‘Austerity Has Won’: Greece Submits to Divisive Reforms

Published on Monday, July 13, 2015 by Common Dreams by Deirdre Fulton, staff writer

After 31 hours of tense weekend talks—and five years of crippling austerity—Greece and its foreign creditors have struck a deal: an €86 billion bailout that will keep Greece in the Eurozone in exchange for controversial economic reforms that include tax hikes, pension overhauls, and severe budget cuts if the nation misses fiscal targets imposed and monitored by the so-called Troika.

European Council president Donald Tusk made the announcement of what he referred to as an “agreekment” early Monday morning following a 17-hour round of negotiations in Brussels.

The deal was immediately blasted as a “humiliating” surrender of national sovereignty.

An editorial on the Iskra website, which reflects the views of anti-austerity Syriza hardliners, charges that the agreement reestablishes and extends the guardianship of the Troika and solidifies “social enslavement.”

“The Greek people must not become disappointed, on the contrary it must remain stubborn, as it did in the referendum and the countrywide protests for a ‘No’ to the very end,” read the editorial. “A ‘No’ to clash with the bailout, neo-liberalism and austerity which are institutionalized in the Eurozone.”

In a statement on Monday, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras admitted the deal “calls for tough measures.”

“However,” he continued, “we prevented the transfer of public property abroad, we prevented the financial asphyxiation and the collapse of the financial system.” And, he added, it calls for debt restructuring, if not relief.

As a result, Tsipras concluded, “I believe that a large majority of the Greek people will support the effort to return to growth; they acknowledge that we fought for a just cause, we fought until the end, we have been negotiating through the night, and no matter what the burdens will be, they will be allocated—we guarantee this—with social justice.”

But selling this agreement to the Greek people, who overwhelmingly voted against further austerity in a popular referendum earlier this month, will be a challenge. On Sunday into Monday, the Twitter hashtag #ThisIsACoup was attached to tens of thousands of angry comments denouncing the Troika’s aggressive demands.

“Clearly the Europe of austerity has won,” Greece’s Reform Minister George Katrougalossaid. “Either we are going to accept these draconian measures or it is the sudden death of our economy through the continuation of the closure of the banks. So it is an agreement that is practically forced upon us.”

Bloomberg reports that Tsipras “will return to face a mutiny within his coalition after he surrendered to European demands.”

With the threat of defections rippling through the Syriza party, Tsipras will “have to change his administration and clear out hardliners and radicals from his party,” as well as rely on opposition support to pass the necessary measures, Eurasia Group analysts Mujtaba Rahman and Federico Santi told Bloomberg. “But it is a tough call to determine how Tsipras will go about doing this.”

The global anti-austerity movement was also quick to criticize the deal’s harsh terms.

“This is not an agreement but an outrageous imposition on the Greek people,” said Tim Jones, economist at the Jubilee Debt Campaign, which advocates for debt cancellation worldwide. “If implemented, it will continue the five-year long crisis in the Greek economy since the first disastrous bailout of European banks in 2010 for another decade or more.”

And Nick Dearden, of Global Justice Now, said the circumstances surrounding the negotiations “rather resemble the imperial politics of the 19th century.”

“Is it so unthinkable to put the rights and livelihoods of ordinary people ahead of threatening the interests of the banks?” Dearden asked. “The European governments and institutions seem to think so. The lives and rights of millions of Greeks, and now the very existence of the EU as a democratic union, come a poor second to the economic fundamentalism of Merkel and the Troika.”


Vowing to End ‘Neoliberal Experiment,’ Greek Left Rises as Snap Elections Called

Published on Monday, December 29, 2014 by Common Dreams

“The future has already begun.”

That’s what Alexis Tsipras, head of the leftwing Syriza Party in Greece, reportedly said on Monday after parliament failed in its third attempt to elect a new president and the scheduling of a popular general election was announced for next month.

Syriza, which is polling ahead of rival parties and boycotted the parliamentary elections in order to force a popular vote, has vowed to renegotiate regressive bailout conditions that the ruling government of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras agreed to with European creditors, including the so-called “Troika”—the European Central Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the European Commission.

“With the will of our people, in a few days bailouts tied to austerity will be a thing of the past,” Tsipras said.

In an op-ed published on Sunday in the leftwing Avgi newspaper, Tsipras explained his party’s thinking in clear terms:

SYRIZA’s victory will be the start of a great national effort to save society and restore Greece – a national effort with international repercussions, since our historical responsibility is to pave the way for an alternative policy in Europe, turning a Eurozone country from a neoliberal experiment to a model of social protection and growth. […]

[W]e are coming to unite, not separate [Greece]– to build on the ruins of a looted society. That is why SYRIZA’s government will not be a single-party government, it will be the government of the people.

With rhetoric like that and Syriza’s victory in a popular election a very possible outcome, the financial markets in Europe are reportedly jittering about how an anti-austerity takeover of the Greek government will impact the Eurozone.

