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Saturday, 2 May 2015

Greece and EEC membership: Was it a mistake?

Andrew Heinrich (D.Phil Candidate, St Hilda's College, Oxford)
 On 24 February, Eirini Karamouzi addressed SEESOX on “Greece and EEC membership: Was it a mistake?” The talk was chaired by Margaret MacMillan (Nuffield) and Anne Deighton (Wolfson) served as a discussant.

The financial and economic crises that gripped Greece in 2010 set in motion a domino effect that upset the stability of the euro and rattled the Eurozone markets. It also, perhaps inevitably at times of such widespread uncertainty, opened the floodgates to a seemingly endless blame game over the economic, financial and above all, political origins of the crisis. As the Greek financial woes polarised opinion and accelerated the emergence of clear divisions between northern and southern members of the European Union, former French president Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, remembered among other things for the instrumental role he played in welcoming Greece to the European Economic Community in 1981, dived into the fray to admit that supporting Greek membership had been a mistake. Possibly the most high-profile actor to make a direct link between today’s crisis and Greece’s entry into the Community over three decades ago, Giscard helped to renew interest in the history of Greece and European integration. This heighten interest from the public now calls for a deeper understanding of Greece’s relationship with Europe that must go beyond short-termist, ahistorical analyses. It is the historian’s role to step back from conventional readings of the past and what Mark Gilbert has called a teleological approach to the writing of European integration and reconstruct the enlargement talks by showing how multiple choices and alternative paths existed at all times, regardless of the verdict one might wish to give on the integration of Greece into the EEC. Enlargement was part of a wider trend of economic, political, institutional and social transformation in the 1970s and was, as such, a reflection of the broad systemic changes that marked the decade as an era of transition.
Karamouzi identified that the prospect of a Greek application for full EEC membership in 1974 created three significant problems for the Community. First, there were institutional problems facing the community: the relatively weak economic standing of the entire industrialized West made for poor conditions for enlargement. Second, there were fundamental structural weaknesses in the Greek economy that left the Community dismayed and limited Greece’s ability to integrate into the Community. Third, and perhaps most potently, prospective Greek membership threatened to involve the Community in the Greek-Turkish disputes, including the dispute over Cyprus.

Despite these challenges and the problems they created after Greece was invited to EEC membership- despite an initial vote of rejection-, Karamouzi argued that Greece’s EEC membership was not a mistake for the EEC or for Greece. The story of the Greek enlargement, as it emerges from an account of this complex interplay, encourages a re-consideration of the term ‘eurosclerosis’ as being an apt characterisation of the 1970s. Indeed, many things happened in that decade that relate to Europe: the creation of the European Council, direct elections of the European Parliament, the activities of the Court of Justice, the inauguration of the EMS and other many episodes that historians are only now truly beginning to consider in detail. Greece’s accession to the European Community can be rightfully added to that growing list of events that indicate that this decade was not a disastrous period after all, but rather the testing ground for new and important departures.

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