Greece’s problem is Europe’s problem

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV.COM Ltd.

Europe must prevent Greece from becoming an out-and-out humanitarian catastrophe and make sure that the same fiscal 'remedy' is not applied to other weak economies, says MEP Franziska Brantner.

German MEP Franziska Brantner (Greens), one of the founders of Avanti Europe!, an online movement to give citizens a voice in Brussels and capitals.

"While everybody is focused on Cyprus, Greece remains at the forefront of the European economic crisis.  

Drastic budget cuts along with negligent management by Greek leaders themselves have pushed too many of the country’s people, whether native born or migrant, into an abyss of poverty and hardship that will leave long-lasting scars.

The hard truth is that the weight of the austerity measures is falling unequally upon the people who bear the least responsibility for the creation of the debt debacle and who stand to suffer the most from the policies chosen to get Greece out of its hole. They are Greek citizens as well as thousands of migrants and asylum seekers.

Since 2009 Greece has witnessed a 37% increase in suicide rates, demand for hospital care has grown by 24% while funds for public hospitals have been cut by 40%. Unemployment rate has skyrocketed from 8% to 27% (57% for youth) leaving 1.3 million people jobless. Today 3.4 million people live below the European poverty line, a striking 31% of the population. Politicians' failure to deal with the country's problems has also led the neo-Nazi 'Golden Dawn' to become the third biggest political party in the country polling at 12% to 15%. Many people are getting so angry and desperate that they would risk sacrificing democracy to make their voice heard.

This is not just a Greek problem; it is also a European one. Europe must prevent the situation in Greece from becoming an out-and-out humanitarian catastrophe and make sure that the same 'remedy' – ineffective and unjust – is not applied to other weak economies such as Portugal and Spain.

Avanti Europe!, a new pan-European online movement that strives to make citizens’ voices to be heard by decisionmakers in Brussels and capitals and to eventually contribute to establishing a fairer Europe, believes that to change course, we need to change the story that has placed the people of Europe at the cause of this crisis and not the systems and leaders that have failed them. Ending the blame game and showing solidarity with the ordinary people of Greece is the first step in this direction.

We call upon ordinary Europeans – including those in wealthier eurozone countries whose leaders also bear responsibility for Greece’s debt crisis – to show solidarity with Greece’s hard-hit people by signing a petition on the Avanti website that will ask Europe's leader to revise the austerity measures.

Greece has made mistakes but the on-going austerity-only policies are not a solution to the crisis. On the contrary, they impede economic growth and have a devastating impact on people. Greece has to restructure its economy and get its finances right. However, sustainable economic recovery is not just about balance sheets and fiscal targets.

Austerity should not come at the price of human suffering. The focus of the consolidation measures should be on fixing the public sector, supporting environmentally sustainable economic growth and social cohesion based on the principle of solidarity whereby stronger shoulders carry more of the heavy load.

After all, European integration is about peace, cooperation, solidarity, and a shared destiny, not just about economic austerity."

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