There is a sense that the situation in Greece is deteriorating rapidly, not only in an economic, but also in every other sense. The combined pressures of the migrant/refugee crisis, economic stagnation, diplomatic torpor and internal strife created and promoted by the government of Tsipras/Kammenos are leading things to the edge. In the summer of 2015 European officials voiced concern that Grexit could lead Greece to degenerate to a failed state. People are beginning to question whether Greece is heading there anyway, Grexit or no Grexit. The following discusses the proposition that Syriza and their far-right partners are turning the country into a failed state. Is this outlandish? Judge for yourselves.
Three elements can be said to characterize the phenomenon of the “failed State” from the political and legal point of view.
Firstly, there is the geographical and territorial aspect, namely the fact that “failed States” are essentially associated with internal and endogenous problems, even though these may incidentally have cross-border impacts. The situation confronting us then is one of an implosion rather than an explosion of the structures of power and authority, the disintegration and de-structuring of States rather than their dismemberment.
Secondly, there is the political aspect, namely the internal collapse of law and order. The emphasis here is on the total or near total breakdown of structures guaranteeing law and order rather than the kind of fragmentation of State authority seen in civil wars, where clearly identified military or paramilitary rebels fight either to strengthen their own position within the State or to break away from it.
Thirdly, there is the functional aspect, namely the absence of bodies capable, on the one hand, of representing the State at the international level and, on the other, of being influenced by the outside world. Either no institution exists which has the authority to negotiate, represent and enforce or, if one does, it is wholly unreliable, typically acting as “statesman by day and bandit by night”.
From a legal point of view, it could be said that the “failed State” is one which, though retaining legal capacity, has for all practical purposes lost the ability to exercise it. A key element in this respect is the fact that there is no body which can commit the State in an effective and legally binding way, for example, by concluding an agreement.
Let us test the above elements against the situation in Greece at the moment.
Does Greece retain sovereignty over its territory? Greece spends more than 2% of its GDP on military expenditure, yet it is unable to patrol the Aegean, in the short-distance crossings between Turkey and the Greek islands that migrants use to come over. NATO and EU’s Frontex is now tasked with securing the sea border. It is unable to patrol its land borders to prevent people smugglers operating, and is absent from the northern border with Macedonia (Idomeni) where there are now daily clashes between stranded people and the Macedonian forces. Yesterday Macedonian police is alleged to have crossed the border and fired upon migrants on the Greek side, sending rubber bullets and tear-gas into the Idomeni camp, which is well within Greek territory.
Is there a collapse of internal law and order? With courts frequently closed due to strikes by judicial staff and/or lawyers there is a significant problem with the administration of justice. Roads are frequently blocked, first by striking farmers, then by migrants. There are violent scenes between police and residents, migrants and police, rival political factions. There is a sense of lawlessness and desperation, especially in areas where welcome centres for refugees are being built.
Finally, is the state adequately represented? Can it conclude and enforce agreements? This is perhaps the area of greatest weakness. If anything Greece in the crisis years has proved an intransigent partner to its creditors. It is even more so now. Mr Tsipras and Mr Kammenos have betrayed every single electoral promise they ever made to the Greek people. They are no better with their promises to foreigners. They are insincere in their dealings with the country’s partners and creditors, discussing on the one hand, denouncing them as occupiers on the other. The latest farcical episode with Tsipras’ insurrection against the IMF proves beyond any reasonable doubt that there is no genuine negotiation going on. It is games, political subterfuge and personal interests.
What is the conclusion? Is Greece a failed state? Not just yet, but the continuation of the current course, and the current government is charting a path to failure. As Syriza’s own ministers proclaim: There is worse to come.