Monday, May 20, 2019

Greek banks play long game on road to recovery

by Kerin Hope

Financial Times

May 20, 2019

When Martin Czurda devised a proposal last year to cut the huge pile of non-performing loans held by Greek banks, he was surprised initially to receive a non-committal response from the country’s finance ministry, given Greece’s push to improve its financial position.

“We put forward the idea of an asset protection scheme based on the GACS [state guarantee] model used in Italy. We thought it could be applied successfully to the Greek situation,” says Czurda, a veteran Austrian banker and chief executive of the Hellenic Financial Stability Fund (HFSF), the body established by Greece’s bailout creditors that manages the Greek state’s stakes in the banks.

“My concern was that the pace of eliminating bad loans was too slow and that unless it could be accelerated, the country would be unable to return to sustainable growth,” says Czurda, whose fund is a minority shareholder in the country’s four systemic banks after taking part in three recapitalisations during the financial crisis.

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Alexis Tsipras: ‘We need more reforms’

by Tony Barber & Kerin Hope

Financial Times

May 20, 2019

Alexis Tsipras wears a relaxed, confident, almost philosophical smile as he contemplates the prospect of Greece’s parliamentary elections, due to be held by October 20 at the latest.

Since early 2016 every opinion poll has placed Syriza, the party he leads, in second place behind the centre-right New Democracy opposition. Many polls have Syriza trailing by 10 percentage points — a gap that implies a clear-cut defeat for the prime minister and his leftist party. But Tsipras, who will turn 45 in July, is nothing if not resilient and forward-looking.

“I’m not thinking about losing the election, I’m thinking about how to win the election,” he says in an interview in the Maximos Mansion, the official seat of Greek prime ministers in Athens.

“There is a saying: if the soldier goes off to battle in order to lose, it’s better not to go to the fight . . . I wasn’t born to be prime minister. I’m not from a political family. I became the youngest prime minister in Greek history, at the age of 40.

“Life is life. In life you have to fight. This is the only thing. But the final decision is the decision of the people — it’s not ours.”

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From entrepreneurs to athletes: Six women to watch in Greece

by Kerin Hope

Financial Times
May 20, 2019

For some of Greece’s most talented women, the financial crisis was a signal to migrate to jobs abroad. Others, though, saw greater opportunities at home. Below are six high-achieving women who are building the future in Greece.


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Businesses in Greece await positive prospects

by Tony Barber

Financial Times

May 20, 2019

Emilios Markou and Alexis Pantazis, two Cypriot businessmen, defied conventional logic in 2013 and launched an online insurance company in Greece amid the turbulence of the eurozone’s sovereign debt and banking sector crises. “At that time the people who invested in Greece were contrarian investors. For us, it was a case of ‘because of the crisis, let’s come here’,” recalls Pantazis.

The success of Hellas Direct, which specialises in car insurance, illustrates that Greece can be a rewarding market for those who invest shrewdly and with an eye to the long term. “After a period of mishandling of the economy at different levels, there’s been more political stability over the past three years. We keep joking: ‘Greece is a re-emerging market’,” says Markou.

The nation’s overall investment picture is mixed. Company executives, investors and government officials speak of an improving domestic business climate and a change for the better in international perceptions of Greece as an investment destination. However, the fragility of Greek banks, the semi-reformed condition of the nation’s cumbersome public administration and the inefficiency of the legal system weigh on investors’ minds.

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Thursday, May 16, 2019

Greek central bank fires warning over risk of missed budget target

by Kerin Hope

Financial Times

May 16, 2019

Greece’s central bank governor has warned that a package of pre-electoral handouts due to take effect next week could derail the country’s budget target agreed with its bailout creditors.

Yannis Stournaras’s warning came as parliament on Wednesday approved hastily prepared measures that the leftwing Syriza government hopes will boost its popularity ahead of EU parliament elections on May 26.

