Despite the huge sums expended to write down Greece’s foreign debt, there has been an outcry ofcensure against “interference” with the country’s national sovereignty. True, in exchange for considerable European aid, Greece’s ability to maneuver independently will be limited. But are complaints that Greek sovereignty has been severely impaired justified?
The idea of a nation-state’s sovereignty is rooted in the seventeenth-century Treaty of Westphalia, which embraced non-interference by external agents in states’ domestic affairs as the guiding principle of international relations. But, taken to its logical extreme, national sovereignty would require the complete physical and social isolation of states from one another. Indeed, an excessive emphasis on national sovereignty leads to serious problems: after all, any international agreement, whether political or economic, entails a certain transfer of sovereignty.
Europe’s aid to Greece is an example of a cooperative agreement whereby the various parties negotiate with the others’ interests in mind. Greece asked its fellow European Union members for help, and they have obliged with an enormous amount of aid. In addition to €130 billion in loans (more than 40% of Greek GDP, on top of the €110 billion loaned to Greece in 2010), a 50% “haircut” has been imposed on Greece’s private creditors, and the European Central Bank has waived expected returns on its holdings of Greek bonds.