Tuesday, January 27, 2015

SYRIZA's victory in Greek elections is the Troika's and Germany's fault!

As expected, the victor of the Greek Parliamentary elections in 2015 is the so called "radical" leftist party, SYRIZA.

A day after the party won the majority in the Greek Parliament, only the markets from the international community were quick to react. As result the euro fell even further against other currencies.
Greece's European partners have been slow to comment on the party's leader Alexis Tsipras' victory, or congratulate him.

The outgoing Greek Prime Minister Mr. Samaras, has even avoided to welcome Mr. Tsipras in his new residency as Greece's next leader, as it is the custom.

Their response clearly shows their annoyance or perhaps awkwardness, if not their ignorance and bad manners.If you are a politician with a good ethos, you treat your opponent with the expected respect, even after your defeat.

Yet throughout Europe and especially in other EU member states under an austerity program, the SYRIZA victory was welcomed by leftist or anti-austerity parties. Many citizens across the union received the news as a new hope deriving from the Greek result. But others are more skeptical.

In reality, it is too early to say that the new development coming from Greece can be perceived as "hope". Because if SYRIZA or Mr. Tsipras himself want to ever get reelected for a second term, they will have to negotiate with Greece's creditors.

If they stick to everything that they ever promised, most likely they will lead Greece in a very dangerous territory and direct coalition with  its European partners, especially Germany or the Troika.

That could mean a much feared "Grexit" from the euro, that would result to more hardships for the already troubled Greek economy. And if that happens, the Greek voters will be reluctant to vote SYRIZA back to power.

On the other hand we find ourselves in a peculiar situation, that the two extremes should be avoided. Either if Mr. Tsipras does everything that he promised, or none of it, the outcome could be equally damaging for his party.

If he does not proceed with the much promised reforms and demands from the Troika to end austerity, then the Greek voters will turn to another party to fulfill them.

And here comes the tricky part. Because as much as hated SYRIZA is by the European bourgeois, there could be a much worse result than this in the next elections, following Tsipras' hypothetical failure.

On last Sunday's elections, the far-right party Golden Dawn, has kept all of its seats in the Greek Parliament, remaining the third party in the country.

If the Europeans do not want to negotiate with Tsipras and bow to at least some of his demands, then the EU should be prepared for potentially its first Neo-Nazi government, the first since WW2.

These elections have showed that the Greek electorate did not just vote for Golden Dawn by "mistake,"or as a protest vote. The party's voters have conscientiously chose to  maintain their support to it.

It should act as a wake up call for Europe's leaders. With the far-right rising everywhere across the continent and as Golden Dawn is far more radical than SYRIZA, the Troika and Mrs Merkel ought to better be willing to compromise with Tsipras.

Besides, that is all the Greek people want; some relief after six years of austerity and the return of hope for their future. They want to see investments and new jobs, while the country's economy to start growing again.

The majority do not want to leave either the EU or the euro-zone and if such tragedy ever happens, it will not be Tsipras' fault, but the Troika's. To their feet and those of the German political elite, we should lay the blame for the Greek elections result.

If they were a bit more lenient and compromising over the past six years towards the troubled economies of Europe, we would not have such dilemmas now.  They currently have no other option but to negotiate, allowing SYRIZA to implement at least some of the policies that it promised.

It is outrageous though to think that Europe did not learn from its past mistakes. We have been in similar situation just before WW2 in Germany itself. How could anyone ignore history's lessons?

When you apply such catastrophic policies and ruin a country by all means, it is inevitable to get some extreme reaction by the voters. They always turn for radical parties.

How on earth did the German and European leadership ever hoped, that they could treat the Greeks as they did and get away with it, after what happened in Germany in the past. Unless of course they do aim to destabilize Europe for the long term.

Only a fool would believe that with an ongoing economic crisis and such harsh austerity measures, the Greeks would be afraid to turn to more "radical" parties. Especially after the scaremongering campaign by Mr. Samaras' government, plus those of the German and EU officials.

We know that these tactics do not always work; in Ireland the European bourgeois lost too many referendums in this way. Why keep taking this risk, by disrespecting democracy and the needs of the people?

