In November 2010, six months after Greece, Ireland too was coerced by the European Central Bank to turn to the European (Stability) Mechanism to obtain a loan and to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Troika we ourselves know so well. The vote wounded the government coalition, so a month later the government needed the vote of the opposition to pass the first budget stipulated by the MOU. The opposition consented, requiring, however, that a date for elections be set soon. The elections took place and, naturally, the opposition won. But, in this way, the onerous agreement acquired popular legitimacy, the citizens had the opportunity to approve it or reject it and to elect the government that would implement it, in a relatively consensual environment.
Six months later it was Portugal's turn. The socialist government did not have a parliamentary majority so it needed to have the MOU endorsed by the two conservative opposition parties. The condition for their granting their consent was, again, speedy elections, which took place one month after the signing of the MOU. The opposition won the elections and implemented the agreement with little resistance over the next three years.
By coincidence, both Portugal and Ireland avoided the extreme consequences and extreme humiliation experienced by Greece, they needed neither a second nor a third MOU and the economic and social repercussions the two countries were destined to endure under the Troika were incomparably milder than those we suffered. It would be a mistake to attribute our differing fortunes to the consensus-driven political process which they had the wisdom to follow. But clearly it must have played some role. And we are entitled to ask ourselves how much better off we would be, how much suffering we would have spared ourselves, if Samaras had followed the same tactic as his like-minded Portuguese and Irish counterparts in April 2010, and, above all, if Papandreou had the elementary foresight to put the first Greek MOU before the electorate to judge and had allowed the citizens to elect the government that would implement it.
The elections, then, which Alexis Tsipras has decided to call, could also be taken as a delayed correction of a fatal political mistake. In a novel way, because instead of the elections being demanded by the opposition, who did the government the favor of offering a "helping vote" in Parliament, it is the government who is instigating them. And with a long -- and painful -- five year delay.
But better late than never, since, for better or for worse, we are committed to a third MOU, at least let this one have the necessary political consensus and, even more importantly, the necessary legitimacy wrought by elections. And from this viewpoint, the move by Tsipras to call for elections, despite the problems it creates and the political lapses it exposes, has an indisputably positive dimension.
Not that the mistakes of the past six months -- the naïve illusions, the amateurish negotiating, the lack of serious preparation -- are excused. Not that a consensus-derived strengthening underlying this third MOU is enough to rectify the transgressions of the previous two. Not that a vote for the MOU by the opposition in Parliament and by the citizenry at the polls is enough to insure that the third MOU will have a happier fate and fewer negative consequences than the previous two, or that the much vaunted reforms, which we have been talking about for 10 years and our governments have been pretending to pursue and now five years later have become distorted in the in the reflection of the MOUs, will now proceed unimpeded.
But they could be a beginning. Even if so very delayed.
This post originally appeared on HuffPost Greece and was translated into English.