As Bloomberg reports:

Stocks and bonds plunged after the government defeat, recalling the height of the Greek financial crisis in 2012, with investors concerned a victory by the opposition Syriza party would jeopardize the terms of Greece’s rescue struck with the so-called troika of international creditors. Syriza, which opposes austerity measures imposed in return for outside aid, leads Samaras’s New Democracy movement in opinion polls.

“These elections will be a struggle between fear for euro exit and anger against austerity,” George Pagoulatos, professor of European politics and economy at the Athens University of Economics and Business, said by phone. “The government will be emphasizing the risks associated with Syriza’s anti-bailout stance and Syriza will try to convince voters that it can offer a viable alternative, without endangering the country’s euro membership.”

However, according to Reuters:

In a bid to reassure international partners, Tsipras has sounded a more moderate tone recently, promising to keep Greece in the euro and negotiate an end to the bailout agreement rather than scrap it unilaterally.

But he has stuck to his promise to reverse many of the tough austerity measures imposed during the crisis, reversing cuts to the minimum wage, freezing state layoffs and halting the sale of state assets.

As Channel 4‘s Paul Mason explains on his blog on Monday, “people all over Europe who’ve opposed austerity see [these developments in Greece] as a turning point” in the years-long fight against regressive cuts to public services, pensions, and the privatization of national assets across the continent.

Asking readers to understand the pervasive impact of austerity across Europe, Mason describes how the economic crisis in Greece—where youth unemployment is now 60 percent—has become emblematic for economic policies that have “destroyed the prospects for much of a generation.”

In an interview with the Guardian last week, John Milios, one of Syriza’s top economic advisers, gave a rounded view of his party’s economic agenda, which would include, according to the newspaper’s summary, “concerted efforts to help those hardest hit by the crisis – free electricity for Greeks who have had supplies cut off, food stamps distributed in schools, healthcare for those who need it, rents covered for the homeless, the restoration of the minimum wage to pre-crisis levels of €750 a month and a moratorium on private debt repayments to banks above 30% of disposable income.”

“The people created us,” Milios told the Guardian, explaining that Syriza’s commitment to the poor is absolute and that its economic agenda, though grounded in Marxism, is well-proven and not threatening in the ways powerful financial and political forces often describe it. “Alternative approaches to the economy and society have been excluded by the dominant narrative of neoliberalism,” he said.

A strong re-negotiation of its debt would not be unprecedented, Milios explained. “More than 50% of Greek debt needs to be written off,” Milios explained. “The solution [of debt forgiveness] that was given to Germany at the London conference in 1953 is what we must do for Greece.”

If elected, he explained, Syriza will have “no other option” but to “stay calm and deal with” the economic crisis that has come to permeate modern Greece. He rejected the idea that his party would push for an exit from the Eurozone, but equally rejected the idea that Greece should continue to be pushed around by those who have pushed austerity as the only solution.

“Greece, in its weakness,” argued Milios, “is actually very strong.”

Greek Privatization of Key Sectors Meets Strong Opposition

Published on Thursday, July 10, 2014 by Inter Press Service

Apostolis Fotiadis, IPS News

PPC power station in Ptolemaida in northern Greece. (Credit: Nikos Pilos)ATHENS – Plans by the Greek government to sell companies that handle the key resources of energy and water face serious obstacles and its policy to offer investors exceptional privileges in an effort to boost interest in privatisation is coming under strong pressure.

Privatisation is one of the ‘prerequisites’ of the Troika – the tripartite committee led by the European Commission with the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund – in exchange for additional bailout money that Greece is seeking to continue to avoid insolvency.

The Greek government recently announced plans to sell a 30 percent share of its Public Power Corporation (PPC), and create a new ‘Small PPC’, which will be sold to private investors.

The new company will take with it some key production sites, lignite mines, and hydroelectric and natural gas units. In addition, about two million customers will be transferred from the original company and will be obliged to receive services from the new company for six months.

The lucrative terms and assets accompanying the new company, described in the legislation that creates it, are already attracting many local investors as well as major foreign energy companies like Germany’s RWE as well as the French EDL and the Italian ENEL.

The plan has caused strong reactions in north-western Greek cities where communities depend heavily on employment created by PPC mines and electricity production plants. PPC unions decided to take strike action to protest the privatisation plans, but these were declared illegal. The Greek opposition has called for a referendum on the issue but it appears unable to gather the 120 signatures of members of parliament necessary for it to go through parliament.

Kriton Arsenis, an independent Member of the European Parliament, has asked the European Commission whether obliging customers to receive services from the company constitutes an illegal state subsidy. In response, European Commissioner for Energy Gunther Oettinger said that the Commission “does not have adequate information to deliberate on whether this constitutes illegal state subsidy”.

At the end of March, Arsenis submitted a similar question concerning the Hellenic Republic Asset Development Fund (HRADF), which has been set up to manage Greek privatisations, and met with a similarly evasive answer.

