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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: les électeurs grecs près d’un tournant austéritaire

by Bruno Odent

Greek Electors On the Eve Of A Decisive Turn Of the Screw

Translated Friday 2 January 2015, by Isabelle Métral

The Samaras government in Athens failed to push his presidential candidate Simaras through Parliament last Monday. The early general election called for January 25th, and in which Syriza is set to come first, opens the door to a new policy for Greece and for all of the Euro zone.

Last Monday the two-party coalition currently in office in Greece, namely the rightist New Democracy (ND) and the Socialist Party (PASOK), failed to push through Parliament their presidential candidate Stavros Dimas, a former EU commissioner. Dimas got only 168 votes in the third round when he needed 180 to be elected president. Constitutionally, his failure means that an early general election must be called, which, according to polls, Syriza, the anti-austerity, radical left party is tipped to win. So that a welcome prospect of change now hangs over Greece and the continent. Alexis Tsipras, the party’s leader, interpreted the result of the vote in Parliament as the historic expression of the people’s will. “Within a few days,” he predicted, “austerity plans will be behind us and the future will open up.” The new situation in Greece highlights as never before the need to alter the foundations of the European constitution. For it places the continent and especially the euro zone at the crossroads between the pursuit of de-stabilizing austerity policies that dangerously fuel nationalism everywhere in the Union on the one hand, and a radical change based on co-operation and solidarity on the other.

As soon as the result of the first round of the Vouli (Greek Parliament)’s vote was known on Monday, December 30tg, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras called an early general election on January 25th. The failure in Parliament of this kind of “National Union” governmental team-between ND conservatives and PASOK socialists – is the blatant result of another rout, namely that of the austerity policies implemented over these last years in line with the very special injunctions of the Troika- the IMF, the EU, and the European Central Bank (ECB). The three lenders committed themselves to lend some 240 billion euro to the over-indebted Greek state – following, it will be remembered, the aftershocks of the aftershocks brought about by the 2007-8 world financial crash - but only on condition that it slash public expenses, salaries, and privatize its most precious national wealth – the right to its charming coastland.

So it was that within three years Greece labored under an incredible recession and its aftermath of social suffering – a terrible ordeal its inhabitants thought belonged to the past. According to an official survey, the average salary in the private sector decreased from a net monthly salary of a thousand euro in 2009 before the beginning of the crisis to 817 euro in 2013, i.e. an average 20% purge. Not to mention the case of those that lost their jobs and swelled the queues outside jobs agencies. Unemployed people represent over 25% of the population - among them over half (52%) of the youngest (under 25) age group. Innumerable instances of the failed state of the most basic public services, like schools and hospitals, keep piling up. Not unsurprisingly, desperation drives more and more Greek youths, often among the best qualified, to emigrate to Germany, Northern Europe or the United States.

Whereas inequalities deepen and the wealthiest invest their money in other climes – in Europe more often than not– and while the most appetizing pieces of the former public sector are being grabbed by multi-national companies of French or German stock, the local economic fabric is still facing insuperable difficulties. Public debt keeps soaring and stands today at 175% of the GNP.

Antonis Samaras set to fuel and capitalize on the fear of chaos

There is every reason for those in power to beg forgiveness and pay for the “purges” imposed upon Greece. But Brussels, Berlin, and Paris will not be moved: “Greece is on the right track,” declared Pierre Moscovici, French EU commissioner and former Economy minister as he was on a visit to Athens a few days before the presidential vote in the Greek Parliament, no doubt in the hope that he might win over a few more votes in a parliamentary vote that sent shock-waves among the guardians of EU autocratic neo-liberals. Although the script had been largely anticipated, the financial markets pampered by the neo-liberal “order” hardly savoured the prospect of a Syriza victory. The Athens Exchange fell by over 10% at the news of the early election. The other financial markets remained jittery all day long.

Those very markets have fired their usual pre-electoral heavy artillery: interest rates for Treasury bonds skyrocketed to 9,55%, against last week’s 8,5 %. The IMF itself did not scruple to put its heavy foot down by declaring that it suspended its “assistance” to Athens “until the setting up of a new government.” In tune with the IMF declaration, Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the EU commission, publicly expressed his “deep reservations” at the possibility of Syriza coming into office. And Wolfgang Schäuble, the German Finance minister, swelled the chorus with a warning hammered in a peremptory tone that “the difficult reforms (implemented by Athens) have been productive.” “There is no alternative (…) The new election does not nullify the agreement signed with the Greek government.”

Antonis Samaras, the incumbent prime minister, who is obviously set to press even further, even more deeply the prediction that a Syriza victory would spell chaos, knows he can rely on his “partners” and the markets to help dramatize the short campaign ahead. Despite Syriza leader Tsipras’ proposals being often denounced as sacrilegious, they are as yet limited to “a negotiated relief of the public debt”, together with a “recovery plan”, while keeping the country in the euro zone – all in all a rather classical platform that might be negotiated within the EU cadre. But Brussels and the European capitals will not hear of a major political breach. For the example set by Greece might prove contagious.

All of Europe Now at a crossroads

“We are all Greek,” we boldly declared in early January, 2011, following the announcement to the country at large of the first austerity salvo. This is even truer today. Indeed all of Europe now stands at a crossroads and is confronted with a choice. Either the other euro zone peoples resist side by side with the Greek people and succeed in imposing a drastic change of policy, or austerity policies will eventually dismantle Europe itself. This, at a time when European cooperation and solidarity seem more indispensable than ever.

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