Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Revolting citizens

© Sotiris Farmakidis
As we have discussed in Guy’s review of the new bailout deal, the Greek situation seems to rumble on and on. Accompanied by an increasing degree of domestic anger, the public sector/private sector game of hot potato has just enjoyed another round.

And herein lies the problem. It is one that we have discussed before, but nevertheless warrants repetition – to what extent can the needs and desires of the electorate be disregarded in a democracy? Trying to convince an already punch drunk Greek electorate that their best long term interests lie in another bout of austerity, another year of recession, another pay cut is proving an extremely hard sell. Similarly, persuading the German electorate that their best long term interests are served by continuing to work with the Greek government in establishing a sustainable position is proving just as difficult for Mrs Merkel. In this environment, mutual recrimination has flourished in the newspapers of these countries, with images of Mrs Merkel and her fellow ministers in Nazi uniforms in the Greek press, while Bild, a popular (and, indeed populist) German paper, portrays the Greeks as feckless wastrels responsible for their own problems.

Often forgotten in this debate is the plight of the individual in Greece.  How many people could face having their salaries cut by 10%, 15% or 20% without this having serious consequences on their lives.  The appearance of soup kitchens in Athens – an estimate from the Greek archdiocese is that 250,000 people in Greece rely on this source daily – is testament to the dreadful situation facing individuals there.  So, when politicians in this country and abroad glibly suggest that we should be cutting taxes and borrowing more, I wonder precisely how much they have considered the consequences of failure. 

It is disingenuous (at best) to suggest that there are easier routes to take and, ultimately, such rhetoric undermines popular respect in political institutions’ ability to solve the situation. Ultimately, the current path embarked upon by the UK’s coalition government is not a pleasant one (even given recent endorsements of the strategy), but surely the consequences of not doing so are all too obvious to us.


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