The HRADF has announced the sale of 100 percent of Hellinikon SA – which administers 6,200 acres of land occupied by the former Athens Airport of Hellinikon – to Lamda Development.

Arsenis pointed that Article 42 of Law 3943/2011 establishing Hellinikon SA states that the company “shall be exempt from any tax, duty or fee, including income tax, in respect of any form of income derived from its business, of transfer tax for any reason, and capital accumulation tax” and again asked the Commission whether this unjustifiable tax exemption constituted state subsidy.

European Commissioner for Competition Joaquin Almunia replied that “Greece has not notified the Commission about the alleged tax exemption measure”, thus the Commission does not have sufficient information to assess whether it constitutes state aid and will ask Greece to provide clarifications on the issue.

Tax exemption seem to be a vehicle the Greek government favours using in its effort to attract investors to the country. Last week, Greek Energy Minister Ioannis Maniatis said that oil and gas explorers would pay 25 percent tax, down from the current 40 percent, to attract them to help exploit Greece’s untapped offshore hydrocarbon resources. “We have done this in order to incentivise our investors to invest in the future of Greece” he told a conference in London.

Plans to privatise water utilities stalled last month after the Supreme Court considered privatisation of the Athens Water Supply and Sewerage Company (EYDAP) unconstitutional. Following this decision, the transfer of a 34.03 percent share of the company’s stock holding to HRADF has been cancelled and the privatisation authority has publicly admitted that it is reconsidering the tender despite still holding 27.3 percent of the company.

This has effectively cast doubts on the privatisation process for EYATH, the water and sewage company of Thessaloniki, Greece’s second largest city. HRADF President Konstantinos Maniatopoulos was quoted saying in Greek media that “it will be difficult to continue the process for EYATH without taking into account the decision for EYDAP."

The Suez/Ellaktor and Merokot/G. Apostolopoulos/Miya/Terna Energy consortia had been in the process of submitting binding offers by June 30. It appears now that HRADF will return about 50 percent of the 74 percent of its share in EYATH back to the state.

Two weeks ago, the Greek National Commission for Human Rights produced a focus report about the protection of access to water. Kwstis Papaioanou, President of the Commission told IPS: “International experience has proven that privatisation curtails the access of people to safe water. It is very encouraging though that the water has united citizens against its privatisation.”

Privatisation of water has indeed provoked strong public reactions. In an informal referendum in Thessaloniki in which over 200,000 people took part, 98 percent voted against privatisation.

“The court’s deliberation against privatisation of water companies is very clear but I would not be surprised if the government finds a way to circumvent it. There are plenty of other examples in which they have not implemented court decisions,” Arsenis, told IPS.

“Those interested in Greek public assets do not think like real investors. They take an interest only in privileged deals when profits are guaranteed and when most of investment risk is undertaken by the state in advance so that they have secured income that will cover their expenses in two or three years’ time.”

A first privatisation target of 50 billion euros in revenue by 2020 has been cut by more than half, with the country’s lenders now forecasting 22.3 billion. So far, only 3 billion has been collected.  The 2014 and 2015 targets for revenue from privatisations were set at 1.5 billion euros and 2.24 billion euros respectively but these are now very unlikely to be achieved.

The Daily Show-Grecian Burn and geriatric rebels

Once again, Goldman Sachs help bring down a nation with the now infamous credit default swaps and other vehicles previously known as ‘banking’. “Young people and the elderly throw incendiary devices and yogurt to protest Greece’s proposed austerity measures”.

Greek citizens shoulder a share of $44,000 per person of the national debt while the in the US that figure is $45,000.

It was a lovely goat.

Mood: Tired. 

Music: First Time – Lifehouse.

Quote the title comes from:

‘Oh no, don’t say that,’ he said, ‘it was a lovely goat. I won’t hear a word against it.’

The second book in the Hilary Tamar series is considerably shorter than the first, however it seemed to me that it dragged a bit. Still, it was an enjoyable book.

I think, perhaps, I got a bit too distracted trying to figure out Hilary’s gender, though. Reading the book, I’d come across a passage that would make me go “Aha! She’s a girl!”, then I’d think about it, and realize that it didn’t confirm it at all. All I have come to realize is this:

1. Hilary is old, but that was made obvious in the first book. 

2. Everything that makes me think Hilary is a woman, can be turned around to make her seem a man. Her. Him. It. Bloody hell!

Okay. Maybe I’m making too big a deal of this. I’m just really curious. I’m getting a friend of mine to read the series, and I’ll see what he thinks.

Onto the review. As I said, the book dragged a bit, but was still enjoyable. In only has one murder, but several close ones, and quite a bit of sailing and references to Homer. Again, the urge to get out a notebook was around, but I didn’t follow it.

It’s taken me two days to write this review. On these grounds, I’m going to post it now, even though it’s woefully short and horrid. The next one should be better, as the book is noticeably longer, and will hopefully leave a more lasting impression.

– S.

P.S., The Shortest Way to Hades
is the title of the book. I completely forgot to mention that.