Thursday, June 30, 2011

Greece and austerity: Brussels v the people

June 29, 2011

A funny kind of democracy was on display in Greeceon Wednesday. Under orders from Brussels and Washington, MPs in Athens passed a slew of stringent measures to raise €28bn (£25bn) in a hurry – even while hundreds of thousands of protesting Greeks faced massive amounts of teargas and riot police. After the package was voted through by a wafer-thin majority, politicians were escorted out of the parliament by police. For anyone who has ever worried about the democratic deficit in Europe, here it was, laid bare on the rolling-news channels. And those protesters were not a vocal minority; polls suggest that up to 80% of Greeks reject these austerity measures.

This is not only criticism; it is an analytical point too. As Alexis Tsipras, head of the far left Synaspismos party, shouted outside the parliament building: "You won't go far with all the people against you." The majority of lawmakers inside would probably agree with him. Having passed the austerity measureson Wednesday, Athens MPs will on Thursday vote on laws to implement them. It is hard now to believe that prime minister George Papandreou will not succeed here, too. Still, legislating does not make it so – in Greece, with its long-standing mistrust of the state, more than anywhere else in western Europe. And what the socialist government has just accepted is just as brutal and radical as any structural-adjustment policy imposed by the International Monetary Fund – only it has been forced on Greece by its supposed friends and neighbours in the eurozone.


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