The package of cuts in value added tax and a pension bonus would cost around €1bn, according to the finance ministry.

Speaking to the Financial Times on Thursday, Mr Stournaras said first-quarter budget figures indicated that the primary surplus — which excludes debt service costs — declined by 0.5 per cent of gross domestic product compared with the same period in 2018. He forecast the trend would continue as tax collection slowed ahead of a general election due in October.

“There is no fiscal space for handouts,” Mr Stournaras said. “The government is unlikely to collect taxes at the same pace as last year, while it will have to address this year a large body of further pension claims covering the crisis period.”

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Saturday, May 11, 2019

Greek government wins confidence vote

by Kerin Hope

Financial Times

May 11, 2019

Greece’s minority leftwing Syriza government narrowly won a parliamentary vote of confidence on Friday night after three days of heated debate over economic policy and prime minister Alexis Tsipras’ record during four years in power.

Mr Tsipras called the confidence vote after Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the opposition leader, proposed that MPs should censure the deputy health minister for criticising a disabled psychiatrist running in next week’s elections for the European Parliament with his centre-right New Democracy party.

Syriza captured 153 votes in the 300-member parliament thanks to support from a group of rightwing and independent lawmakers who have backed the government since the collapse in March of its coalition with Independent Greeks (Anel), a small nationalist party.

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Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Athens in Pieces: The Tragedy of Democracy

by Simon Critchley

New York Times

February 27, 2019

Our next location is a mere 100 steps from where I’m writing these essays. I pass it every day on my way to and from the library. It is the Monument of Lysicrates, built around 334 B.C.E., just about the time Aristotle returned to Athens to found his Lyceum. I always pause there, take in the view and watch the many seemingly well-fed and contented cats scattered around the place. If you let your eyes drift up from the monument, your vision is seized by the vast sacred rock of the Acropolis. It is skin-pinchingly sublime.

Indeed, New Yorkers might experience a feeling of déjà vu or double vision with this monument because you can find not one, but two copies of it atop the San Remo apartment building on Central Park West, just north of the Dakota, where John Lennon lived and died. The monument was also widely copied elsewhere.

The original Monument of Lysicrates is composed of a 9.5-foot-square limestone foundation topped with a 13-foot-high cylindrical edifice. There are six Corinthian columns, thought to be the earliest surviving examples of that style, made from marble from Mount Pentelicus, about 15 miles northeast of Athens. These support a sculpture divided into three bands that carry an inscription commemorating Lysicrates — a wealthy patron of the arts of whom little else is known — and a frieze depicting the adventures of the god Dionysus and some pirates whom he transformed into dolphins. The god sits caressing a panther as some satyrs serve him wine, while others, with torches and clubs, drive the pirates into the sea.

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Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Athens in Pieces: In Aristotle’s Garden

by Simon Critchley

New York Times

February 18, 2019

Aristotle had slender calves. His eyes were small. And he spoke with a lisp, which — according to Plutarch — was imitated by some. He wore many rings and had a distinctive, rather exotic style of dress — a kind of ancient bling.

I tried to piece together a picture of him as I arrived with my partner at the site of the Lyceum, Aristotle’s answer to Plato’s Academy, where I had visited the week before.

It is said that Aristotle was a difficult character — somewhat arrogant, thinking he was cleverer than everyone else (quite possibly true) and even criticizing his master of many years, Plato. He was a perhaps a bit of a dyskolos, a grouch, cantankerous, a curmudgeon.

Aristotle was not much loved by the Athenians. This might have been because he was a tricky customer or because he was a metic: a resident alien, an ancient green card holder; Greek, but decidedly not an Athenian citizen. Given his close ties to the Macedonian aristocracy, which was extending and tightening its military and political control across Greece, perhaps the Athenians were right to be suspicious of Aristotle.

