Let’s Talk About Greece Shall We?

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It seems like Greece has reached a deal with its creditors. Very hard negotiations preceded this agreement. Greece even voted in a referendum against the hard demands of Brussels. For many it was inevitable, Athens moved towards bankruptcy and a Grexit.

Regardless, an agreement has been reached. Greece is still a member of the EU and gets additional funds. This means that the European project itself, whatever that means nowadays, is still alive. However, this means that Greece, to remain member of that project, has to commit itself to very harsh demands like increasing taxes, the privatization of electricity companies, and chancing Labour law. In return, the Greek government and its banks receive billions of euro’s.

The question remains if this was all worth it? Did Greek PM Tsipras make the right move? Already after the 7 minutes speech from MEP Guy Verhofstadt in the European Parliament we started what can be called a “Democratic Discussion on Greek Reforms”. As you can see, the opinions are divided.

Placing the discussion below does not mean that the right opinion or solution can be found beneath. It mainly shows that the thoughts and voices about social democracy are very diverse even when talking about Greece.

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Luís: So it seems like Guy Verhofstadt has lectured “Mr. Tsipras” in how to reform his country, what do you think about it? Is he right?

Henning:  Yes, he is. He exactly addressed those reforms that are absolutely crucial and necessary: Smashing the privileges of the ship owners and the rich Greek Orthodox Church. Radically reducing the military budget as well as the fake jobs provided by the public sector (800 000 people working in the public sector…compared to less than 11 Mio. Inhabitants, and finally beginning to introduce some kind of a regular bureaucracy (not the Kleptocratic system that Syriza seems to continue). It’s actually ridiculous: Except cutting public sector jobs, all these policy measures have been promised by Syriza and are genuinely leftist. Verhofstadt got it right: It’s a great historical chance.  A chance, which almost no political leader will ever have in his life. And Tsipras is carelessly squandering this fantastic opportunity. He and his Syriza-right wing ministers are just afraid when it comes to the actual implementation of (overwhelmingly) leftist policies. It’s a shame. However: If Syriza is able to present such a comprehensive proposal, then it’s the responsibility of all European actors to provide an investment program that actually enables this country to recover (not those rescue packages that just helped the domestic elites and international creditors to survive).

Luis: I agree with you, and I find the similarities with Portugal, the current right-wing coalition talked about the Reforms but just did Privatizations and cut wage/pensions not much of a reform. Which means the corrupted system is still on. I think it’s a problem the left wing parties today have, the conservatives should be the ones who oppose any radical changes however the left parties don’t seem to present any different proposals. Tsipras either will be another Greek prime minister or “The Greek prime minister”

Tjeerd: Nonsense guys, Verhofstadt is talking rubbish, and I don’t understand that young Social democrats like yourself can support this kind of neoliberal rhetoric. Verhofstadt, when he was PM of Belgian, was famous for Thatcher-kind of politics that are largely responsible for what is happening now in Greece but also in countries like Portugal, Italy, and Spain.

Where was PM Verhofstadt when Greece was not reforming at all before the crisis? Or where was PM Verhofstadt when countless of Belgian investments went to Greece? And why didn’t we hear Verhofstadt say anything, as MEP, about the IMF report, which clearly bombarded the crushing debt amount for Greece which prevents any kind of rebuilding of the country in the coming decade?

It is very easy to say what is wrong in Greece because almost everything is wrong. The problem however, is not the unwillingness of Tsipras to do something. The problem is that the EU only wants cuts and reforms that gives Greece enough money to pay its debts.  To have a sound budget but not a healthy society.

As young Social democrats we must be worried that the focus of the current EU-reforms is only budget control. Its only about making so many cuts that a government stays under the famous 3%. But this whole rule was invented to prevent heavy crisis’s, and not to cure them, it is Verhofstadt’s way of thinking, this kind of politics, that have led to the crisis in the first place.

That people like him still have a stage to spread this kind of deconstructive rubbish is more worry some then Greece making one reform plan at all in the coming ten years. In my opinion ALDE should be our political opponent.

Luís: Tjeerd, some of the things he said are actually happening in Portugal, the current Right Wing Coalition did not reform the government, there is still a lot of corruption, but no legislation to stop or criminalize it. I’m not talking about cutting social expenditure but useless expenditure that gives privileges to a few politicians…

Mohammed: I dislike Guy Verhofstadt. He did absolutely nothing good for Belgium when he was prime minister, he talks a big talk but doesn’t deliver, and despite his pretenses, he’s fanatically Right Wing and a neoliberal. You’re absolutely right Tjeerd.

Tjeerd: I agree countries like Portugal and Greece have many issues the government should deal with Luis, healthy reforms are necessary. But people like Verhofstadt only talk about cuts, cuts, and cuts. It is really easy to say where to much money is being spend. It is way harder to say where money has to go to, which sectors the Greek and Portuguese governments have to get an impulse by investments for example.

