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Published on April 25th, 2012 | by Katharina Obermeier
Image © [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="566" caption="Protesters in Athens © Blondie5000"][/caption]   Greece is heading for an election on May 6, and the stakes are incredibly high. How the Greek electorate votes, how the elected politicians handle the country’s crisis, and how effectively the administration and economy can be reformed will have significant repercussions beyond the small country’s borders. In this election, Greek voters have the chance to shape the debate about what role the EU should play in Europe’s economies and financial markets, how its member states should relate to one another, and how governments should respond to the pressures of a globalising world. Of course, the debate is being shaped already: hardly a day goes by without a reference by the media or politicians to the demonstrations and riots in Greece. Most shocking was the suicide by a Greek pensioner in front of the parliament, who left behind a note blaming the government’s spending cuts. The citizens’ palpable anger at their government’s mismanagement and corruption and at the austerity measures required by the conditions of the EU bail-out is a powerful argument in favour of a better handling of the eurozone crisis, and, crucially, though not mentioned as much, better financial regulation on an international level. However, this does not necessarily mean that Greeks will vote for radical change in the upcoming election. Contrary to the often repeated claims that Greeks (and other European citizens) are worse off because of the euro, recent opinion polls demonstrate that the majority of Greek citizens believe their country should remain in the eurozone – though seek an alternative to the austerity measures. Similarly, the latest polls indicate that a governing coalition of the two ruling Greek parties, both in favour of the bail-out, could garner a slim majority in the upcoming election, suggesting substantial support for EU involvement in the crisis. Of course, no opinion poll can positively predict the outcome of an election, but from these figures it would appear that Greeks will vote for continuity rather than upheaval – recognising, perhaps, that there is no easy fix for the crisis and that the ongoing efforts to reform government, bureaucracy, and business practices need time to be carried out fully in order to be effective. And yet, that does not mean politicians in Greece and the EU are free to continue as they have. The anger and desperation will only get worse – in the short term – as further cuts to government spending are required and as the economy contracts even more. The new Greek government and EU leaders will ignore this degree of acute dissatisfaction at their own peril. While the need to reduce the overwhelmingly unsustainable amount of Greek debt and stabilise the country’s position in dangerous financial waters is undeniably urgent, at this point more is required of the EU. It is no longer enough to merely keep the country from the brink of bankruptcy (though this monumental task is not to be underestimated) – the EU can and should do more. Last week, the European Commission presented a communication on “Growth and Jobs for Greece”, which outlines various ways in which EU funds can improve the situation for Greek citizens by providing loans and guarantees for SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises), training and work experience programmes to unemployed young people, and temporary economic relief for disadvantaged groups. All of these proposals sound great, but they were badly needed months ago. EU leaders have been so preoccupied with containing the crisis that they neglected to introduce measures such as these earlier, when they could have done much alleviate suffering and social tensions. Now, as the world nervously eyes Spain as the next possible member state to require a bail-out, it is to be hoped that the EU will not make the same mistake...

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The Greek Debt Crisis: Hovering between Continuity and Upheaval

Protesters in Athens © Blondie5000

 

Greece is heading for an election on May 6, and the stakes are incredibly high. How the Greek electorate votes, how the elected politicians handle the country’s crisis, and how effectively the administration and economy can be reformed will have significant repercussions beyond the small country’s borders. In this election, Greek voters have the chance to shape the debate about what role the EU should play in Europe’s economies and financial markets, how its member states should relate to one another, and how governments should respond to the pressures of a globalising world.

Of course, the debate is being shaped already: hardly a day goes by without a reference by the media or politicians to the demonstrations and riots in Greece. Most shocking was the suicide by a Greek pensioner in front of the parliament, who left behind a note blaming the government’s spending cuts. The citizens’ palpable anger at their government’s mismanagement and corruption and at the austerity measures required by the conditions of the EU bail-out is a powerful argument in favour of a better handling of the eurozone crisis, and, crucially, though not mentioned as much, better financial regulation on an international level.

However, this does not necessarily mean that Greeks will vote for radical change in the upcoming election. Contrary to the often repeated claims that Greeks (and other European citizens) are worse off because of the euro, recent opinion polls demonstrate that the majority of Greek citizens believe their country should remain in the eurozone – though seek an alternative to the austerity measures. Similarly, the latest polls indicate that a governing coalition of the two ruling Greek parties, both in favour of the bail-out, could garner a slim majority in the upcoming election, suggesting substantial support for EU involvement in the crisis.

Of course, no opinion poll can positively predict the outcome of an election, but from these figures it would appear that Greeks will vote for continuity rather than upheaval – recognising, perhaps, that there is no easy fix for the crisis and that the ongoing efforts to reform government, bureaucracy, and business practices need time to be carried out fully in order to be effective. And yet, that does not mean politicians in Greece and the EU are free to continue as they have. The anger and desperation will only get worse – in the short term – as further cuts to government spending are required and as the economy contracts even more. The new Greek government and EU leaders will ignore this degree of acute dissatisfaction at their own peril.

While the need to reduce the overwhelmingly unsustainable amount of Greek debt and stabilise the country’s position in dangerous financial waters is undeniably urgent, at this point more is required of the EU. It is no longer enough to merely keep the country from the brink of bankruptcy (though this monumental task is not to be underestimated) – the EU can and should do more. Last week, the European Commission presented a communication on “Growth and Jobs for Greece”, which outlines various ways in which EU funds can improve the situation for Greek citizens by providing loans and guarantees for SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises), training and work experience programmes to unemployed young people, and temporary economic relief for disadvantaged groups. All of these proposals sound great, but they were badly needed months ago. EU leaders have been so preoccupied with containing the crisis that they neglected to introduce measures such as these earlier, when they could have done much alleviate suffering and social tensions.

Now, as the world nervously eyes Spain as the next possible member state to require a bail-out, it is to be hoped that the EU will not make the same mistake…

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About the Author

Katharina Obermeier

Katharina considers herself a German-Canadian hybrid. She grew up in Germany and completed her BA in International Relations at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. Politics, especially in relation to concepts of nationality, have always fascinated her, and she is particularly interested in international political economy. During her studies, she was an avid participant at Model United Nations conferences, and helped welcome international exchange students to her university. She is currently completing an internship at a Brussels-based trade association and hopes to work in European affairs in the future. In her political writing, Katharina marries social democratic principles with a keen interest in the European Union and its implications for European politics and identity. She writes to counteract simplistic ideas about politics and economics, continuously attempting to expose the nuances and complexities involved in these subjects.



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