Greek Council Presidency; Searching for the Success Story

The World

Success Story As Greece picked up the Council Presidency the PM of Greece Antonis Samaras claimed today at the plenary session of the European Parliament (EP) in Strasbourg that “We delivered”.  Unfortunately though the economic/ financial free-fall may have stopped both Greek society and its politics are broken down into dangerously non-cohesive bits.  Moreover, the economy is not so far from the cliff it was standing a year and a half ago.  As EP and local elections are coming up in May, and national elections in 2016 questions are raised regarding the ability for any party (or coalition) to form a government with a strong mandate.  The trench war political parties in Greece are currently involved in offers little in advancing any agenda, political debate and more importantly keeping the social fabric together.

Currently the government claims that it is reviving the country by implementing the austerity package; it even has a positive current account balance to show (spirits are up expecting modest growth this year).  But these numbers do not include tax returns owed by the Greek government to its citizens, of about 6 billion.  In addition, hopes that the economy will pick up and resolve current social issues are ill founded.  Official unemployment is at 27% and youth unemployment at about 40%; both figures are way more optimistic than the reality.  On the one hand, though cutting down on the oversized public sector makes sense but without investments in the private sector to create new job positions will cause the unemployment pool to grow further.  On the other hand, investment in the country has been poor not just in terms of large scale project (not going well) but also in terms of creating small innovative businesses (e.g. start ups).  That can soak up unemployment within policy areas or produce merit goods.  Within the current environment this seems impossible as taxation has reached a point that makes business survival very hard (if not impossible) even for the self-employed.

Moreover, further central changes that need to be pushed are less likely to take place as the government has been left with barely 152 loyal MPs out of the 300 in Parliament.  While current political costs mean more government MPs are likely to rebel as special interests across constituencies are squeezed.  This makes it hard to imagine how the government will stay afloat until the next national elections 2016. 

Meanwhile, with EP and local elections coming in May the main opposition party SYRIZAis claiming an early victory.  However, based on current gallop the reality is that if national elections were held anytime soon neither party or coalition could form a government with a strong mandate.  For a start, the two main parties barely are likely to get much above 25%, while all parties are retaining different stances regarding the austerity measures. Recent gallop polls give the main government party New Democracy (ND) and the main opposition party just above 22% of the total vote, while Independent Greek are around 12%.  Neo-nazi party Golden Dawn which saw a clamp down almost 3 months ago, with its main MPs now in prison, still enjoys 6% of the potential vote with all other 3 parliamentary parties following with the same or smaller percentages.  The indecisive vote is at about 15%-20%. 

As such, the question that arises is what kind of a government can be formed whether elections take place tomorrow or in 2 years from now.  Thus any future “victory” under the current situation will be a hollow one with little control over parliament to allow for any pushes whether on the left/ right or pro-/ anti –austerity agenda.  Part of the problem is the fact that Greek political parties have been engulfed in a political trench war advancing at best a few percentage points ahead.  This comes as a result of avoiding broader political discussions on the future of the country while ideologically speaking there seems to be a turn towards the 80s rather a look into the potential of the future or the opportunities that the crisis offers.  Thus expect the economy to further stagnate or see very small (artificial) incremental increases; youth unemployment will be pushed further upwards exasperating the brain drain of young (talented) Greeks looking for a job outside of the country. 

To say that Greece has “delivered” or that it is a “success story” is far from the reality, not only in economic terms but also social and political terms.  As an indicator the faith of the country’s political system has deteriorated considerably, making it one of the main reasons behind potential unrest.  This proves that making numbers work on reports is not sufficient to keep a country together but barely afloat.  This is a warning sign addressed not only to government parties but more importantly to the (main) opposition parties as well.  Until the discussion picks up, in and outside the parliament expect more of this.

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