After all the flak Greece has received in recent weeks, you would be forgiven for thinking that it’s only a matter of time before the country’s PM Alexis Tsipras and his finance minister Yanis Varoufakis throw in the towel. Since Syriza took half of the seats in the Hellenic Parliament, there’s already been a backlash against the deal which the radical left-wing party negotiated with the EU partners on 20th February. A backlash complete with anti-government marches, smashed shop windows, Molotov cocktails and torched cars.
That began in February. On Thursday April 16th, another group of protesters in the form of 4000 miners and their families, descended onto Athens’ main central square over a plan to possibly revoke the licence of a gold mine in Skouries, in the northern Greek peninsula of Halkidiki. The mine is operated by Eldorado Gold Corp, who say the revocation would halt their $US 1 billion investment project which could have created 5000 jobs.
Trouble on Friday April 17th came in the form of police breaking up a 19 day sit-in at Athens University by anti-establishment protesters. The protesters were occupying buildings at the site for more than two weeks, demanding the closure of maximum security prisons and the release of some suspects.
Conservative and right-wing media groups also have been hostile to Syriza. Peter Martino writing for the Gatestone Institute (a New York city based think tank that specializes in strategy and defense issues, and describes itself as ‘non-partisan’) in an article mockingly titled Hugo Chavez Coming to Europe says:
The new Greek cabinet is not a friend of Israel nor of Jews. Syriza is known for its anti-Israeli and pro-Palestinian positions. Syriza politicians have frequently participated in protests against the Jewish state. Clause 38 of the Syriza party program advocates the “abolition of military cooperation with Israel” and “support for the creation of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders.” Two other members of the new Greek cabinet, although not members of Syriza but of its coalition partner, the ultra-nationalist Independent Greeks [ANEL], are also known for their anti-Semitism. The new Greek Minister of Defense, ANEL leader Panos Kammenos, recently accused Jews of “not paying their taxes.”
He concludes with:
…The Marxist economic remedies that these parties stand for will not lead to more prosperity for their countries, nor will the transatlantic relations between Europe and the United States much improve with governments whose leaders draw their inspiration from Hugo Chavez.
Greece has been told by its EU partners that if they are to continue assisting it, it must maintain austerity measures which they prescribed – an unpopular move which effectively means Syriza trashing pre-election anti-austerity promises made to the Greek electorate.
[su_box title=”Some of Syriza’s pre-election Promises”]
- a minimum wage restored to 751 euros ($853) per month
- negotiated debt relief of at least 50 percent from the country’s lenders
- an end to austerity policies that have affected healthcare spending and choked the welfare system. [/su_box]
The IMF chief recently declined to extend an instalment repayment due date of a loan the IMF has extended to Greece, saying the country needed to work on pushing through sensible and workable reforms that will put the economy on the straight and narrow.
And this bad news didn’t start yesterday. Back in January, Tim Jones writing for Jubilee Debt Campaign, in an article titled Six key points about Greece’s debt lamented how the austerity pills which the IMF were prescribing for Greece have worsened the economic situation of the country:
“When the ‘Troika’ programme began in 2010 Jubilee Debt Campaign warned that this was repeating mistakes made in developing countries in the 1980s and 1990s. Bailing out European banks rather than making them cancel debts would ensure the private speculators would get repaid, whilst the public would pay the costs of having to cancel debts in the future. Austerity would crash the economy, increase poverty and unemployment, and increase the relative size of the debt. This is exactly what has happened”
He goes on to say that:
… The growth projections were extremely optimistic; Greece’s economy is now 19% smaller than the IMF said it would be, having shrunk by more than 20% since the start of 2010.
India warned that the scale of cuts would start a spiral of falling unemployment which would reduce government revenue, causing the debt to increase, and making a future debt restructuring inevitable. They did; unemployment in Greece is over 25%, with almost two-in-three young people out of work.
The combination of the crashing of the economy and the Troika debts means Greek government debt has grown from 133% of GDP in 2010 to 174% today.
The bailout and austerity programme did not take place because it was thought it would help the Greek people or reduce the size of the debt. It was done to save European and Greek banks and protect the profit of speculators.
Many others were eyeing Athens nervously even before Syriza came to power. The Germany finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble in an attempt to send a tough message that there will be no room for renegotiating Greece’s rescue package, warned that by electing Syriza, Greece was risking its membership in the eurozone.
Since then, there have been many attempts at striking a deal that would ease the pain of austerity, but none have so far succeeded. On the 24th April, Greece’s creditors will decide whether to accept the country’s new debt proposal to the Troika.
Yet nearly 2 years ago, in June 2013, the IMF admitted that they had failed to realise the damage which austerity would do to Greece. At that time, they said:
The Fund approved an exceptionally large loan to Greece under an stand-by agreement in May 2010 despite having considerable misgivings about Greece’s debt sustainability. The decision required the Fund to depart from its established rules on exceptional access. However, Greece came late to the Fund and the time available to negotiate the programme was short.