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Monday, February 11, 2019

How Greece's PM hopes to solve his election riddle

by Renee Maltezou

Reuters

February 11, 2019

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has been implementing his re-election strategy to the letter over the past six months, steering Greece out of a humiliating bailout and resolving a decades-old dispute with neighboring Macedonia.

So far, it isn’t paying off. With a general election no more than eight months away, his Syriza party is far behind in opinion polls.

That is despite two signature projects since last summer, evidence that the economy is climbing out of years of depression and willingness at last among investors to lend.

Tsipras was elected as a firebrand leftist in 2015 on a promise to reject the austerity required in the bailout.

He later caved in to the lenders’ demands and has reinvented himself as a conformist. Now, after years of austerity many ordinary voters cannot afford to keep the lights on, others are deeply indebted, and almost one in five Greeks is unemployed.

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Thursday, February 7, 2019

New hopes for reopening of famous Greek Orthodox seminary on Turkish island

by Kareem Fahim

Washington Post

February 6, 2019

American presidents, religious freedom advocates, the European Union and Orthodox Christian leaders have for years issued desperate appeals to Turkey’s government to reopen a shuttered Greek Orthodox seminary on an island off Istanbul, but to no avail.

Before it was closed in 1971, the Theological School of Halki stood for more than a century as the primary center of scholarship and clerical training for generations of Greek Orthodox leaders. Now, stripped of its educational role, its classrooms — emptied by arguments over politics, nationalism and minority rights — are kept pristine in the stubborn hope the students will someday return.

The latest attempt to sway the Turkish government has come from Greece’s prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, who called this week for the seminary to be reopened during a two-day visit to Turkey. His cordial meetings with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan — despite a long history of conflict between the two nations and worrying recent flare-ups — has raised hopes among Orthodox leadership and members of Turkey’s ethnic Greek minority that a resolution to the deadlock over the seminary may finally be at hand.

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Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Tsipras seeks to mend Greece’s fractious relations with Turkey

by Ayla Jean Yackley & Kerin Hope

Financial Times

February 6, 2019

Alexis Tsipras became the first Greek prime minister to visit an Orthodox college that Turkey has kept closed for half a century as the two countries’ leaders pledged to do more to resolve several territorial and political disputes.

Mr Tsipras’s visit on Wednesday to the contentious seminary on a wooded Istanbul island was the symbolic high point of a two-day trip to Turkey and the Greek leader encouraged Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan to reopen the facility.

The closure of the Greek Orthodox school is one of multiple irritants between the two countries, whose relations became so bad in the mid-1990s that they were driven to the brink of war.

The two leaders have more recently found reason to mend fences, with Mr Tsipras’s visit to Turkey this week his fourth in as many years. But the obstacles to genuine warm relations are substantial.

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Athens in Pieces: The Stench of the Academy

by Simon Critchley

New York Times

February 6, 2019

The weekend traffic in the center of Athens was awful on the late January day I decided to visit the site of Plato’s Academy. Each of the narrow, slightly dog-legged streets in Plaka, the old city, was completely jammed, because recent angry protests, some of them violent, had forced the closing of roads around Syntagma, or Constitution Square.

Still, pedestrians were out in impressive force, filling the streets, intent on enjoying their Saturday shopping. Athenians take their weekends very seriously. Pantelis, my cabdriver, threaded his way delicately around people suddenly lurching, seemingly semi-oblivious, into the street and the constant chorus of motorcycles appearing out of nowhere and disappearing noisily into the distance.

Once past the clogged junction at Monastiraki Square, we pushed more easily along Ermou Street and headed northwest. We came to an area scattered with warehouses and former factories. The cab stopped by a huddle of abandoned buses. Ahead of us was what looked like an open area of greenery. Pantelis pointed and said, “Akadimia Platonos.” This must be the place, I thought.

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Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Athens in Pieces: The Art of Memory

by Simon Critchley

New York Times

January 30, 2019

There is an ancient tradition relating to the art of memory, which legend says began with the poet Simonides of Ceos (556-468 B.C.E.). Simonides was giving a recitation in the dining hall of the house of Scopas, a Thessalian nobleman, when he was called outside because two strangers wanted to speak to him.

