Sunday, July 21, 2013

Wolfgang Schäuble's very controversial visit to Greece.

On Thursday the 18th of July, the German Finance Minister Mr. Wolfgang Schauble visited Greece. It was his first visit to the country since 2009, where he is undoubtedly very unpopular if not hated.

He is after all the politician who has personally prescribed the harsh austerity measures on the Greeks.

His visit was inevitably very controversial from the beginning, but how it was dealt by the Greek authorities sparked the anger of many Greeks.

Riot police have turned Athens into a garrison town, its roads sealed off in one of the biggest security cordons thrown around the capital in living memory. (The Guardian). Any attempt for protests were blocked and the Athens' city center was emptied.

His visit, but also the Greek government's attempt to stamp out any protests, was highly criticized by many opposition figures. “Who does Mr. Schauble think he is that Greek citizens may not protest about his presence and his policies on Greece? What kind of regime is this, you seal off all of downtown Athens and even the airport ring road so that Mr. Schauble does not hear his subjects’ cries?” demanded Syriza MP Panagiotis Lafazanis during a sitting. (Euronews).

His trip was seen by many in Greece but in Europe too, as a PR campaign with Mr Schauble playing the role of the "stern parent" to the Greeks and it comes just two months before the federal elections in Germany. So he is probably trying to show to the German public, that perceives Greece as this pit they throw tax money into, that they can be assured their government has the situation under control.

Sadly, that is the picture that the media have created in Germany about Greece. And so his visit did not have much of a meaning for Greece itself, rather for the German voters. On one hand he praised the Greek government and people on their efforts and claimed that he was "happy" to be in Greece.

On the other though he smashed any of the Greek government’s hopes for a gesture of support. Mr Schauble came to Athens "bearing no gifts" other than a promise that Europe will keep helping Greece post-2014 when the economic aid financed by the Troika ends. (Euronews)

Not all in Germany of course approve of their government's policies or attitude. Officials in the German governing coalition, in private say Schauble has been nothing but "rude and aggressive" and were hesitant to support him on Thursday. Instead, they admitted that Greece was locked in an economic death spiral – its indicators going from bad to worse – as a result of the punitive medicine Berlin was determined to mete out. (The Guardian).

It is a bad idea for German officials to take the lead and initiatives right now, on the problems that Greece and many other euro-zone countries are facing. Germany maybe the leading economy of Europe and the euro-zone, but the rest of us feel that we did not elect either Mrs. Merkel or Mr. Schauble, so why they should decide what is best for us and visit just to lecture us?

Technically only EU officials could come to evaluate the situation and offer criticism or feedback on the progress. But the sad reality is that Germany currently dictates EU policy, so visiting EU officials would probably not matter much in the end.

The Greek public's usual reaction, that is reduced to call names and describe any German official a Nazi, is not doing us any favors either. It is very immature in a time when the country's image, not just its economy is also at stake. But that is sadly the mentality of the mob. A populist attitude that is encouraged by the leftist parties.

Given this reality, the Greek government had no choice but to forbid any protests on the occasion of Mr. Schauble's visit, as they would not offer anything constructive. This of course looks like a limitation of the people's right to protest, a very important freedom in every fully functioning democracy.

What good would it make to take to the streets and shout names at Mr. Schauble? Nobody likes him in the country and he knows that, we made that clear in previous protests. We have a very fiery nature, that sometimes does not do us any favors. Many other crisis hit nations held protests against the German inspired austerity, but in no other case they insisted on calling the Germans "Nazi."

Of course most of the other nations did not suffer as much under the Nazi occupation as Greece did. But in the end, we do need their assistance and we are close partners with the Germans. A little more thought in our actions would work better in our favor.

On the other hand, the Germans and Europe in general, must understand the Greek people's anger and frustration. They are right to feel that way, since Europe's and Germany's treatment on Greece is totally unfair. The "loans" to Greece are anything but an assistance, rather an investment.

The donors will receive a substantial lump-sum in loan repayments plus the interest on top them. Thus it is clear that the crisis in Greece favors the German and other donor countries' economies. We should not be talking about aiding the Greek economy only, but the whole of euro-zone in general. It is not just Greece that is in trouble financially, but it is the country that is used as a scapegoat, to cover the mistakes that the European leadership made when they were creating the euro.

I find it very offensive that Greece must endure such attitudes by its partners, just so they can satisfy their voters back home. Instead of telling them the truth and revealing the reality of the crisis, they prefer to humiliate Greece and its people, to cover their true actions. This is highly offensive to the Greeks, as it should be for all Europeans. Our leaders are undermining our intelligence and are using populist methods to keep the public opinion under control.

But such attitude is not very constructive in our efforts in unifying Europe, if that is still in our leaders' agenda and interests. By using the Greeks as scapegoat and treating them as the poor, corrupt and failed nation that constantly needs European assistance or surveillance, or by calling the Germans "Nazi," we create deep divisions between the European populations. And we may never be able to heal our relations, or proceed with the necessary reforms to create a more equal, united Europe.

The whole euro-zone must go through radical reforms, but at the moment it is only the peripheral states that are placed under the scrutiny and supervision of the richer states. They want to make sure that the poorer nations proceed with the reforms that they want them to go through. But when will the rich nations proceed with theirs? Is the salvation of the euro-zone based solely on the peripheral economies and how can we built a united Europe with such bullying practices?

Generally Germany should stop appearing to be leading the austerity programs right now and take a step back, keep it low for a while. It really harms European unity and any further integration attempts, when the German leaders appear to lead Europe and tell the weaker states what to do.

As long as the crisis prevails, Germany should leave it to the European institutions to keep an eye on the progress that the countries under the EU/IMF bail-out program have made. By sending a very arrogant German official to play a theatrical role just so he can satisfy the German voters, they are only pouring oil to the fire.

The Greeks are suffering from the policies he imposed on them, plus they have to constantly be smeared by the European media and be used as the scapegoat for this crisis. As we have repeatedly proved to Europe, we know our history very well and we never forget it, so Europe must tread very carefully in Greece.

Otherwise any future attempts of a European federal entity, that will require the consent of its citizens may be torpedoed not by the more Euro-skeptic nations, but by one that was originally in full favor!

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