The mistake of prescribing austerity to a weak economy has been repeated too many times over the decades for us to recount here.
By most sensible financial analyses, it is clear that Greece has been pushed into a corner by the perfect storm of a huge debt burden, a relatively small and largely undiversified economy (that has been stagnant in recent years partly due to austerity economics), corruption, nepotism and tax evasion.
Greece’s position within the Euro is even more precarious. Paul Mason, writing on 4 News puts it thus: So Syriza’s leadership is wedded to the eurozone but the eurozone is currently configured to smash Syriza
[su_pullquote] So Syriza’s leadership is wedded to the eurozone but the eurozone is currently configured to smash Syriza.[/su_pullquote]
By the terms of the previously agreed deal Greece is owed €7.2 billion, which it desperately needs to pay back loans, to pay wages and service the welfare bill. But European leaders have been reluctant to hand over the money until it is clear that Greece intends to follow through on promised structural reforms.
No wonder Varoufakis thinks that EU ministers are trying to push Greece into Default, an allegation which could be theatrical political manoeuvering more than anything else. Similarly, Alexis Tsipras’ trip to Russia was viewed by some as being no more than a bargaining manoeuvre.
It is Syriza’s way of saying Don’t push it, we’ve got other options. It also sends a message that there’s been a clear shift in the geopolitical landscape across Europe — seen for example in Spain by the rise of Podemo; that should the EU try imposing more sanctions on Russia over the Ukraine crisis, Greece as a member of the EU could veto such sanctions.
However, one sentiments common to even Greece’s sympathisers is a realisation that if the Troika do not act to avert what is an almost certain crisis, and in the absence of an alternative cash injection from somewhere, much trouble lies ahead.
According to Ben Wright, writing on the Telegraph:
If more bailout cash isn’t released soon, the Greek government will have to start issuing IOUs promising to pay the holder in euros at a future date. It wouldn’t take long for these notes to start trading at a discount to their face value on the secondary markets. Greece would then be forced to impose capital controls preventing people from shipping real euros out of the country. It would effectively have reintroduced the drachma in all but name.
If Greece is forced into an accidental default, damage to the euro project and to the EU’s image would be massive. A central bank seen to be colluding in the bankruptcy of banks it is supposed to supervise, and willing the breakup of a currency union it is supposed to be
Amidst all these signs of impending doom, it must be emphasized that the Greek economy has for decades suffered from speculators, tax evasion, an underground economy, corruption, nepotism, and bad governance compounded by unhelpful economic policies. Syriza is in fact part of the solution that could move the country away from these ills. They are not the problem (as many on the right seem to think).
Thus, what of Greece developing ever closer trade links not only with Russia and China, but also with African countries? Perhaps as a way of reducing Greece’s expenditure and finding new markets for Greece’s exports. Imagine if Greece increased its trade substantially with resource rich countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria and Tanzania.
Current problems facing Greece’s economy may present it with an opportunity to develop economic partnerships with African countries. Relationships that could solidify into greater economic partnerships down the line. There are at least five reasons why such relationships could be mutually beneficial.
1. Greece could benefit from relatively cheaper raw materials from Africa
When the IMF are demanding huge sums in debt repayment, as Greece had to fork out, the last thing the country needs is to be spending money it does not have on things that are cheaper elsewhere.
Greece could begin sourcing its fuels from West and North Africa. This year alone, the fuel import bill in Greece is expected to reach $19.5 billion. With Nigeria recently awarding most of its long-term oil contracts (worth an estimated $40 billion a year) to local companies, Greece would be best advised to partner with some of these companies in trying to lower its fuels import bill. Greece could do more by talking to countries such as Morocco and Egypt over the prospect of developing solar farms located in their deserts, although this may be a long-term consideration.
2. African countries could benefit from Greek expertise
African countries need equipment, ships for transportation of goods and people, manufacturing equipment for goods ranging from paints and cement, to chemicals and medical equipment to name a few. Greece could also begin training doctors, nurses, teachers and other professions which are in short supply across Sub-Saharan Africa (many African countries have a critical shortage of trained medical personnel. In Zimbabwe for example, there is one doctor for every 6250 people (**2004 data) and in Uganda, the figures are one doctor to 24, 745 people). It will create jobs for Greek citizens, and will enable technology and knowledge transfer to countries in the most disadvantaged parts of the world.
For example, the UK gains £8.5 billion annually from overseas students .