When the poet exited, the strangers were nowhere to be found, and the dining hall suddenly and violently collapsed. Scopas and his guests were crushed to death and disfigured beyond recognition. But Simonides was able to identify each of the corpses by remembering the precise place where they were sitting or lounging before the calamity.

With this association of memory with place, or “topos,” the idea of mnemotechnics, or the art of memory, came into being. In order to recall something, one has to identify a locus either in the interior palace of one’s memory or by constructing an exterior, physical memory theater. Various attempts to build such memory theaters punctuate antiquity. It is a practice picked up again in the Italian Renaissance and continued into the architecture of Elizabethan theater — like Shakespeare’s Globe — and beyond.

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Monday, January 28, 2019

Greece plots return to debt market with new bond issue

by Kerin Hope

Financial Times

January 28, 2019

Greece plans to tap the international bond market for the first time since emerging last August from its third bailout programme, it was announced on Monday.

The country revealed plans to issue a five-year syndicated bond following a sharp fall in yields on the country’s debt. The bullish performance has come after the minority Syriza government ratified a deal to change Macedonia’s name, ending a 28-year dispute with its Balkan neighbour.

Yields on the benchmark 10-year bond declined to a four-month low on Monday, trading at 4.07 per cent. The five-year bond was trading at 2.85 per cent, just above a six-month low of 2.83 per cent last week.

“This issue was hanging in the balance last week while the government was scraping up extra votes to push the Macedonia deal through parliament, but the timing now looks good,” said one analyst in Athens.

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Friday, January 25, 2019

The Greek parliament votes to end the Macedonian dispute

Economist
January 25, 2019

Despite demonstrations and riots, the Greek parliament on January 25th voted to ratify a deal with Macedonia that ends a 27-year-old dispute over its name. “We are one step before a historic event,” said Alexis Tsipras, the embattled Greek prime minister, who has been accused of treachery by the opposition. “Nationalism in the Balkans has led to disasters...I believe the time has come to escape nationalism.” His plea succeeded. The change was approved by 153 of the 300 members of parliament, two more than needed.

The vote means that only technicalities remain before Macedonia formally changes its name to North Macedonia. One step is the formal ratification of a protocol by Greece by which it assents to its northern neighbour joining NATO, though this is not expected to cause any problems. The deal that brought all this about, which was signed in June by the Greek and Macedonian prime ministers, has already seen Greece lift its objection to Macedonia opening negotiations on EU accession. The agreement is a compromise. Macedonia has to change its name to suit Greece but its people will still be known as Macedonians and their language Macedonian, without the addition of the word “North”.

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Thursday, January 24, 2019

How Greece’s Alexis Tsipras went from firebrand to statesman

by Kerin Hope

Financial Times

January 24, 2018

Alexis Tsipras, Nobel laureate? The idea being touted for Greece’s prime minister by some of his senior officials might seem far-fetched. But Mr Tsipras can certainly expect international acclaim if, as expected, Greek MPs ratify a deal to end one of Europe’s longest bilateral disputes.

In a knife-edge vote, Greece is poised to sign off on Thursday on a plan for its neighbour, officially the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, to change its name to “North Macedonia”. Zoran Zaev, the Macedonian premier, has already won his parliament’s approval for the arrangement, which satisfies Athens by dropping an implied claim on the Greek region of the same name. The deal is strongly backed by the EU and Nato, which want to bring Macedonia into the western orbit.

Even if the Nobel committee does not consider Mr Tsipras and his Macedonian counterpart, the 44-year-old Greek prime minister is barely recognisable as the leftwing firebrand who threatened to denounce Greece’s eurozone bailout, ban German politicians from visiting Athens and pull the country out of the euro if its creditors rejected his demands for debt forgiveness.

