Greece’s EU-presidency a blow to democracy
Since the 1st of January 2014 the presidency of EU is held by the Greek prime-minister Antonis Samaras. In Greece, this was “celebrated” from the one side with a feast where the European leaders were invited and from the other side with arrests and teargas against the protesters who took to the streets of Athens.
It is well-known that the government that holds the presidency of the EU can have minimal effect on the policy at a European level. However, the presidency of Samaras is a black page in the history of EU. This presidency marks the course of the EU with much more austerity and much less democracy.
In Greece, both the government of Samaras and his predecessors followed the hardest ever neo-liberal program in the history of EU under the supervision of the European Commission, the European Central Bank (ECB) and the IMF (known as the Troika). According to this program growth should come through drastic cuts on labour costs and the dismantling of the social welfare state. In this way, the situation for the workers in Greece could compete with the destitution of the labourers in Asiatic countries. This is why pensions and salaries are reduced to poverty’s level. The minimum monthly salary is now € 460. Layoffs of public servants and abolition of Collective Employment Agreements are also part of this catastrophic recipe.
Against all the formally-stated expectations of the EU and the IMF, the recovery of the Greek economy never came. The figures are very illustrative: in the last years, the GDP has dropped with approximately 25%. Greece is one of the seven countries in the world with the lowest amount of investments. Unemployment has risen to 28% and for young people even to 60%. Two millions Greeks have no access to health care. During the last 3-4 years, the number of suicides is doubled. Almost 1.2 millions employees have not been paid for several months. The emigration of Greeks has increased enormously.
Despite the fake debt write-off in 2012, the sovereign debt has increased to its pre-crisis level and therefore it has become undoubtedly unbearable. In this way Greece keeps being in need for new loans and new austerity measures in order to pay off these loans. There is no light at the end of the tunnel but only the downward spiral of austerity. The supposed recovery of the Greek economy after three years of austerity is not yet materialized. The government has undertaken a package of ‘necessary’ measures with catastrophic consequences for the citizens. In spite of all promises, this package had no effect whatsoever on the recovery of the economy. Critic raised by several economists – even within IMF official reports- was utterly ignored.
The new EU-president has practically abolished democracy in his own land. The police in Greece intimidates, beats and arrests citizens on fictitious charges. Not only have protesters and trade-union members experienced this kind of practices but also immigrants. The drowning of twelve refugees in the Aegean Sea last January, which according to several international organizations was caused by the Greek Cost Guard, is the most recent event that bears evidence to these practices. Moreover a big number of police officers support the neonazi party “Golden Dawn”.
Labour rights are violated and there is no environmental protection. Private companies hire staff with salaries below the already reduced minimum wages while forcing them also to work unpaid overtime. Companies operating in Greece, both Greek and foreign ones, violate European environmental legislation while establishing letterbox companies in the Netherlands and elsewhere to avoid taxation in Greece (e.g. the Canadian mining company Eldorado Gold which is engaged in large-scale gold mining activities, leading to huge environmental damage in northern Greece, has established its letterbox company in Amsterdam) .
Are Samaras and his predecessors the only responsible ones for this situation? Behind all this we find the dirty hands of Europe. First, the EU leaders do not seem to be interested in the violation of human and labour rights in Greece. Second, it’s the EU as a member of the Troika that forced the imposition of these inhumane reforms in Greece.
According to a recent report to the European Parliament about the role of the Troika on the economy of Greece and other countries, ” … the European institutions ( ECB , the Commission and the Euro group ) [are] fully co-responsible for the conditions imposed by the economic adjustment programs and hence also responsible for the social consequences.”
The authors of the report ” … regret that these programs , at least for Greece , Ireland and Portugal , set out a number of detailed requirements for reforming the health care system and budget cuts, despite the fact that Article 168 , paragraph 7 of the TFEU prohibits such interventions. “
And this is just the tip of the iceberg. Almost every month there is a meeting between the officials of the Troika and the Greek government. The Greek press reports regularly the new demands of the Troika that no one refutes. At this very moment, the Troika’s “recommendations” to Samaras include pensions as low as € 360 per month, massive layoffs and lifting the restriction on home-evictions for debts. The latter will soon result in thousands of homeless people.
The EU leaders continue to support this failed program and turn a blind eye on its inhumane consequences. This economic adjustment program is in line with their neoliberal programs throughout Europe.
The EU leaders, including the Dutch PM Mark Rutte, follow (perhaps at a slower pace) the “paradigm” of Samaras: they dismantle the social welfare state, proceed with layoffs of civil servants, liberalize flexible labour, and abolish labour rights. These are policy measures that cause social discontent in the rest of Europe and eventually lead to the rise of populism and fascism.
History will ironically laugh about 2014, the year of an ongoing European crisis. This year, started with an EU-presidency that acts against the interests of its own people instead of protecting them. The rest of the European leaders encourage the policies of the current EU- presidency and they give Samaras a pad on the back. The Greek presidency is the very symbol of austerity, poverty and abolition of the democracy. And, not to forget, “under the supervision” of Troika!
By Dimitris Pavlopoulos
Translated by ReINFORM