Greece at the tipping point

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

MEP Eva Kaili [Euranet Plus/Wikimedia]

The strategic significance of Greece as a stabilising force, and its democratic values, with undeniable soft power in the Arab world, has once again emerged in the regional scene. Athens should assume this role once again, writes Eva Kaili.

Eva Kaili is a member of the European Parliament, representing the Panhellenic Socialist Movement,

Greece is coming out of a very perilous period that in the last five years created social pain, economic uncertainty, political turmoil, widespread stress and news headlines. We are in the last phase of this period. The Greek people have made great sacrifices and achieved economic results that nobody expected a few years before, including a primary surplus, balanced budgets, rapid stabilization, and international confidence that the Greek economy is much more disciplined and with more sustainable debt, than many other, alleged, healthy, strong and sound eurozone economies. 

However, monolithic austerity without economic growth provision proved to be a devastating crisis management concept, which deepened and widened the consequences of the crisis, both socially, politically, and economically. Now, everybody understands that this approach of crisis management causes more problems than the ones it attempts to resolve, and it is not necessary to be an economist to realize it. 

The situation in Greece today

This is the fifth year in the austerity program and we can see the onerous results. The GDP of Greece has fallen about 40% since the beginning of the crisis, and this indicates a recession similar to the recession that a country experiences after a disastrous war. 3.5 million people of the population live below the 60% of median disposable income, 21% below the poverty line and the 11% in “extreme material deprivation”. Moreover, 27% of the population lives at the risk of poverty. Additionally, the current unemployment rate approaches 28%, whereas the youth unemployment rate is almost 50%. These figures depict the situation vividly and everybody can understand that the prominent social sentiment of the Greek population today is a mix of anger, depression and hopelessness.   

Hopelessness combined with uncertainty creates a dangerous political mix. The radical leftist party, SYRIZA, capitalizes on the citizens’ uncertainty and ignorance to create the illusion of a better political universe, promising re-negotiations, cease of payment of the sovereign debt, even printing 100 billion Euros (!) On the other hand, the conservative party, Nea Demokratia, uses the uncertainty and ignorance of the citizens to rise the fear of the “sudden death” in case of a SYRIZA elections victory. 

PASOK, the social democrats, stands in the middle and strives with a responsible political reasoning, to mitigate the fear of the people, to explain them the actual situation, the prospects, and the potential of the day after the elections, in order they to make an informed and rational choice. At the same time PASOK is the only political force that tries to minimize the danger of the Golden Dawn, the neo-Nazi party, winning the third place in the election, which may cause problems in the formation of a coalition government after the elections.

With the eyes in the day after the elections

I believe that the outcome of the elections must neither endanger the achievements of the efforts of the Greek citizens gained so far, nor the strong negotiation power we have gathered, nor our strong presence in the core of the EU. We envisage that Greece has a strong prospect and potential in a Europe that changes rapidly, and it is time for us to harvest the fruits of our great efforts. 

To do so, we need to first maintain economic stability and avoid “heroic” behaviors and surprises. Greece managed to stay in the core of the EU, and this allows us to use all the political and economic tools that the EU gives us.

The harmful one-dimensional austerity approach has fallen and we are entering a new era. Gradually, the EU employs an expansionist fiscal view starting with the Juncker plan. Greece should be there to assert its “dividend to development” successfully. Moreover, we urgently need to consolidate the country’s safety net. Greece faces the danger of a humanitarian crisis and this danger should be mitigated with a targeted social aid program. 

We need to stabilize the Greek market and create a safe environment in order to build confidence. This entails a stable and fair tax system which encourages entrepreneurship, a moderate regulation of the labour market in order to build new jobs as well as stable working conditions, and a wise and optimal market design which allows the benefits of the competitive advantages of the Greek products and services to materialize, strengthens the financing capacity of the market participants, and encourages the creation and marketing of innovation.   

Last but not least, Greece, despite the crisis, is still the most stable country in the Eastern Mediterranean. Today, we experience the Islamic turn of Ankara with its provocations in the Cypriot EEZ, ISIS in Syria, and the consequences of the Arab Spring in North Africa. The strategic significance of Greece as a stabilising force. and its democratic values, with undeniable soft power in the Arab world, has once again emerged in the regional scene. Athens should assume this role once again.

The newly-elected government’s first essential task is an “exodus” from the current situation, by building on all the efforts that have been made until now. No one will be excused from stopping the reform efforts leading to a better future. The new elected government should make all the efforts to unify the people against the only enemy, taking steps backwards. The opposition has to support and cooperate with the new government. I have always believed in compromises, cooperation and argumentative discussions.

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