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Monday, January 21, 2019

Greece seeks to ratify Macedonia deal despite protests

by Kerin Hope

Financial Times

January 21, 2019

Greece’s minority government kicks off its bid to ratify a historic accord with its neighbour, the Former Yugoslavia Republic of Macedonia, on Monday as the two states seek to put one of the Balkans’ longstanding disputes to rest.

Ratification for the deal to rename the country “North Macedonia” would pave the way for Skopje’s accession to the EU and Nato.

Alexis Tsipras, Greece’s prime minister, faces deep opposition over a compromise that many of his compatriots think endangers the territorial and cultural integrity of their own country. But he is expected to scrape together a slim majority on Friday at the end of a mammoth five-day parliamentary debate.

The government, which controls only 146 seats in the 300-member parliament, now appears to have the support of at least six lawmakers from several small parties, including two rebels from Mr Tsipras’s former coalition partner, the rightwing Independent Greeks party, which opposes the agreement with Skopje.

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Sunday, January 20, 2019

Macedonian solution is a positive step for Europe

Financial Times
Editorial
January 20, 2019


A deal to settle a 27-year-old dispute between Greece and Macedonia that comes to the Greek parliament for ratification this week provides a rare achievement to celebrate in the Western Balkans. Macedonia has been stuck in an economic and geopolitical no man’s land since it was carved out of a collapsing Yugoslavia in 1991. Many Greeks suspected a new nation calling itself Macedonia harboured territorial ambitions over parts of the northern Greek region of the same name. Spurred by frequent public protests, Greek politicians have long thwarted Skopje’s ambitions to join Nato and the EU for refusing to drop the name, leaving Macedonia’s 2m people with little prospect of economic improvement and no guarantee of its security.

Macedonia’s nationalist leader for a decade from 2006, Nikola Gruevski, tried to put pressure on Athens by manufacturing a spurious ancient Macedonian heritage for his nation, renaming airports and stations and erecting statues of Alexander the Great and Phillip II of Macedon. This crude exercise in nation-building further infuriated Greeks while helping distract Macedonians’ attention from official corruption and mismanagement.

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Saturday, January 19, 2019

Tsipras’ ANEL Breakup Gambit Didn’t Impress Disbelievers

by Andy Dabilis

National Herald

January 19, 2019

Like many Greeks worn down by more than 8 ½ years of an economic and austerity crisis that has decimated so many lives, Efrossini, a 56-year-old private class English teacher, was less than interested in the breakup of the country’s coalition and what elections this year might bring.

“It doesn’t matter to me anymore because whatever the promises that have come from SYRIZA it has never come true,” she told The National Herald, sounding the kind of apathy that seems to have settled like a shroud over so many who believe their lives won’t get better no matter who wins.

The ruling Radical Left SYRIZA came to power in January, 2015 on the back of anti-austerity promises only to see Prime Minister promptly renege and bring in an ideological enemy, the far-right Independent Greeks (ANEL) to have enough votes to control Parliament.

That blew up when ANEL leader Panos Kammenos stepped down as Defense Minister and took his party out of the government in apparent protest over a deal the anti-nationalist made with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), giving away the name of an ancient Greek province.

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Thursday, January 17, 2019

Tsipras Wins Greece Confidence Vote, Prepares for Next Challenge

by Eleni Chrepa and Sotiris Nikas

Bloomberg

January 17, 2018

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras saw off the latest challenge to his government, winning the fourth confidence vote of his term in office. Now comes the hard part.

After surviving a confidence motion late Wednesday with 151 votes in Greece’s 300-seat chamber, the 44-year-old premier needs to figure out how to ratify a landmark accord with the neighboring Republic of Macedonia, after his coalition partner pulled out of the government in protest over the deal.

