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Greece and the economic crisis: the kidnapping of the "European Idea" epos_print_logo.png
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Greece and the economic crisis: the kidnapping of the "European Idea"

Tuesday, 04 August 2015 10:49
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Epos converses with Eleni-Vasiliki Bampaliouta

by Nicolamaria Coppola (EPOS)
EPOS Conversations


The economic crisis in Greece is polarizing the opinions of the European citizens, firstly, and of all the intellectuals and the authorized personnel, secondly, about the system of the bailout and the attitude of the European Union towards Greece and the Greek population. The catastrophic results of the austerity policy have gone beyond any expectation. In spite of the propaganda that the Greek problem is a problem and a failure of the Greeks, everybody understands that behind the scenes is going the drama of the problems, the contradictions and the perspectives of Europe as a community, and a union.

EPOS has interviewed the Athens-based Greek journalist Eleni-Vasiliki Bampaliouta, expert in politics and economy. She works as a columnist for the Greek weekly political magazine EPIKAIRA, and she is the correspondent in Greece and Cyprus for the Italian daily online newspaper L'INDRO.IT. Eleni-Vasiliki Bampaliouta  is also the press manager at the "International Association for Greek Philosophy" (IAGP), and from February 2015 she has been working as press manager for the internationally renowned Greek artist Nikos Floros. In this exclusive interview for EPOS, Eleni-Vasiliki Bampaliouta discusses the current situation in Greece, giving our readers her point of view from the ground on the economic crisis, the Greek government and the approach of the so-called TROIKA towards her and her compatriots.

Nicolamaria Coppola, EPOS: In January Syriza, the radical leftists who have pledged to roll back austerity and renegotiate Greece’s mammoth debt, won the general election. Not gaining the 151 seats needed to govern alone in the 300-seat Parliament, they were soon forced to form a coalition government with The Independent Greeks. The third Greek bailout deal signed by Alexis Tsipras in Brussels led to the break within Syriza, and the ruling party found support among the other parties in the Parliament, Nea Democratia, To Potami, Anel and Pasok. In the meanwhile, Tsipras has confirmed that he will remain in charge as Prime Minister of Greece until the end of the legislature. As a Greek citizen and a Greek intellectual, what are your thoughts about Tsipras government? What do you think are its strengths and what are its weaknesses?

Eleni-Vasiliki Bampaliouta: The SYRIZA rising from about 4% to 35% of the vote is an illustration of the frustration of the Greek people out of the application in Greece of a catastrophic austerity policy, which was presented as the bitter but necessary prescription for its salvation. The catastrophic results of the austerity policy went beyond any expectation.  There was a decrease of 26% of the Gross National Product. Unemployment went up to 27% and to much more than 50% for the young people.

The external debt, in spite of the harsh austerity measures, increased from 126% in 2009 to more than 174% in 2014. It was obvious that something was wrong in this policy. The real cause for the failure of this program was the decision of the ex Prime Minister George Papandreou to sign an agreement without obtaining in advance a restructuring of the debt. This was recommended as absolutely necessary by the ex Director of the IMF Dominique Strauss-Kahn . The Greek Prime Minister did not dare to come in conflict with the European partners, especially Germany and France, who had their own priorities.  The first one was to avoid a big trouble with their own banks, which were heavily involved in the Greek debt. Their second priority was to support the euro and to avoid any big turmoil in the Eurozone. The failure to proceed immediately to a restructuring of the debt in order to make it viable, undermined the success of the program and increased the roof of the debt as well as the importance and the consequences of a chronic recession.

Furthermore, the conditions imposed on Greece and more specifically the mortgage of the public property for the debt, the resigning of Greece from the sovereignty as far as concerns mortgaged  public property and the acceptance of the English law for the Greek dept, made things much worse and left no real perspective for a return to normality. On the contrary, the process of internal devaluation of competition, pushed Greece to a destiny similar to that of the ex-communist countries, especially those in the Balkans.

