The Odyssey of the Greek negotiations: from GREXIT to a new memorandum

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by Thomas Sideris | TODAY’S ZAMAN

Alexis Tsipras has left behind the role of rebel and photos of Che Guevara in his teenage room.

After the elections he chose the role of a loner and stubborn Odysseus in a long and tough negotiation journey. The role of the mythical monsters, those of Dogs and Charybdis, are the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the European Central Bank. On Odysseus’s — Tsipras’s raft, a raft called Greece — all the ministers row in the same direction, often arguing over which course the raft should follow.

However, there is a rower who sticks out. And this is none other than the Greek Minister of Finance Gianis Varoufakis, one of whose first actions was to recommend that reporters write his first name with one “n.” It is a fact that Varoufakis spends more time talking than working. He takes selfies with his fans and gives interviews all the time. If Dogs and Charybdis were journalists on an international channel, he would give them an interview too.

Still, storms come one after the other for the government. The European Union and IMF refuse to give more money to Greece unless the second begins reforms. Greece’s European partners are asking for specific changes regarding the public administration, taxation and tax evasion, leaving Varoufakis out in the cold with his generalizations and the “creative vagueness” in his suggestions. However, the government has instead continued with structural reforms to the economy by preparing a bill so as to hire 3,000 civil servants who were laid off by the previous government. At the same time, government executives are succumbing to pressures from trade unions that supported their party before the elections and provide pay increases to specific productive sectors and employees. All of this takes place within an economy that is on the edge of disaster. Right now, no one in Greece knows if the state will be able to pay pensions or civil sector salaries in 15 days or in the next month.

Yet, while the EU is tightening the government’s leash and demanding that the later take quick action to improve the indicators of the Greek economy, government members talk about leaving the EU and openly flirt with the idea of a GREXIT. Syriza’s left-wing wants Greece to leave the EU as soon as possible, and this is now plainly and openly stated by many government members. Of course, the idea of GREXIT also satisfies European public opinion to a large extent, not to mention many European governments who are sick and tired of hearing about Greece’s great reforms while so far seeing none. A great number of European citizens see Greece as a dead beat borrower, or in the best case, a spoiled child. For example, all Greek governments over the last 30 years have claimed to beat tax evasion and corruption, but nothing has been done in all this time. Even if certain bills have been passed, no political will was ever present to stick the knife to the bone.

An ancient tragedy and comedy

But what reminds us of both an ancient tragedy and a comedy is that, for a great many years, many members of Syriza have been calling on citizens not to pay their state taxes because they considered them unfair. Now that these same members have become ministers, they have changed course and maintain that citizens need to pay their taxes regularly. However, when they refer to citizens they mean the low-income ones who already pay their taxes on a regular basis. Syriza, despite its pre-election claims, has so far done nothing to ensure that wealthy civilians start paying their taxes to the state, and ask, once again, for those less well off “to save” the Greek economy.

Tsipras’s main problem at this time is that he needs to tell his voters the truth. And the truth is that Ithaca is still far away. The truth is that European partners and the IMF have forced the government to sign a new extension to the memorandum containing economic reforms to which the previous government committed. The truth is that Greece will probably sign a new memorandum in the summer, a memorandum that will bring more austerity to the country unless drastic steps and reforms are made. But it is by no means easy for Syriza to tell such truths to the voters. Let us not forget that, before the elections, many members of the present government claimed that if they came to power, Syriza would shred all memorandums. Now, with Brussels putting significant pressure on Greece, not only have they not shred the memorandums, but they have signed a four-month extension and may need to sign a third long memorandum by the end of July 2015. That is unless, of course, the government puts GREXIT into action.

It is insane to set the dilemma as either signing the memorandum or GREXIT. Instead of the government wasting time satisfying trade union demands and speaking vaguely, they need to plan the development and strengthening of entrepreneurship so that the engine of the economy runs again. And, certainly, immediate action should be taken against tax evasion.

So far, the government has presented a sort of vagueness in tackling issues. It has acted in an amateur way, implying it took power totally unprepared. In many cases, the criticism of the government is justified. Still, every time the government is criticized, ministers and other members of Syriza appear and accuse mass media and journalists of conspiracy theories. The Syriza government should, first of all, tell the public the whole truth, and secondly, let journalists do their job. And a journalist’s job is to judge government actions.

Tsipras has good reason to worry because Greece is not the island of Lotus Eaters (according to Greek mythology, inhabitants on the island would eat lotus and then forget the governors’ words). Additionally, valuable time has been lost. The situation is restrictive. The government should, at last, make serious decisions for the country’s future. Otherwise, the raft will be found between the Dogs (memorandum) and Charybdis (GREXIT). And a wreck on the rocks seems inevitable.


*Thomas Sideris is a journalist and member of ESPIT.

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