While the vote allows Tsipras to extend his stay in power until September, when his term ends, he may find it difficult to legislate with a minority government. He will again need support from 151 lawmakers to approve the so-called Prespes agreement, which ends a decade-long dispute by allowing Greece’s northern neighbor to call itself Republic of North Macedonia.

“This is a Pyrrhic victory for the government,” said Aristides Hatzis, a professor of law and economics at the University of Athens. “The good thing is that before its fall, the government majority will pass the Prespes agreement. It is an agreement which has been justly criticized, has many weaknesses, however, it is a rather decent and fair compromise which will benefit Greece in the long run.”

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Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Can Greece’s Prime Minister Survive the Upcoming Confidence Vote?

by Eleni Chrepa

Bloomberg

January 15, 2019

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, who’s survived multiple elections, a disastrous referendum and previous confidence votes, will put his resilience to the test in a new confidence motion in parliament Wednesday, after his coalition partner withdrew support over a deal with the Republic of Macedonia to resolve a dispute about its name.

1. Will Tsipras survive the confidence vote?

Tsipras needs 151 votes in Greece’s 300-seat chamber to assure his government’s survival. With his Syriza party’s 145 seats, plus four likely votes from rebel members of ex-coalition partner Independent Greeks, one from independent lawmaker Katerina Papakosta and one from Potami lawmaker Spyros Danellis, it looks like Tsipras has the numbers, barely, to keep his administration going.

2. What happens if he loses?

If Tsipras fails to garner enough support, the pressure will be on to call new elections, though a new vote is not triggered automatically in the event of a defeat on a confidence measure. Tsipras maintains that he won’t call a new election before the government passes legislation including protections for homeowners and a higher minimum wage.

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Monday, January 14, 2019

Greece faces €200M fine for failing to stop Chinese fraud network

by Simon Marks

Politico

January 14, 2019

EU anti-fraud investigators are demanding that Greek customs pay more than €200 million for failing to act against a major Chinese fraud network dumping ultra-cheap clothing and footwear in Europe.

An investigation by the EU’s anti-fraud office, OLAF, focused on the Chinese-owned Piraeus port in Athens — part of Beijing's huge Belt and Road infrastructure project. Customs officials there failed to stop a sophisticated network of cross-border criminals fraudulently avoiding import duties and value-added tax on large amounts of footwear and clothing items such as T-shirts and trousers, investigators told POLITICO.

The findings, conveyed to the European Commission at the end of December, are the latest chapter in a campaign by OLAF to crack down on a criminal network that has avoided paying at least €2.5 billion in customs duties alone in six counties since 2015. Financial losses in VAT payments, which would be due to both national budgets and the EU budget, are of an even greater amount, investigators say.

"OLAF can confirm that it has concluded an investigation concerning the fraudulent import of undervalued textiles and shoes into Greece in the period 1 January 2015 to 31 May 2018," OLAF said in a statement when asked about the investigation.

"Based on its findings, OLAF has issued a Financial Recommendation to Greek Customs to recover the sum of €202.3 million in lost customs duties related to the fraudulently under-declared values for such products."

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Sunday, January 13, 2019

Greece's Tsipras on the Brink as Confidence Vote Looms This Week

by Eleni Chrepa & Sotiris Nikas

Bloomberg

January 13, 2019

Greece’s government unraveled, prompting Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to call a confidence vote that could trigger an early election and end the leftist leader’s four years in power.

In the euro area’s latest sign of political instability, Defense Minister Panos Kammenos withdrew his party from the governing coalition on Sunday over a name dispute with neighboring Macedonia. Lawmakers in Athens tentatively planned to hold the confidence vote on Wednesday, months before regular elections are due in September.

“An early election is good news for investors,” said Wolfango Piccoli, co-president of London-based consultants Teneo Intelligence. “The country has been in a election campaign mode for weeks, and the sooner the elections take place the better.”

The survival of Tsipras, who led Greece through high-drama moments of Greece’s bailouts and forged an unlikely bond with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, may depend on whether Kammenos’s Independent Greeks lawmakers stay united against him. Tsipras, 44, may also seek support from other parties and independent lawmakers to avoid an early vote.