The representatives of the TROIKA were very outspoken in this respect. The representative of the IMF, for example, Paul Tomsen, told many times openly to journalists that Greece should follow the standard of living, salaries and pensions of its geographic region. That means salaries and pensions of about 300 or 350 euros. This approach is very characteristic of the "new" Europe that emerged, under the false affirmation and propaganda of the so called "construction of Europe". The Greeks as well as other European peoples did not join Europe in order to "adapt" to their geographic region. They had a relatively high standard of living and were aspiring to make their life s even better and safe.

What happened actually? There was some kind of kidnapping of the European idea. The beautiful European idea was used as a vehicle for the imposition in Europe of a neoliberal economic policy along with the globalization policy, which was presented as something inevitable. Under those conditions, competition within Europe became global. The principle of the European Preference was put aside. The introduction of Euro made things even more difficult. The less developed and less competitive economies in Europe found themselves in big trouble. The global opening of frontiers made competition insupportable and resulted to a great destruction of the national production and a similar imbalance  in the commercial equilibrium, producing enormous deficits and debts.

The weakness and the specific problems of the Greek economy are well known and should not be underestimated by any way. Unfortunately, the problem is not only an internal one. There is at the same time a big problem with the orientation that has taken Europe and to the regime and the functioning of Euro. The dissatisfaction and the ruth of the Greek people led to the electoral victory of SYRIZA. It was for them a hope. The systemic parties shared the same ideology with the Troika. They supported, for example, that the external debt of Greece is viable!

The SYRIZA strategy was to put pressure for a viable solution consisting of three parts: assuring a satisfactory liquidity to the country, a development package to counter balance the austerity and recession and restructuring of the debt in order to make it viable.

It is well known the policy of Germany, which faces the Greek problem as a precedent and as an example that can be put forward. Germany, as the most important economic partner, has, obviously, the advantage in a European Union which is not yer a political Union but a Union of the markets, the banks and the Euro, which necessitates some kind of harmonization and European control of the fiscal policies and budgets. Germany is conscious at the some time of the fragility of this European order. The German Economic Minister wants to consolidate the hegemonic position of Germany within a Eurozone, which presents dangerous problems and contradictions. Those preoccupations are not absent from the German policy towards Greece.

SYRIZA underestimated the force of reaction and the inflexibility of the German policy. It was obliged to accept, under heavy pressure and even blackmail, related to the closing of the banks and the capital controls, a new agreement , which is fully contrary to its electoral promises and its slogans.

The internal division was inevitable. The critical situation of the economy and the political capital of the Prime Minister helps the leadership of SYRIZA for the moment to keep the majority of the deputies and to some extent of the public opinion. Nevertheless, this situation is changing rapidly and the prestige of the Prime Minister suffers a lot. The Meeting of the Central Committer of the Party was tumultuous and the same is expected  in the forthcoming congress in September. The separate part for the Left Platform and for Alexis Tsipras seems inevitable.

The supporters of Tsipras point out the fact that there is a big difference between the "partisan" SYRIZA, which is around 4%, and the "social" SYRIZA , which represents the electoral result of the last elections (35%). Nevertheless, the deadlock , which has been created by the draconian demands and conditions of the creditors, undermines heavily the credibility of Alexis Tsipras. The deterioration of the situation is presented as his own failure that caused tens of billions to the country and a reverse of policies, competing with the stand of the previous governmental parties, which left shamefully the power.

Under those conditions, new elections seem inescapable in Autumn, Nobody can safely predict what kind of government could be formed, following those elections. The ongoing economic destruction of the country, changes to a great extent the political agenda. Everybody supported before that the solution of the crisis should be looked for within the Eurozone. There is a big change in this respect. The Left Platform of SYRIZA, for example, declares open to alternative solutions. This is not the case only with the Left Platform. There is a profound change of feelings and disappointment in relation to euro and the European policies. Everybody understands that the recommended policy is not a solution and does not give a perspective of hope. This is probably the most dangerous for Europe.

Nicolamaria Coppola, EPOS: Does Syriza's victory signal a golden age for non-traditional parties (on both the Left and Right) across Europe?

