A pedestrian passes an automated teller machine (ATM) illuminated at night operated by Eurobank Ergasias SA in Athens, Greece, on Tuesday, July 21, 2015. Greek lawmakers are voting on a second package of measures the country's creditors demanded as a condition for starting discussions on an aid program worth up to 86 billion euros ($93 billion). Photographer: Matthew Lloyd/Bloomberg
A pedestrian passes an automated teller machine (ATM) illuminated at night operated by Eurobank Ergasias SA in Athens, Greece, on Tuesday, July 21, 2015. Greek lawmakers are voting on a second package of measures the country's creditors demanded as a condition for starting discussions on an aid program worth up to 86 billion euros ($93 billion). Photographer: Matthew Lloyd/Bloomberg

Nothing much has changed in Greece

By Denis MacShane Time of article published Jul 24, 2015

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Greek banks are open for business once again. But not really. For the last three weeks, Greek citizens have been allowed to take out e60 (R810) a day. Now, they can take out e420 a week, but capital controls remain in place.

At least Greeks can now access their bank deposit boxes and carry out normal over-the-counter transactions.

The European Central Bank has provided emergency assistance to Athens to allow bank doors to re-open and enable Greece to operate normally for the rest of the vital tourist season.

But nothing has been resolved. The contagion from Greece is spreading northwards. In Britain, the advocates of a No vote in the forthcoming referendum on UK membership of the EU are filling news pages with articles citing Greece.

They see it as proof that the euro is a disaster and the EU is incapable of sorting out a backyard problem. There is also the expected venomous criticism of Germany’s handling of the crisis.

France’s President François Hollande is positioning himself as the man who saved Greece from Europe as the Berlin barbarians were ready to storm the Parthenon. Very self-servingly, his government now talks about Europe being more than just about rules. No wonder: France has not balanced its budget since the mid-1970s.

What about Italy, whose prime minister also issued words of resoluteness defending Greece. No wonder – in Italy, too, the debt-to-gross domestic product (GDP) ratio, inherited by its young left-of-centre leader, Matteo Renzi, is not far short of Greek levels.

What about Brussels itself? The EU is asking more of Greece than it demands of itself. Supermarkets are told to open on Sundays – which does not happen in Germany. And pensions are expected to reform in Greece in a way that has not been achieved in most other EU states.

Evidently, there is not much of an “equal rights” (and obligations) movement in place, even though the professions (pharmacies, notaries, etc) are overregulated (read: protected) in countries far beyond Greece.

Own destiny

Greece, handcuffed to its Brussels warders, is a long way from being fully in charge of its own destiny.

What about the US? It has brought geopolitics into play by telling the Europeans via the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that Greek debt was unsustainable and needed to be written down. It advocates for the same approach applied to German debt in the 1950s – or, more recently, Poland and Finland after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1990.

Trouble is, those debt reductions occurred outside the euro zone (that is, before there ever was one). Germany, of course, breached euro zone rules when it wanted to in 2004 and the UK had no problems finding e10 billion to bail out Ireland in 2010. Thus, the idea that the EU cannot bend its rules is wrong. No other euro zone country benefits from the Greek disaster. If Grexit happens, any weaker euro zone economy will be next in line and Brexit in Britain will become inevitable.

Greek debt forgiveness is now on the horizon in the shape of pushing back repayment dates, but only if Tsipras gets reforms through parliament.

There is as yet no President Barack Obama doctrine echoing the 1947 Truman doctrine when the US asserted its duty to save Greece for the Euro Atlantic community. Then as now, Greece remains the weakest link on the southern flank in the Nato-EU alliance. The troubling question is this: Was giving special dispensation to Greece back in the late 1940s a crucial reason behind the country never finding its own proper internal balance?

Washington turned a blind eye to the colonels’ coup in 1967 and Europe turned a blind eye to the corrupt clientelist economic policy that was sustained in Greece by both the socialists in Pasok and the conservatives in New Democracy since Greece entered the European Community in 1981.

Greece thus has never really embraced the opportunities and responsibilities that are involved in any market economy.

* Denis MacShane, a contributing editor at The Globalist, was the United Kingdom’s Minister for Europe from 2002 to 2005 – and the author of Brexit: How Britain Will Leave Europe. Follow him @DenisMacShane Follow The Globalist on Twitter: @Globalist

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