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Greece PM faces confidence vote after coalition partner quits

by Kerin Hope

Financial Times

January 13, 2019

Alexis Tsipras, the Greek prime minister, faces a confidence vote in parliament next week after the ruling Syriza party’s coalition partner announced it was pulling out of the government.

The move by Independent Greeks (Anel), a small rightwing nationalist party, had been expected since Panos Kammenos, the defence minister and Anel leader, declared his opposition to Greece’s naming deal with neighbouring Macedonia.

Mr Kammenos’s decision to leave the four-year-old coalition came after the Skopje parliament voted on Friday to approve constitutional changes renaming the country North Macedonia and opening the way for it to begin talks this year on joining Nato and the EU. The deal has still to be ratified by the Greek parliament.

“The issue of Macedonia is such that I can’t avoid stepping down from my cabinet post,” Mr Kammenos said after meeting with Mr Tsipras at the premier’s office on Sunday.

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Thursday, January 10, 2019

Greece’s Great Hemorrhaging

by Nikos Konstandaras

New York Times

January 10, 2019

Greece’s government, a coalition of a radical left-wing movement and a nationalist right-wing party in power since 2015, celebrated the end of the country’s third bailout agreement last August as a “return to normalcy.” Our European Union partners and creditors, who disbursed 288.7 billion euros in loans over the previous years, also rushed to declare victory in the crisis that began in 2010.

Everyone wants to see an end to the Greek crisis — not least the Greek people, who have been exhausted by the long and deep recession, by the continued austerity and reforms whose benefits they have not seen.

But Greece is a long way from “normalcy.” Much has been done to make the economy viable, but the country needs an explosion of confidence and business activity: Recovery would take major new investments, political stability and further reforms to the public administration. But not only is the public debt greater than it was in 2009; citizens’ incomes have been slashed, their assets devalued, their property lost, their debts multiplied.

National elections must be held by the fall. Polls show the center-right opposition New Democracy party leading Syriza, the ruling coalition’s senior partner, in a contest that is already worsening the polarization of our politics. The government, which was always halfhearted about austerity and reforms, promises handouts; the opposition vows to overturn policies and decisions with which it disagrees.

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Thursday, January 3, 2019

The EU and Euro Keep Defying the Doomsayers

by Alan Crawford

Bloomberg

January 3, 2019

The Hotel Grande Bretagne is an Athens institution. The opulent 19th century mansion on Syntagma Square has been the backdrop to key episodes in modern European history: The first International Olympic Committee convened here in 1896; Adolf Hitler and Field Marshal Erwin Rommel bunked here after the Nazis seized the hotel in 1941 at the start of the wartime occupation. More recently, it was witness to the most existential threat yet to Europe’s experiment in unification.

The debt crisis that emerged in Greece in late 2009 and rippled through the euro region played out on the hotel’s doorstep. Rioters protesting successive waves of austerity measures—and the international auditors who imposed them—smashed the hotel’s marble steps, hurling fist-size lumps at police guarding the adjacent Greek Parliament. The shock of percussion grenades and the bitter taste of tear gas underscored divisions within the 28-member European Union and the failings of the euro, the signature project intended to bind the bloc more closely together.

Of course, the doomsayers were proved wrong. The single European currency survives to mark its 20th year in 2019, and predictions of the EU’s demise have gone unfulfilled. But lately the pessimists have resurfaced. They point to the U.K.’s imminent departure from the EU, the populist Italian government’s attacks on Brussels, and the spread of nationalism in the bloc’s east as evidence that the European project is again in mortal danger. With Germany’s Angela Merkel in the final years of a chancellorship that began in 2005 and France reeling from popular protests against President Emmanuel Macron, the EU’s center looks more vulnerable than ever to forces tearing at its fabric.

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