If Mrs Merkel and the Troika even manage to force Tsipras to back off his expectations plus deal with the Golden Dawn, they better get prepared for more future turbulence. Because Spain is due to vote for its next government by the end of this year.

And the Spaniards who are also fed up with austerity and especially after SYRIZA's victory, are as well expected to turn to the "radical" leftist party Podemos. This could lead to a domino effect, with more and more EU member states possibly following suit.

A European Union with a strong and organized Left, should be a great result for Europe's workers and ordinary citizens. But not for the continent's elites. So one would anticipate a quick compromise from their part.

It would be much preferable to deal with Tsipras now, allowing him to relief his voters from some of the heavy debt burden. In fact austerity as a policy across the EU should be reconsidered, for the very important task of gaining the public's trust and support in the European institutions again.

This economic crisis has done a great damage on the citizens' confidence in them, due to the fact very few policies are aimed at their interests or the greater good.

The EU has merely become an economic experiment, hijacked by almost fanatic economists, lobbyists and bankers that seem to be ignoring the reality of millions of EU citizens. For them, succeeding with their projects at all costs is of the utmost importance.

The euro and its economics, or any of its financial institutions should exist for the betterment of a society as a whole, not just the privileged few. No nation should suffer for the survival of a currency. In the end I believe that our leaders have got their priorities totally wrong in this.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

More Europe is the solution for security issues, not less.

Since the Paris attacks earlier this month, the security and anti-terrorism issue across Europe returned to the limelight of our continent's reality.

The worse affected nations outside of France, were Bulgaria and Romania, that saw their hopes to become members of the Schengen Agreement Area,being destroyed.

The focus on the restriction of the Schengen, with partial reinstatement or stricter border controls across the continent resurfaced. The Far-Right French leader Marine Le Pen, called for a suspension of the Schengen Agreement, to deal with the new national security threat.

While this argument is valid, the best solution would be a pan-European reaction to any security threat that any member state is facing, rather a national one.

It is unacceptable that in every crisis, Europe's leaders turn against one of the few benefits that we citizens are enjoying with our country's EU membership. Yet they never are as vocal to limit the banks' or lobbies' influence in the club.

The free movement, programs like the Erasmus and EURES, are highly beneficial for the ordinary Europeans, but in the long term for the European economy too. By having a highly mobile, multilingual and diverse working force, Europe can gain an advantage against its global competitors.

Yet populism seem to sell very well in every crisis. A better pan-European coordination, would not require more centralization or giving "more powers to Brussels", as many fear.

But by deeper cooperation and solidarity among all EU member states, we could turn the Schengen not just into a free movement Agreement, but a common security and defense area.

Partially this has already started. In light of security concerns, the member states established a joint database to be used in manhunts. Called the Schengen Information System (SIS), it has now been reformed in an attempt to make sharing information between offices faster and easier. (Deutsche Welle)

Thus, there is no need for national politicians to scaremonger their citizens anymore, just to gain a few votes. When we are talking about issues that affect all Europeans, national or personal interests should be set aside.

And as we should all learn to stand by each other, I do not see why Romania and Bulgaria should tolerate this unfair treatment by their European "partners." They have to suffer the rising populist agenda in the EU's "heavyweights" like France, Germany and the Netherlands.

To appease internal issues, fears and complexes, the leaders of the core European countries are keeping Bulgaria's and Romania's Schengen membership in suspense.

That is unacceptable and discriminatory against the Balkan nations. They maybe poor, but they have proven to be committed to the European Union, more than many of its older members are.

United we are stronger and the more states participate in a common European defense and anti-terrorism mechanism, the better. You can not secure Europe's borders, by excluding some of the club's members. It is just awkward and nonsensical to talk about protection of the European territory, keep the free movement, while excluding million of your citizens from it.

It is clear that in this case, "more Europe" is the solution. Closer cooperation in policing, defense, anti-terrorism action, immigration and intelligence agencies.

This unity could also be very crucial to the so much feared Russian "threat", that notably the Baltic states are increasingly worried about.

