Greek government. Unfortunately, that special relationship between Greece and the rest of the EU looks so frail that one can only speculate how much longer it can survive at all.

But, as in Gabriel García Márquez’s masterpiece, ‘Chronicle of a Death Foretold’, are we all bystanders in an unfolding tragedy? Is Greece being allowed to disintegrate to atone for the sins of its past?

In February, I wrote that a Greek exit from the euro would inevitably lead to an exit of the EU itself by a desperate Greece, led by a far-left leadership that has strong sympathies with Russia at a time when Russian nationalism itself has become buttressed by its commonality with Greece through Orthodox Christianity. Greece moving into Russia’s sphere of influence supplied with appropriate economic support would be a rational response by both Greece and Russia in the wake of a chaotic Grexit.

That article drew a strong response both online and off-line, with disparaging comments about the likelihood of any move by Greece towards Russia. Recent events, however, have proved otherwise, with Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras announcing earlier this month at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum that “Russia is one of the most important partners for us”.

Whilst modern Greece’s relationship with Russia has been one of failed promises and disappointment, the history of modern Greece is intertwined with that of Russia. Ioannis Capodistrias, the czar’s foreign minister at the Congress of Vienna in 1815, became Greece’s first governor in 1827, while the Filiki Eteria (Society of Friends) based in Odessa led the call in favour of Greek independence from the Ottomans. For Western Europe, seeing Greece seek help elsewhere should not be surprising if the EU cannot find a solution to the impasse.

Despite the posturing of Greece’s prime minister and finance minister and much talk about Yanis Varoufakis applying his expertise in game theory to Greece’s negotiations, what does come through is incompetence and intransigence – but not just on the part of Greece.

Is the EU confident it can control the aftermath of a Grexit? Or is the outcome of a death foretold now inevitable?

The only question may be whether the ‘death’ is that of Greece alone, or at least its existence as an integral part of Western democracy, or whether it is that of the euro-zone and perhaps even the EU itself.

Joseph Mariathasan is a contributing editor at IPE