Furthermore, this whole rhetoric by stating the obvious is why neoliberalism is still around us, in my opinion you have to make cuts when your economy is improving, in the neoliberal view it is only about having a small government and a big self-governing market. But how is it possible that after years of reforms (also many bad reforms made by the Troika btw), while Greece is actually earning money at the moment, this does not benefit the Greek society at all? How is it possible that Verhofstadt does not think it is strange that Greece cannot spend its money to do something about youth employment that is currently chasing the young ones over the borders and holding them home.

Tsipiras is not the problem, Verhofstadt and politicians who think like him are the problem, they have led us into the current situation, and sure that does not make Greece or Portugal healthy but these EU-leaders, talking now the loudest, were once in the position to do something about these countries, to prevent downfalls, and they failed.

Mohammed: He [Verhofstadt] reminds me of our own “Liberal Democrats” here in the UK. They tacked far to the left of Labour during the years when we were in government, to take advantage of us losing support, then went into coalition with the conservatives and formed a hard right Thatcherite coalition…

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George: Guy [Verhofstadt] was absolutely right. Greece has never had real reforms, only austerity. Austerity was to an extent ok, but it doesn’t help to exit the crisis.. Unfortunately, SYRIZA is not willing to bring real reforms, namely boost the private economy. Greece has a corrupt and huge public sector and the private one is being squeezed during the last 5 years.. They have no proposals for the private economy, that’s why I was always critical to that party. Regardless leftist, socialist or whatever, Greece without oxygen, that means investment, will never exit from this nightmare.

Mohammed: It’s funny that Verhofstadt’s “Reforms” in Belgium amounted to pure Thatcherite austerity. There was no mention of growth or debt relief when he was Belgian prime minister, or to improve social conditions and have a balanced approach to reducing deficits. Why should we trust anything he says, or his motives? The experience of the last 5 years and the terrible things the liberals did, compared to what they said before they got into government, has taught me never to trust a liberal.

Luís: That’s more or less what I’m saying Tjeerd. Some of the issues consist in giving huge subsidies to private schools, excessive bureaucracy for people who want to start their businesses. And the huge benefits to big corporations…

Tjeerd: George, but it was the EU who demanded austerity without the necessary reforms, where was Verhofstadt when this happened? Boosting the private sector is just one part of investments that have to be made, but is it only about this sector, or is it more broad? You probably know Syriza better then I do, but from the outside I think it is really important that there can be no new reform plan without the EU actually rethinking its own strategy towards Greece. How can healthy reforms plan being made without the money, now rarely available because of the huge debt pressure, to make necessary investments? I certainly did not see Verhofstadt say anything about this!

The whole consequence is that the only reforms possible, within this kind of environment, are plans dealing with a tiny government and a huge private sector. This neoliberal perspective never helped any country before.

George: In Greece the main problem, the biggest problem, is CORRUPTION. Imagine that in the last decades, if you were a voter for the party that governed, you could count with high positions in the public sector with high salaries even without a high school diploma! But also the private sector was partly corrupted. The problem is that we have an insufficient public sector because of the last decades’ sins.

Tjeerd: But Luís, knowing what kind of policy Verhofstadt stands for, don’t you think he is one of the last persons who should say anything about this?!

Luís: Don’t know him that well, but yeah it’s something that is closer to his personal views, however it’s just like George said about the public sector…

Tjeerd: George, the reforms Verhofstadt proposes will only give more power to the private sector, of course it will somehow decrease corruption in the public sector but I don’t see how this will benefit Greek society as a whole at all.

George: The high debts are struggling our country and that’s a EU problem and partly a consequence of the austerity. I am talking about the need for more private sector because right now the private sector is almost absent. For example the first salary there is about 500 euros but in the public about 1000. The unemployment rate is almost 26-27%. More jobs, more motives are essential. But they proposed again more taxes…

Tjeerd: Luís, I agree these are big problems but we must not forget what caused these problems in the first place (or who were responsible for letting these problems stay alive at a European level), one of these causes carries the name Guy Verhofstadt.

Mohammed: That’s right Tjeerd. Because our governments serve corporations. They don’t do what is best for the people, they do what is best for big businesses.

Tjeerd: George, my argument is certainly not there should not be a private sector or boosts are not necessary in this field, my argument is that when you would listen to politicians like Verhofstadt you would only have a private sector.

George: Yes I know! In Greece Guy is very popular now because we need a bit more private sector, it is dead now… If you were here, you could see why I say it. Guys, I have to go, we can talk later about it.

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Luís (19, Portugal), Henning (23, Germany), Tjeerd (26, Netherlands), Mohammed (21, UK) and George (23, Greece) are all Graduates of Democracy 2015

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