Nieuws - 3 november 2011

Together we're looking after number one

After months of discussions, European leaders have finally reached an agreement on how to solve the European debt crisis. Has solidarity within Europe been restored or is a break between North and South inevitable?

Athens in 2011. The crisis is putting European unity under pressure.
Grigorios Emvalomatis from Greece
university lecturer in the Business Economics Group

‘All of Europe felt like home to me until three years ago. That was mainly because of the expectations I had of the EU. That picture crumbled when the financial crisis erupted. Not because of a lack of concerted action but mainly because I realized that most EU citizens are not yet ready for further integration. People who had always been friendly and mild-mannered suddenly started making offensive, arrogant remarks about Greeks in general. It seems as if we are all European citizens in the good times but when things deteriorate we barricade ourselves behind national frontiers.
The agreement won't change that. The aim is to protect the banks holding Greek government bonds, not to help Greek citizens. My idea of solidarity is something that involves people, not financial institutions.'

Elina Sirén from Finland
Master's student in Landscape Architecture

‘I don't think there's any solidarity within Europe. Solidarity means all countries should keep to the rules they drew up together. Perhaps it would be better if the European Union was a little less uniform so that countries would have more freedom to make their own decisions, for example in legislation. In Finland, for instance, some food colourants used to be banned but then they were allowed again when Finland joined the EU because of different food regulations.'

Andre Leitao from Portugal
Food Technology intern at De Dreijen

‘If Greece falls then all the European countries will fall. This is about saving Europe. Lots of people think it's our fault because southern European countries are corrupt but we have fewer natural resources so that means we are more exposed to the crisis.
Most people in Portugal think Europe should be a federal union, a kind of United States of Europe. Given that there's globalization and a common currency, we ought to have a common financial budget. That's a controversial idea here in north west Europe. Poor people always want to link up with the rich people but the rich countries don't want to share their wealth.'

Nina Fatouros from Germany
researcher in the Entomology Laboratory

‘I was really relieved when I heard an agreement had been reached. I had just read a horror story about what would happen if Greece and Italy left the euro zone. There are no signs of the crisis in Germany, where I grew up. They are even building new shops in the Berlin shopping streets. On the other hand shops are having to close in Greece, where my father comes from. It is particularly difficult for people on low incomes. The small minority of rich people who have been evading taxes for years are difficult to deal with. Tackling the corruption is not a simple matter. Europe ought to act in a more united manner in future. I still see more advantages than disadvantages for both Germany and Greece. United, we have a stronger position in the world economy.'

Jérôme Le Nôtre from France
researcher with the Valorisation of Plant Production Chains Group

‘The agreement certainly demonstrates European solidarity in solving the biggest crisis the EU has ever known. The richer countries are always complaining about the costs of the EU but people don't realize the individual countries would be in much bigger trouble without the EU. The advantages aren't emphasized enough. You might even question whether there is enough uniformity within Europe. You still have a lot of problems with practical matters if you go to work in another European country. Legislation in the areas of work, health insurance, pensions and so on is still fragmented. And it is usually really expensive to call another European country on your mobile even though telecom companies are often European multinationals.'

Argyris Kanellopoulos from Greece
PhD student with the Plant Production Systems Group

‘I don't see how these stringent measures can help the Greeks. What I see is the elite's problematic banking system being saved by cuts that mainly affect ordinary citizens. I don't think there is any solidarity among Europeans. There is a clear tendency to generalize on the basis of nationality whereas the problems are the same everywhere. The strong exploit the weak and governments facilitate this process. I believe in direct democracy at the community level, not in governments. People should take the future in their own hands and there should be no national boundaries to solidarity. I hope one day there will be a real European Union with open borders, justice, fairness, respect for minorities and an exchange of cultures.'

Jelle Baumgärtel from the Netherlands
Environmental Sciences student

‘A lot of the control of economic policy is being transferred to the EU. That's fine if it works. All the euro countries are interlinked so if Greece collapses we will be affected too. The agreement was made to protect our own interests and limit the damage as much as possible. If it is not in your own interests, how can you sell the agreement to your people? The north-western European countries are telling the southern European countries they have to make cuts. They are angry but it is to their own benefit. If something doesn't change quickly, the whole thing will collapse. It's really the lesser evil. Only we're taking the decision for them. You could question whether that is an expression of solidarity.'