Europe Disingenuously Ignores Human Rights in Greece

An elderly  man walks past Greek flags on sale in central Athens, on October 29, 2015.  The government is under increased pre
An elderly man walks past Greek flags on sale in central Athens, on October 29, 2015. The government is under increased pressure to submit two new draft bills to Greek Parliament in order to receive the 2-billion-euro tranche of its bailout plan. AFP PHOTO / LOUISA GOULIAMAKI (Photo credit should read LOUISA GOULIAMAKI/AFP/Getty Images)

Unabashed arrogance on the part of a few critically placed employees in Volkswagen -- until recently "all-knowing and untouchable" -- certainly lies in the core of the emissions scandal that has shocked the world. Linked to a host of respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses as well as premature deaths.

But doesn't pure arrogance also lie -- as remarkably -- behind the contempt shown by, say, Germany's Finance Minister, Mr Wolfgang Schauble and his similarly "bien pensants" disciples in Brussels, for just about every known and accepted principle today in applied macro-economic analysis? Promoting instead, during the past six years, "austerity über alles" which has manifestly proved anathema to growth and prosperity in Europe. In both cases, millions of innocent people have been victimized -- the latter case also adversely affecting the global economy currently at its gloomiest since 2008.

The extent, however, to which this damaging attitude violates international human rights treaties remains practically unexplored. Particularly as regards the relevance here of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the European Social Charter, to which Germany is a party.

It is firmly established in terms of these celebrated accords that non-State actors, including international financial institutions, are subject to a set of primordial obligations. Bound to ensure that their policies and activities refrain from formulating, adopting, funding, promoting or implementing policies and programs that directly or indirectly impede the full enjoyment of human rights in respect of employment, social security, health, education, adequate housing, poverty and social exclusion. All of which have been completely ignored so far, as in the case of Greece, seriously compromising the moral integrity of the European Union.

The record further shows that entrenched austerity "adjustment" programs raise important concerns regarding the long-term protection of economic, social and cultural human rights -- becoming progressively incompatible with the added provision that it is the duty of States to use all available resources to satisfy, as a matter of top priority, their fundamental obligations. The case of Greece is striking. It epitomizes the total absence of due concern shown by the country's creditor institutions. The EC, IMF and ECB as a whole have been freely implementing their excessively rigid measures for years, which have in turn exacted substantial economic and social costs for the entire Greek population. These critical costs have not been recognized or professionally estimated in the EU, and, as might be expected, correspondingly deducted, scaling-down the bulging €350+ sovereign debt of Greece. Due process here equally including the long-overdue write-down of Greek bonds held by the European Central Bank to cover the total damage incurred.

This combined complementary option could prove decisive in the weeks ahead. Helping to mitigate a fresh wave of unrealistically compulsive terms contained in the third bailout program recently agreed under stress and duress with the Greek government -- and whose formal review with Greece's creditors is expected before the end of November. This program will consist of more draconian policy measures that will entail deeper public spending cuts, more public sector job cuts, higher taxation across the board, multiple privatizations of public enterprises and additional structural reforms (including widespread labour market reforms). With capital controls indefinitely in place, too, this will only push the Greek economy into deeper recession and thus higher indebtedness.

Unless these frightening measures are eased, a social upheaval, triggered by exponential rises in unemployment, will continue undermining for the foreseeable future the entire spectrum of human rights in Greece. In short, paying due damages emerges as the missing link. How to restructure the Greek sovereign debt is another matter -- best separately addressed next. And, failing that, judgement must ultimately rest with the European Court of Human Rights.

_____________ Nicos E. Devletoglou, Emeritus Professor of Economics, University of Athens, is author of the books Academia in Anarchy: An Economic Diagnosis (Basic Books) written jointly with Nobel Prize Laureate in Economics James Buchanan; and Consumer Behaviour: An Experiment in Analytical Economics (Harper and Row).