[su_pullquote]More than 25 per cent of immigrants to Britain are students, compared with 20 per cent five years ago. The influx follows concerted efforts by many higher education institutions to market their wares abroad and boost their income.[/su_pullquote]
Yet with the current divisive and xenophobic rhetoric in British politics, many people who would otherwise have sent their children to the UK to study, will be looking at alternatives elsewhere; to countries where they will not be the object of racist rhetoric for every single problem that the country faces. Greece could take advantage of such a shift and position its higher education sector to attract international students from far and wide in fields such as Medicine & Health sciences, Law, Engineering, Mathematics, Physics, Pharmacy and Dentistry. And here Greece is already at an advantage. It has skilled professionals – for example, UK hosts many Greek lecturers and dentists. So it is probably fair to conclude that Greece has a sizeable pool of nationals who are not only educated, but can also speak English – meaning prospective students applying to Greek Universities will not have to learn Greek as a prerequisite to study in Greek Universities.
3. Greece should increase its exports to African countries by offering quality products at more competitive prices than those offered elsewhere in Europe.
After the fall of the Soviet Union, and the liberalisation of Eastern European markets, Greek exports to Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) increased from 14.5% in 1995 to about 25% in 2001. With a good strategy, similar trade volumes could be achieved in trade links with African economies?
Right now Greece finds itself in a place many African countries have been in for decades. Most African countries became independent after long periods of oppression in which a considerable and inestimable amount of their wealth was plundered by colonial institutions (the likes of the East India company) for the benefit of their colonial masters. After becoming independent, with no industry (so no tax base), yet huge private enterprise interests belonging to foreign nationals, they struggled to raise enough funds to finance government functions, failing to create independent institutions. The lack of money fuelled corruption and nepotism, and meant that they needed to borrow funds from somewhere (organisations like the IMF – which emphasized austerity and cuts over growth of the economy). So these countries borrowed, and borrowed, only for their debts to increase exponentially, to a point they could not be repaid, let alone serviced. Many were then asked to liberalise their economies, selling critical assets to foreign corporations, weakening yet again their already precarious positions. Debts were cancelled and replaced with more loans, but because the states owned very little means of generating an income, they still had to borrow money. Further, the corporations which bought state assets used international law and other schemes to shift profits out of the African countries, depriving these countries of critical foreign exchange and also avoiding paying tax. This vicious cycle continues until today in most parts of Africa, with austerity policies only serving to harm the poorest in society.
What was needed for those African countries soon after independence (as is what is now needed for Greece) was growth of industry and diversification of their economies (to grow the tax base). Further, they needed value addition (enabling raw materials to be processed before export – thereby attracting more competitive prices), an end to illicit financial outflows, investment in infrastructure, and the creation of entrepreneur friendly environments where innovators could thrive. Greece could play an instrumental role in helping African countries meet such aims, and in the process further diversify its own economy.
4. The countries which suffered atrocities as a result of war, colonialism and other exploitative practices need to form a strong block to demand redress to their grievances.
5,200 Kenyans have recently been awarded £21.5 million from the British government over its role in the quashing of the Mau Mau uprising, in which many of the Kenyans were tortured or abused.
Yet there remains other African countries which have for many years requested reparations for age-old atrocities, to no avail.
Greece’s claim for $ 300 billion from Germany could add more weight and legitimacy to such a movement. Greece could form a multilateral block to which other countries can join, and together they would request (perhaps via the UN) that the economic imbalances created by war, colonialism and other exploitative practices, which saw some countries gain a huge unfair economic advantage over other countries, to be squarely addressed by reparations and other measures.
5. Syriza’s socialist policies can provide a template for African countries to take charge of their economies
The compromise which Varoufakis is seeking is justified primarily because there has been a long overdue need not only in Europe but across the world to balance up the economic situation of countries, whose economies were disadvantaged by circumstances beyond their control.
For example, many developing countries have for long suffered the effects of illicit financial outflows (according to some estimates up to US$1 trillion annually) but have been unable to raise the funding, drum-up the support, or have the partnerships that would enable them to break free from the malaise created by such chains. The effect is that they fail to raise sufficient funds from tax collection to be able to invest in their economies. So there’s under-investment in almost every important sector of public spending from infrastructure maintenance and development, to education, healthcare and national security. The consequences are that crime is usually on the increase, lack of infrastructure deters foreign investment (which affects the number of jobs), and lack of resources in healthcare means most hospitals have no medicines or sufficient staff and therefore fail to function.
Today Greece finds itself in a position where a multibillion dollar bailout has gone to private and European banks (exactly the same people who created / exacerbated the 2008 -2009 financial mess Europe finds itself in). Those banks and other corporations are often the prime candidates who make illicit financial outflows happen, and who on top of the tax evasion they are already notorious of facilitating, charge high interest which impacts much smaller businesses. And yet innocent people are being forced to pay for the mess others created??
If Greece can partner with Russia and China (whose new Development Bank could be useful), and various institutions in emerging economies, they could create a strong enough lobby which will have the authority to demand a change of the financial rules that benefit corporations over developing countries.
One would hope that Greece reaches a new deal with its creditors on April 24, when the Eurogroup decides whether to accept the country’s new debt proposal. But irrespective of whether such a deal is concluded or not, maybe it’s time to look south.
/This article was first published on African Patriot Website/