If Europe shows a determined and fully functioning unity and solidarity, no external threat could in reality challenge it. The rest of the European states must show an increasing support for the club's Eastern or Southern borders, instead of sitting comfortably and passively safe behind the efforts of the bordering nations.

Either with or without the Schengen, immigrants and human traffickers will still strive to enter the heartlands of Europe. It is not Bulgaria's or Romania's fault, it is the result of Europe's economic supremacy over other regions.

Instead of limiting the citizens' freedoms, we should be enhancing them with a coordinated action. Fight populism with resounding results and pan-European initiatives.

End the exclusion and discrimination of certain nations, while supporting those member states that are located in the continent's borders. We are all in this together after all.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Why the economic crisis could result in a disaster for Europe's demographics.

During the past five years Europe and especially the southern part of it is gripped by an economic crisis. The immediate reaction of the continent's leadership, was to impose harsh austerity measures to tackle it and ensure the viability of the euro, plus the continent's banks.

Yet while they were quick to deal with any threat to the single currency and the potential losses for the European banking system, they seem very reluctant to do so for major social issues that arise from the austerity measures, that they have imposed on us.

Unemployment is high and salaries are slashed. Emigration from the worst hit economies to the more affluent regions of Europe is increasing, as people are getting desperate. And it is mainly the younger generation that emigrates, in order to build a future.

That leads not to just an inevitable brain drain, but also a new demographic problem. Demographics for the European continent have been quite gloomy for the past decades. After Japan, Europe's countries and especially those of the South and Eastern regions, are heading for the worse population decline.

That trend is the result of capitalism and a dramatic transformation of the European economy. Living in our continent may be easier than many other regions, but it is also very expensive and competitive.

We are encouraged by our governments to become consumers, by the constant bombardment of advertising and the creation of a lifestyle that is based on the accumulation of goods, property or services. Europe's industries have been outsourced to countries with cheaper labor costs, so that the multinational corporations could gain more.

That leaves very few low-skilled jobs in our continent, that are usually filled by immigrants. Besides, few Europeans would opt in making a career in such jobs, because they pay little and they offer no secure income or prestige.

As result, European youths must study for longer-well into their mid or late 20s-postponing the age of starting a family, in order to attain degrees that would allow them to have better career prospects. In addition the lifestyle in Europe and the West in general, is becoming more egocentric.

Young people are spoiled by choice and materialism, plus they certainly do not wish to start a family before the age of 30, or even later. The consumerist mentality that we have been embedded with, dictate for a university degree, a car, an apartment, travel the world and buy everything that we possible ever wanted, before we get married, start a family and be bogged down with responsibility.

This trend becomes even worse when finances are bad. European youths tend to stay longer with their parents, simply because they can not afford to live on their own or start a family. The economic crisis has made this certainly very evident in Greece and Spain, where even youths who had initially moved out of their parental homes, returned to live with their parents again due to unemployment.

Even when they decide to have a family, the fertility rates are falling across Europe too.The average child per European woman rate is around 1.59, as of 2009. That is one of the lowest in the world and it is almost sure that it will get even lower due to the economic crisis. People not only do not want large families anymore, but now they can't even afford to have children.

One would think that our leaders would recognize the potential  catastrophe that looms over Europe and act on it, as quickly as they did to save the euro. Wrong! Not only they have taken little measures to deal with the problem, but they chose to cut social security services that helped large families cope with the expenses, as part of the austerity measures.

And all that to make sure that the bond holders in Europe's banking system get their money back. No single currency, market or banking system should be above people, in fact they should serve their interests. The reason of their existence is to make people's lives easier, not make them suffer. It seems that in a capitalist system that is a utopia.

Bringing Greece as example, the forecast looks rather gloomy. According to one of the country's leading newspapers-Kathimerini- Greece's population declined by approximately 60,000 in 2013, mainly due to the economic crisis. The deaths for the first time surpassed the births by 16,300 people and 44,200 more individuals decided to emigrate out of the country than those who entered in Greece. (The article in Greek is here)

It is evident that the crisis has made the demographic problem of the country even worse and no solution has been offered by the Troika, or Greece's European partners. The utmost important issue to them is to save the euro.

