Sunday, September 30, 2018

Tsipras Tests Greek Budget Credibility With Pitch to Voters

by Marcus Bensasson

Bloomberg

September 30, 2018

Greek politicians are gambling their post-bailout credibility with lenders and investors on voter-pleasing promises as they look to elections that may be just months away.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has pitched rescinding unpopular pension cuts slated for January, while both he and opposition leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis are promising lower taxes. The government will unveil draft numbers on Monday, and the plan is the first big test of how much fiscal sovereignty Greece has regained since exiting its aid program in August.

Tsipras says he can hit fiscal targets set down by the euro area and International Monetary Fund without the planned pension cuts. They were agreed after months of back and forth negotiations, and some creditors consider them a vital structural reform. That means the government risks creating the impression of backsliding now that Greece is out of the bailout.

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Thursday, September 27, 2018

Greece’s Left-Wing Leader Builds Alliance With U.S., Europe in the Balkans

by Nektaria Stamouli & Marcus Walker

Wall Street Journal

September 27, 2018

Greece’s Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras vowed to ratify a landmark pact with neighboring Macedonia regardless of domestic political risks, as part of a strategy to stabilize the Balkan region in cooperation with the U.S. and European Union.

Macedonians are expected to back the agreement with Mr. Tsipras’s government to rename itself “North Macedonia” in a referendum on Sunday.

In return, Greece, which has long objected to its neighbor using “Macedonia”—a name that dates back to the ancient Greek kingdom of Alexander the Great—has promised to lift its veto on the small country joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and, eventually, the EU.

Greek nationalists, including a small party in Mr. Tsipras’s left-led coalition, object to the pact. A vote to ratify the deal in Greece’s parliament could therefore split the government, leading to speculation that Mr. Tsipras might postpone the emotionally charged decision until after Greek elections next year, which he is not expected to win. He dismissed that speculation.

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Tuesday, September 25, 2018

EU watchdog probes possible misuse of refugee funds in Greece

by Lili Bayer

Politico

September 25, 2018

The EU’s anti-fraud watchdog is investigating the potential misuse of EU funds meant to provide food for refugees in Greece, a spokesperson for the agency said Tuesday.

The news follows the detention on Saturday of three journalists from Greek newspaper Fileleftheros following a libel suit filed by the country’s defense minister about an article alleging mishandling of EU funds meant for reception centers for migrants.

A spokesperson for the European Anti-Fraud Agency (OLAF) declined to go into detail about the investigation or say whether it was related to the newspaper allegations.

The investigation into “alleged irregularities concerning the provision of EU-funded food for refugees in Greece” was launched following information submitted by the European Commission’s directorate-general for migration and home affairs in 2017, the spokesperson said.

“As the investigation is on-going, OLAF cannot issue any further comment at this stage,” the spokesperson said in an email, adding that “the fact that OLAF is examining the matter does not mean that any persons/entities involved have committed an irregularity/fraud.”

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Monday, September 24, 2018

Refugee integration starts with homes

by Kerin Hope

Financial Times

September 24, 2018

Most evenings at about 11pm, Hanan and Ismail Abbas take their four young children to play in a park near their apartment in central Athens. “Local families are out enjoying the cooler temperatures so we feel safe being out so late,” says Ismail, a 33-year-old footwear designer who fled to Greece last year from the Syrian city of Aleppo.

“We eat ice-cream and practise speaking Greek to our neighbours.”

Mr Abbas was granted refugee status after crossing from Turkey in a smuggler’s boat and spending two months in a camp on the island of Kos.

He was later able to bring his family to Athens and now has a job with a small Greek business exporting handmade shoes. He says: “I was lucky to find work in Athens, not only a house.”

The family lives in a middle-class neighbourhood in a flat rented by SolidarityNow, a Greek non-governmental organisation founded by George Soros, which is participating in a European Union-funded programme that aims to house up to 27,000 vulnerable refugees.

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Thursday, September 13, 2018

Greek Economic Recovery Has Nothing to Do With Odysseus

by Alexis Papazoglou

New Republic

September 13, 2018

In 2010, at a picturesque port on the island of Kastelorizo, then Prime Minister George Papandreou announced the start of “a new Odyssey for Greeks”: entry into an austerity-focused International Monetary Fund-European Union bailout agreement to help finance the country’s debt. “We know the route to Ithaca,” Papandreou said, “and we’ve got a map.” Eight years and $360 billion later, last month Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras announced the end of the third such bailout program. Speaking from a peaceful cove on the island of Ithaca itself—Odysseus’s home and final destination—Tsipras took full advantage of the symbolism to declare the long voyage over.

The analogy was designed to appeal to the country’s love of associating with the grandeur of Ancient Greece, and to flatter its citizens, comparing their troubles with the story of one of literature’s archetypal heroes, whom they study in school. In Homer’s epic poem, it took Odysseus ten years to return to his home island after the end of the Trojan war, making eight years of contemporary austerity a slight improvement. Greek citizens had to face pension cuts and tax hikes, and infrastructure privatization. Odysseus had to fight a Cyclops, survive storms at sea conjured up by the god Poseidon himself, navigate his ship between Scylla and Charybdis, resist the enchanting song of the Sirens, and even pay a visit to the underworld.

But beneath the superficial lure of a mythic analogy, the comparison suggests a worrying degree of confusion in Greek political discourse about what the past eight years have meant, and the lessons the country should draw from them.