Eleni-Vasiliki Bampaliouta: It is not a problem of traditional or not traditional parties. The traditional systemic parties have been identified with the neoliberal and global policies, which have been incorporated in the European treaties. Since those policies seem as an integral part of the idea of Europe, and the European construction, all systemic parties of Left or Right find themselves under the same denominator of neoliberal global policies in the  name of Europe. Obviously, there is in this situation a political vacuum, which is covered in different countries by radical unsystemic movements. The real problem is not those movements but the course of Europe and its unconvincing perspectives.

Nicolamaria Coppola, EPOS: Podemos in Spain, the National Front in France, UKIP in Great Britain, the Movement 5 Stars and Lega Nord in Italy, SYRIZA in Greece: is this populist surge a repudiation of European federalism?

Eleni-Vasiliki Bampaliouta: Is there anybody who believes that any idea of political union of Europe or European federation can be built at the expense of the sovereignty of the European peoples and on the basis of the markets, the banks and the fiscal discipline? We cannot and we should not look for a substitute union of Europe, which is not real political union. Why a more poor and less competitive member country to want this kind of a so called "union", when the market advantage is on the side of the most strong countries and there is no common development and solidarity?

Nicolamaria Coppola, EPOS: What's your view of the attitudes of the creditor powers — the European Central Bank (ECB), International Monetary Fund (IMF) and European Commission (EC) — toward Greece? Have they differed on how to treat Greece?

Eleni-Vasiliki Bampaliouta: When we have an acute problem, we look for the conditions for its real solution. This is not the case with the institutional creditors of Greece. There is no solution without an important restructuring of the debt and a development package. Certainly, there are differences among the institutions. The IMF, for example , supports openly the necessity for a restructuring  of the debt in order to become viable. On the contrary, is more strict on the required reforms, which many of them do not deserve this noble name.

Nicolamaria Coppola, EPOS: Do you think that the handling of the Greek situation has shaken the basis of the European Union?

Eleni-Vasiliki Bampaliouta: Greece has been blackmailed into accepting an unacceptable agreement which does not give a viable way out. This agreement has not been finished yet and there are many pending uncertainties. The way that Greece is treated is a shock theater before the eyes of the European and the international public opinion.

In spite of the propaganda that the Greek problem is a problem and a failure of the Greeks, everybody understands that behind the scenes is going the drama of the problems, the contradictions and the perspectives of Europe. The Greek problem opened a discussion that many they want to develop among technocrats behind the scenes. Is it normal to have the Euro without real political union? Is it possible to the euro without common development and solidarity? Is it possible and right to confuse the idea of the European Union with the idea of the so called globalization? Is it possible to proceed towards real political union, under conditions of confusion between the European Union and globalization? Those questions put forward the necessity and the urgency for a discussion on the  orientation and the perspectives of Europe.

Nicolamaria Coppola, EPOS: Are you an Europeanist or not? Do you believe in the idea of the "European Union"? How do you think Europe should be to work properly?

Eleni-Vasiliki Bampaliouta: Everybody, including, of course, myself, we were Europeanists in Greece. Greece and Italy are the cradle of the historical and cultural Europe. Nevertheless, we must recognize that something during the course of the "construction of Europe". The present Europe does not respond to the aspirations and hopes that inspired.

Greece was not a rich country before entering Europe in the 80s. Nevertheless, it was a country of steady development, of a relatively good standard of life and full of confidence and optimism for the future. It is characteristic, for example, that Greece , till the 80s , had nearly a complete food self sufficiency. Today, it depends, up to 79%, on food imports. Why? This is not only a national problem. It is also a European one.

People in Greece continues to attach to Europe, in spite of all frustrations. For how much long? The Greek people is not ready and will never be ready to accept , in a fatal way, the destiny of pauperisation that others prepare for them and make plans of globalization and regional competition standards.


Eleni-Vasiliki Bampaliouta tweets at @babalioutaeleni


DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in this article are the interviewed’s own and do not necessarily reflect EPOS WorldView’s editorial policy

Last modified on Monday, 10 August 2015 11:37

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