Monday, July 6, 2015

About Greece

Yes, I did see the news yesterday but thought I'd wait with the blogging for a few hours in the hopes that somebody somewhere is going to say something interesting. So far, my hopes have been in vain. So, let me get a few points out there.

First of all, it is worth noting that the turn-out for the referendum was lower than expected, only 62.5 per cent though I am told by one knowledgeable reader of this blog that the figure is in line with electoral turn-outs. Of those who turned out 61.3 per cent voted No and 38.7 per cent Yes. Why didn't more people bother to vote? Unlike their jubilant supporters here the Greek population may have realized that they were between a rock and a hard place and it would not matter which way the vote went, particularly as the supposed offer they were being asked to accept or reject was not really on the table any more. 

It is also reasonable to assume that being told to vote Yes by foreign politicians and retired domestic ones who may be said to have got the country into a mess (with some help from the electorate) had the usual counter-effect. Why, said a number of Greek voters, should I listen to that bunch of losers?

What next? Well, nothing good. Prime Minister Tsipras is proclaiming that he now has a democratic mandate to negotiate better deals for funding from the other countries. What he seems to have forgotten is that those countries also have people and popular opinion and they have not been asked whether they want to give more funding on better terms (no strings whatsoever) to a country that is never likely to pay any loans back. 

Meanwhile, the eurozone leaders are planning an emergency meeting but nobody is making any conciliatory noises. In fact "several euro countries' politicians were openly sceptical or hostile". We must assume that Alexis Tsipras might have expected that sort of an attitude. If he didn't he would have been living in an even more detached bubble than other politicians.

The Finance Minister we all got used to, Yannis Varoufakis, has resigned to make the Greek delegation more attractive to the potential donors Greece's EU partners. It's a little hard to tell whether that will work as a different Minister saying the same thing is unlikely to endear himself to those partners.

The new Finance Minister is Euclid Tsakalatos, an Oxford educated Marxist economist, a member of Syriza for some years. This is how Zerohedge describes him
An Oxford-educated economist, Mr Tsakalotos has much in common with the political elite of Westminster, having been educated at St Paul's school, before going on to read politics, philosophy and economics (PPE) as an undergraduate. He later completed his PhD in economics from Oxford in 1989.

The 55-year-old, who was born in Rotterdam, served as the chief economic spokesman and effective shadow finance minister for the Syriza-led government.

Unlike Mr Varoufakis, Mr Tsakalotos is no party outsider. He has been a member of Syriza for nearly a decade, serving as an MP in the Greek parliament since 2012.

Like many of his fellow Leftist parliamentarians, Mr Tsakalotos's background is as a jobbing Western academic rather than a career politician, having taught at the universities of Kent and Athens.
Yes, he is definitely a Marxist and wants Greece to stay in the euro.  There is something else about him: he seems to be quite friendly with Gerry Adams. Ruth Dudley Edwards tweeted a link to this article. Scroll down to picture number 4 with Mr Adams and Mr Tsakalatos.

The Telegraph had a good article about Mr Tsakalatos. No doubt those eurosceptics and would-be eurosceptics who are whooping with joy at the Greek vote will dismiss all this as nasty enemy propaganda but then they are not the ones who will have to suffer from the consequences of actions or lack of them by Greek politicians, elected by the Greek people and cheered on by them until payment day came around.

Let me say this now that I am profoundly depressed by what is happening in Greece not because the country is special in European history - it is not in its modern guise - but because this should not happen in any country. There is a mass exodus of the economically active and highly educated younger population to Germany in the first place and to other countries as well. (By the way, what exactly are we going to hear from the jubilant UKIPers when Greeks will come here and "take away the indigenous population's jobs?)

Nevertheless, I tend to dismiss all talk about proud Greeks and the humiliation inflicted on them. Ever since Greece has been a member of the EEC/EC.EU it has been largely supported by that organization, that is our money, through various funds and subsidies at first, loans later on. It seems that none of that humiliated the proud Greeks as much as the idea that they should pay the loans back.

For the moment we hear nothing about the possibility of Grexit, restoration of the drachma and attempts to build up the economy, painful though that process might be. Not so but far from it. We hear happy chortling about new funding and the need to keep Greece in the euro (as explained by Greek leaders, past and present). Well, we shall see.


  1. Not only eurosceptics should be wary of Greeks bringing new finance ministers. There was another earlier piece about Mr Tsakalotos, also in the Daily Telegraph:

    Greece creditors will gain nothing from toppling Europe-lover Yanis Varoufakis

    Turns out that Mr Tsakalotos was an early eurosceptic, questioning one of the main pillars of the project as early as 1998. (There was a book in Swedish taking the project apart in the spring of 1997. Just saying...) But most worrying for the europhiles would be this:

    "For Mr Tsakalotos, EMU membership is a cost-benefit calculus. His own academic work has explored the issue of "first-mover advantage" after the rupture of currency pegs."

    As for his Marxism, that is something to ponder. Apart from free market eurosceptics in Britain (and some very few in the Scandinavian countries) the center/right has handed over all the intellectual (and not so intellectual) criticism of the EU and the euro project to the far left and the far right. This will have long term consequences, and is yet another reason why Britain would be better off outside the EU.


    1. It is noticeable how few European countries have produced free market or liberal (in the European sense of the word) eurosceptics. As you say, some in Britain, a few in the Scandinavian countries (the Danish ones are mostly left-wing) and one or two in Germany. That's about it. Perhaps understandably the East European liberals fear both their far-left and their far-right critics of the EU and think that it is better to be in it than at the mercy of old-style Communists or genuine Fascists.

  2. I think turnout would have been affected by the practice of voters being registered at his or her place of birth. This would have meant some Greeks having to travel in order to vote, and it's not as if there was a lot of warning for this referendum.
    On the order hand, I can't think of a strong argument to vote either way: it's just the emotional "who can I annoy the most?"