The main theme of the posts I’ve written about Greece so far has been my determined and conscious desire to remain somehow positive/optimistic, but the fear, uncertainty and confusion that I mentioned here are becoming only more pervasive. News of the most recent bailout has not been greeted with optimism, despite headlines about Greece ‘winning’ the next round of bailout funds and the late night negotiations ending in ‘success.’
In the last few months I have attempted to give myself a crash course in economics and European politics, with varying degrees of success. Even with my somewhat limited background, I was surprised when I read the Eurogroup’s report yesterday. The first thing that bothered me was this: ‘Greece must achieve the ambitious but realistic fiscal consolidation targets so as to return to a primary surplus as from 2013.’ I would normally assume that these people know what they’re talking about, but literally everyone I’ve spoken with (and I agree) believes this goal is not attainable. The Financial Times gives an interesting look at the impact of the austerity measures on Greece, compared to other European cutbacks, and the figure is dramatic. The Greek economy is rolling slowly to a halt, and I find it impossible to imagine this will be reversed by the end of next year, especially without an active plan for recovery.
The statement’s inclusion of ‘an enhanced and permanent presence on the ground in Greece’ raises another series of questions for me. As a high school student in Model UN, I learned early on that any degree of ‘permanent’ involvement in a nation’s governance, financial or otherwise, is to be avoided. (This useful lesson came through a red-haired delegate from China, who stood up and said simply ‘National Sovereignty’ to every measure we proposed). In discussing the report yesterday, one of my colleagues said, ‘Well of course they agreed to permanent interference, our stupid politicians don’t represent us at all.’ I personally am torn – I understand indignation that Greek leaders would agree to such harsh terms, especially seeing what they will mean for Greeks, but I am also faced with the inevitable knowledge that the same leaders seem to have little alternative. By now, their careers are tied into the fate of the Euro, so their desperation to save it is understandable.
In times of uncertainty and crisis, it is natural for people to look around for someone to blame, so this has become a popular pastime both at work and throughout Greece. As I’ve mentioned before, conspiracy theories abound here. The latest explanation I’ve heard for why Europe is even bothering with a bailout, when so many seem to agree a default is inevitable, is that Europe needs stability during an election year. Blaming Greek politicians however, seems to be the favourite. (Obviously plenty of dislike is directed towards European leaders too – I was at a party on Saturday with someone dressed up as a devil with a Merkel mask.)
Elements of the Greek government and the public sector are undeniably corrupt, but I still haven’t understood how we got this way. By now though, favouritism and bribery seem to be so entrenched in everyday life that the cycle is vicious and repetitive. A colleague explained that when building their house, the official at the power company continued to find problems with her paperwork until she slipped something into the drawer he helpfully left open at his desk. Without something to placate him, she couldn’t get connected to the power grid. Stories like this are all too common, and frustrate me to no end. Perhaps this type of day-to-day corruption makes European advisers an essential piece of the bailout plan?
I am curious, and ask anyone I can, why people are so enraged with the politicians for accepting austerity measures full stop. Clearly, no one likes austerity – this much is obvious. But what is the alternative? Should we default sooner rather than later, as the general opinion seems to be that it’s inevitable? Have the last two years of cut backs been for nothing?
The Financial Times writes, ‘Attention is now turning to what happens next. The medium-term outlook is bleak. There is a growing consensus among pundits that the only real clarity is that there will be more uncertainty.’ By now, perhaps Greek should have become accustomed to this feeling of uncertainty. At the very least, they are getting creative in attributing responsibility, which I think at this stage is understandable. As we carry on from day to day, with various experts from around the world recounting how unsustainable the situation is, the attempt to find some kind of vaguely reasonable explanation seems valid. Until this happens, I’m reading everything I can., and you’ve just read the resulting musings.
Coming soon… it’s not all doom and gloom! There have been some positives in the last few weeks, which I’m going to address soon.