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Greece has the means to help refugees on Lesbos – but does it have the will?

by Sebastian Leape

Guardian

September 13, 2018

A 10-year-old child tried to commit suicide in a Greek refugee camp. Perhaps the most shocking thing about this story is that it is not new.

Routine police beatings and squalor in Moria, the largest camp on the island of Lesbos and home to about 8,000 people, have pushed the situation to breaking point.

Moria fails to meet just about every standard set by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). New arrivals are crammed into inadequate sports tents, or on to farmland where lighting has not been installed, and up to 190 refugees share one filthy toilet.

Last year, the mayor of Lesbos, Spyros Galinos, warned that the facility was starting to resemble “concentration camps, where all human dignity is denied”.

Yet Moria resides in plain sight, on a tourist island in the EU. It is full of people with the most extraordinary of life stories.

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Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Tsipras seeks to stave off cuts as election looms

by Kerin Hope

Financial Times

September 11, 2018

Alexis Tsipras, Greece’s leftwing prime minister, is seeking to stop or delay cost-cutting measures agreed as part of the exit from the country’s €86bn bailout — even though he insists Athens will retain broad budget discipline.

Mr Tsipras told the European Parliament on Tuesday that the country was “continuing on the path of fiscal stability” and “determined to avoid the mistakes and the behaviours of the past that led to the crisis”.

But he is determined to prevent a new round of pension cuts from taking effect in January — even though the measures were approved by the Greek parliament as a condition for winding up the final bailout.

Mr Tsipras argues that the cuts, which the IMF championed, will drag down the economy and are not necessary to achieve next year’s target of a primary surplus of 3.5 per cent of gross domestic product.

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Friday, September 7, 2018

Crash Time

by Kenneth Rogoff

Project Syndicate

September 7, 2018

A decade after the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the start of the global financial crisis, it is clear that many lessons have been learned, while many economic misconceptions remain embedded in the public consciousness. If economic history teaches us anything, it is to be mindful of our own limitations in a world of infinite uncertainties.

Ten years after the collapse of Lehman Brothers, Crashed, by the noted Columbia University historian Adam Tooze, offers a sweeping history of the global financial crisis up to the era of Donald Trump. Above all, it is a scathing critique of the global fiscal-policy response to the crash. To guess the punchline, all one really needs to know is that the word “austerity” appears 102 times without ever being clearly defined. Does austerity mean actually reducing government spending and debt, or simply slowing the rate at which spending and/or borrowing rise? Tooze uses the same term to describe a confusingly wide range of policies and episodes.

Such freewheeling use of a freighted term muddles the discussion at key junctures. More broadly, it is emblematic of an economic analysis that seems to be rooted in a selective reading of left-leaning commentaries rather than primary economic or historical sources, much less a balanced survey of the scholarly literature.

For example, we are told that during the eurozone crisis, Greece was subjected to “the most draconian austerity program ever proposed to a modern democracy.” This would seem to suggest that the “Troika” –the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank, and the European Commission – was demanding that Greece immediately pare the overall size of its debts. In fact, the opposite was true. In the years following the crisis, when Greece lost access to fresh money from private markets, the Troika gave the country enough to meet all its payment obligations, plus a significant amount of additional fresh money, thereby reducing the magnitude of austerity it inevitably faced when its borrowing binge ended.

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Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Syriza choice for justice minister sparks Greek rule of law fears

by Kerin Hope

Financial Times

August 5, 2018

The appointment of a Syriza radical to oversee Greece’s legal system has deepened opposition fears over rule of law and government meddling as Athens seeks to restore investor confidence after eight years of international bailouts.

Michalis Kalogerou, the new minister of justice, was a controversial figure even before he was appointed in a government reshuffle last week.

A lawyer and adviser to the leftwing Syriza government, and cabinet secretary since 2015, he made his name representing a member of a local anarchist group that made headlines across Europe after mailing parcel bombs to foreign politicians and diplomats.

He has also previously clashed with the judiciary he now oversees, attacking judges over the treatment of his anarchist client and over a controversial law he drafted on issuing television licences, which was seen as ill-conceived and was eventually overturned.

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Tuesday, September 4, 2018

A Political History of Modern Greece, 1821-2018

by Aristides N. Hatzis

September 2018

Modern Greece has a history of almost two centuries. During these centuries, the country managed to move from the backwaters of Europe to a prosperous liberal democracy before economic crisis hit the country hard in 2010. Greece was founded after a War of Independence from the Ottoman Empire that was based on liberal and democratic principles. This left a political legacy which led to universal male suffrage as early as 1844 and one of the longest parliamentary histories in Europe, despite the tumultuous political life and brief periods of authoritarian regimes. The 19th century was a period of a slow modernization of the country (in infrastructure and institutions) but is was also suffocated by “Megali Idea”, the irredentist dream of the enlargement of the Greek state to include all lands, under Ottoman rule, inhabited by large Greek-speaking populations. A great part of Megali Idea was realized in early 20th century but the triumphs ended with a devastating catastrophe in 1922. Greek political elites were often incompetent and corrupt, but several reformist statesmen managed gradually to achieve convergence with other western European countries. Most importantly, they were very effective in steering Greece on the right (i.e. winning) side of history during every major European or Global conflict (Balkan Wars, World Wars, Cold War). Greece, after World War II and a ferocious Civil War, enjoyed one of the strongest, almost uninterrupted growth on a global level. This led to the accession to the European Communities in 1981 and later the Eurozone. Today, after ten years of economic crisis and painful austerity, Greece must meet one of the most difficult challenges: to achieve growth by adopting inclusive institutions.

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