Across the Southern region of Europe, just like in the Eastern part after the collapse of Communism, people are getting poorer and many kids are forced to leave their education plans, because their parents can not afford them. The crisis takes young people out of schools and throws them in a future with no jobs or forced emigration.

And since immigration into Europe is also increasing from other war torn, or poverty plagued regions of the world, poor Europeans are faced with a very harsh future prospect. They will have to compete in their own country with immigrants, bringing the two communities in an inevitable clash.

The signs are already visible. Europe is becoming more intolerant, xenophobic and is turning against its very European values or dream. Far-right or nationalist parties are mushrooming all over the continent and they are gaining popularity fast.

Under such developments the continent's leadership seem to be paralyzed and unable to deal with the problem.

They prefer to leave the issue to the next government to solve, but by then it will probably be too late. Europe is aging fast and in the future there just won't be enough young people to work, to sustain the ever increasing number of pensioners. Our continent will simply not have enough workers to tax and pay for the elderly.

A fast solution would be more immigration, but with the recent economic developments across the continent, that will also lead to a worsening backlash. Europeans are afraid of the loss of their national identity, or the so called "Islamization"  of Europe. Higher immigration rates in a short period of time, will only aggravate the continent's xenophobia.

It will be too easy to look at countries that took certain steps towards a solution, with good or medium results. But our governments are too short-sighted. The Scandinavian countries or others such as France, could offer some insight.

Necessary measures do not include more cuts in social security measures, but in fact an increase of support for young families. France pays mothers for up to 3 years parental leave and a monthly cash incentive, which is nearly the minimum wage for a mother to stay off work, for one year following the birth of her third child.

Plus it has developed an income tax system, based on the more children the less tax to pay and government subsidized daycare for children under the age of three, and full time school places for over threes paid for by the government. (BBC)

That has made France into one of the European countries with the highest birth rates. In Scandinavia on the other hand, they give parental leave to both parents to take in turn. Sweden’s family policy is aimed at supporting the dual-earner family model and ensuring the same rights and obligations, regarding family and work for both women and men.

Generous spending on family benefits, flexible leave and working hours for parents with young children and affordable, high-quality childcare are the main factors for success. The country's gender pay gap is also the lowest in Europe. (Europa.eu)

Under an EU led program, we could copy the above policies and promote them across Europe, especially to those countries in need. It is not just the recent crisis hit EU members like Greece, but also most of the former USSR democracies like the Baltic states, that face a gloomy demographic future.

So why isn't there an agreement on this, or a collective action or creation of a family oriented fund, to tackle Europe's demographic problems? If we do not act now, it will be too late. Just by 2050, our continent's population won't be able to support any growth in the economy.

So instead of wasting billions in trying to save the banks, why don't we make a much wiser investment that will prove far more necessary and crucial for our economy in the future; in our social security and child policies.

Europe must start investing in its youth, they are the future and they are the most valuable asset of the continent, than any market or currency. Without future workers, citizens, voters or consumers, the single market that the European elites are trying so hard to salvage to the detriment of social security policies, won't survive anyway.

If the future generations are poorer or unable to have children, then there will be no future for Europe. It is time that our continent changed its priorities and focus on policies that are more people and family oriented.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Je suis Charlie......

Today is a sad day for France, Europe, freedom of speech and all of us who in our own little way are trying to influence public opinion, or simply entertain it; cartoonists, bloggers, journalists. All of us constantly with our eyes on current affairs, informing, analyzing, satirizing.

If only somebody who disagrees or gets offended by what we do, storms in our offices, our homes or  work environment and kill us in cold blood.

Such attitudes do not belong in a free and democratic society, and those who commit such crimes should not call themselves civilized human beings. If they want to be part of an open society or a democracy and avail of all the benefits that they bring, then there is one simple rule: you respect another person's opinion even if you disagree with it.

