'Europe is dying', EU opponents say, as Greek 'No' brings delight

'No' supporters wave Greek national flags on the main Constitution (Syntagma) square in Athens, Greece on July 5, 2015.
'No' supporters wave Greek national flags on the main Constitution (Syntagma) square in Athens, Greece on July 5, 2015. PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON (REUTERS) - If Greece's 'No' vote shocked euro zone leaders, it brought delight to opponents of the European Union who said it showed the entire European project, including the euro, was dying.

Rejecting European creditors' demands, Greeks voted against the terms of a bailout on Sunday, delivering one of the biggest blows to Europe's drive to forge an enduring monetary union since the euro was launched in 1999.

"The EU project is now dying," said Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Independence Party, an anti-EU party which won 12.6 per cent of the vote - but just one seat - in Britain's May 7 general election.

"It's fantastic to see the courage of the Greek people in the face of political and economic bullying from Brussels," Farage said as partial results showed 61 per cent of Greeks rejecting the bailout offer.

Farage hopes Britons will emulate the Greek 'No' vote in a referendum which Prime Minister David Cameron has committed to call by end 2017 on whether Britain should stay in the EU.

From France to Finland and across Europe's southern and northern shores, Eurosceptics lined up to laud Greek democracy for disowning what some cast as the "oligarchy" which runs the 28-member EU, the world's largest economic bloc.

For opponents of European integration, the Greek crisis offers a trove of lessons: from the weakness of the politically driven 19-member euro zone to the failure of elites to heed the views of their own people or of the bond markets.

EU-critical parties of the far left and hard right stunned Europe's political establishment by grabbing more than a quarter of the seats in European Parliament elections last year.

They depict the euro and the EU as the constructs of a conceited elite who have led 500 million Europeans into economic stagnation and failed to protect workers from globalisation, immigration and decline.

"NO. NO. NO. No to the Soviet Union of unemployment and immigration. Yes to a New Europe, founded on work and respect for the People," Matteo Salvini, the leader of Italy's anti-euro Northern League party, said on Twitter.

While the fate of Greece dominates the headlines in Berlin, Paris and London, the longer-term impact of a 'Grexit' could be in sowing deeper doubts in public opinion around the EU.

"The Greek 'No' must lead to a fast departure of Greece from the Eurozone, the earlier the better," Dutch populist politician Geert Wilders said. "Today is the beginning of the dismantling of the euro zone."

French far-right leader Marine Le Pen said the result was a victory against "the oligarchy of the European Union".

"European countries should take advantage of this event to gather around the negotiating table, take stock of the failure of the euro and austerity, and organise the dissolution of the single currency system, which is needed to get back to real growth, employment and debt reduction," said Le Pen, the leader of the anti-immigration, anti-euro National Front.

If, as many banks in London are now betting, what is left of Greece's economy drops out of the US$11.7 trillion euro zone, British opponents of the EU see an ideal backdrop to Britain's referendum on membership.

Cameron has said he wants to get a deal on reforming the EU and changing London's relationship with it that he can sell to the public to keep Britain inside the club it joined in 1973.

He formally began his renegotiation of Britain's membership terms at an EU summit this month, where the discord over migration and Greece was such that he was given just a few rushed minutes to outline his plan.

"The general chaos around the Greek crisis is a tragedy highlighting the weakness and inflexibility of the European institutions," Richard Tice, a British businessman who is helping fund the 'Out' campaign, told Reuters.

"It is most unlikely to increase the popularity of the European project or the euro ahead of the UK referendum. It does not give one any confidence that the same institutions understand the need for major reform that even the pro EU lobby accept must happen."

Such is the resonance of the Greek crisis, that even one of the senior members of the British "In" campaign, Roland Rudd, said it was now "time to let Greece go".