Of course I am referring to today's incomprehensible, sad and outrageous events that took place in France's capital, Paris. Three young men stormed the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a satirical magazine that often hosted cartoons that were lampooning Islam and other religions, and killed 12 people. 

Three young men that should be looking at creating a life for themselves, that they had their whole lives ahead of them, living in one of the most privileged countries in the world, chose instead to become terrorists. They killed in the name of their religion, 12 innocent and creative individuals, accomplished and with so much more to offer.

Killing in the name of a religion, in this day and age, is one of the most daft, tragic and outrageous reasons I can imagine. There is no way to explain it. 

Their actions could have very serious consequences for France and Europe in extend, but also for all European Muslims. In a period where France is experiencing an increasing shift to the far-right, with the National Front's Marine Le Pen being tipped to be one of the two major contestants of the next French Presidential Elections in 2017, this could not come at a worse time.

Mrs Le Pen leads the polls at the moment and her major rival, former French President Mr. Sarkozy, will have to make huge concessions to the rising nationalism among the French voters, in order to have a chance to win. If the Far Right wins the election in France, it will inevitably mean more hard times for Europe.

From now until 2017, we will have the Greek elections by the end of this month, the British EU membership referendum and the French elections, where "radical", "anti-EU" parties have gained significantly ground. How will Europe be able to cope under their pressure?

It could also mean that the whole Muslim community across Europe, could face further pressure and discrimination. Just this week we had a march of around 18,000 in Dresden, Germany, against the "Islamization of Europe".

It is clear now that the European Muslims must reject all radical elements in their circles and cooperate with the authorities to isolate them. Simply announcing a statement of condemnation, won't be enough, if incidents such as this are blown out of proportion. 

The young men who did this despicable act today, were French citizens of Arab origin, raised in France. They allegedly have recently returned from Syria, where they have been radicalized. That issue is not anything new. Thousands of European born Muslims have joined the ranks of radical fighters in Middle East.

If the Muslim communities want to avoid any unfair back-clash, then themselves should reject such elements from their communities.  They should stand in solidarity with Christian, Jewish, other religion followers and secular elements in their communities, for the good of our communities and countries. 

But above all, to make a statement both towards the Europeans but especially towards these radicalized individuals, that these acts are not welcome or accepted by anyone in our continent.

Europeans on the other hand must all stand in solidarity and do not scapegoat the whole Muslim community for the acts of a few. These people do not represent a whole religion, but sadly their actions speak louder than the peaceful coexistence of the majority of the Muslim community among us.

Our tolerance, faith, patience and values will be tested. But we should not give into their pressure and entering the chaos of bigotry, hatred, xenophobia and Islamophobia. 

I wish to offer my sincere condolences to the families of the victims and I would also proudly state: I AM ALSO CHARLIE!  Rest in Peace brothers.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Why Europe should not be terrified of SYRIZA!

Just before the end of 2014, the current Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, has called for snap elections on the 25th of January 2015.

Mr. Samaras has requested that the Greek parliament be dissolved, following parliament’s failure to choose a new president after three rounds of voting. (euronews)

These elections will be crucial not just for Greece, but Europe overall. With the current opposition party SYRIZA, tipped to win these elections by promising an end to the German inspired austerity program, it is clear that the European but also global focus will be on the Greek elections results.

Because if SYRIZA keeps its promise to the Greek people to end austerity, meaning that Greece will have to abandon the bail-out program and its commitment to its European partners, the very existence of the euro currency is in jeopardy; at least according to some analysts.

It is understandable that the Greek people are fed up with austerity and rightly so. After six years of massive salary and pension cuts, combined with a rise of taxes and reduction of social services, their living standards have been constantly been reduced.

If there was a solution or recovery in sight, the Greeks would grin and bear it for a little while. But the situation is actually getting worse. The very social fabric of the country is being dismantled and there is a very real threat of a social unrest, even civil war, if Europe is not careful.

What is making this reality even more infuriating, is that the ordinary Greek people are not to be blamed for the mess; it is the Greek political and industrial elites, in cooperation with their European counterparts that created the crisis.

A fair amount of blame is to be laid to the neo-liberal agenda that Europe has adopted for the past few decades, giving way too much weight and power on its banking sector, than focusing on the real shortfalls of the European economy as a whole.

Now the European elites fear that if SYRIZA comes to power, the smooth cooperation that they have established with the Greek elites over the past few decades will be damaged; and about time. Both Greece and Europe in general need a political shake up.

In their despair, they threaten the Greeks about a euro-exit if SYRIZA keeps its promises, adding that hell will be unleashed upon the country. In reality they know that if Greece exits, more countries will chose to follow suit, like Italy, Spain and Portugal.

That will definitely mean the end of the euro-zone as we know it; a plain scaremongering. It is evident that the European elite (including the Greek one) are terrified of a change of a status quo. Thus they are focusing too much energy in propaganda with doomsday scenarios on the election of a new Greek government, that will not be lead by any of the established political parties.

Their attitude is hypocritical. Instead of wanting to punish the Greek elites for lying about Greece's economy, they are trying to actually protect it and empower it. If that does not prove their guilt and fair share of blame on the situation of the Greek economy, then what is?

The real problem of Europe is intergovernmental-ism. Since the end of WW2 and the creation of the EEC, the European elites worked together without the knowledge and consent of the European voters, in modeling our continent after America.

They favored the interests of the strong multinational corporation lobbies, against those of Europe's voters and tax payers. With the rise of "radical left parties" (as they describe them) like SYRIZA, this balance is being challenged; and it is a good thing!

If we want to create a better, more equal continent, it is highly favorable for the ordinary citizens, to have a strong European Left. SYRIZA can be at the forefront of this development. The party's policies may sound and indeed in most cases they are unrealistic and populist.

But they are using them just to get into power. It is unlikely that once they get elected, they will implement everything they promise to the Greek people. It will be a political suicide to bring the country to its knees by implementing disastrous economic policies. Besides, which Greek government ever in the country's history kept its promises to its people?

I do not think that anyone in SYRIZA would want to be the party that will get Greece kicked out of the euro, out of the EU and try to turn the country into a communist haven! If they ever want to get re-elected they will not proceed into such madness.

Most likely they are using these promises to get the votes of the ordinary Greek people. Populist as it may be, it is the only way to beat the propaganda and scaremongering that the Greek establishment is unleashing upon the Greek voters, through the country's media.

Once SYRIZA gets elected, it is expected to tune down its rhetoric and act more logically. If they want to save the country and work for the good of its people they have no choice. There will be some compromise between the SYRIZA led Greek government and its European counterparts.

In other words, SYRIZA won't be able to implement all that is promising, for the simple reason that everything in politics is a compromise. If they want to remain in power and do not damage the image and reputation of Greece, isolating it and turning it into a pariah in Europe, then they will have to meet their European counterparts half way.

That will be just and fair. After all the Greek debt is not just Greek, but European. The Greeks, Cypriots, Irish and the Portuguese are not paying to save only their banks, but the European and American bond holders in Europe's banking system! Thus the bail-out money that these countries have received, are not staying in their economies but through them, they are returning to the continent's banks.

The election of SYRIZA is a great opportunity for the European Left, the peripheral European economies, for the countries of the East and South Europe and the European working class, to bring democracy and a balance in Europe.

Their promised policies may sound little more than mambo-jumbo at the moment, but Europeans are missing out the whole point.

If the European Left gets more power by organizing itself and if the Southern countries stand behind SYRIZA and Greece, Europe can become a fairer and more democratic continent.

When the voice and interests of the people can also be heard in the European powerhouse that is the EU, not just those of the big corporations, then it will be a historic victory for all citizens across the continent.

Europe and above all Greece, need this radical change, we should not fear it. Either it is SYRIZA or any other leftist but reasonable party, they will bring the much needed reboot that European politics need. The established political parties have created the current mess and nothing will ever change if we keep voting for them.

Only under the pressure of "radical" parties like SYRIZA, will Europe's elites consent to change, hear our voice and respect it. Either you support the Left or not, the Greek struggle can and will define European politics for decades to come, for the benefit of the whole European working class. And that can only be a good thing.