Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Why austerity makes corruption worse; in Greece and elsewhere.

One of the main culprits for Greece's damaged economy and financial troubles-according to most European media and analysts-was the corruption that plagued the country.

Greece suffers from it at all levels; starting from government corruption, which inevitably trickles down to the lower levels of its society.

But where does the delinquency culture has its roots and why hasn't been eradicated yet?

In Greece we have a saying: the fish stinks from its head. That means that in an organization, family or a country, the problems arise from its leadership; the parents, the management or the government.

And since it is the government and the state institutions in Greece that are corrupt and dysfunctional, how can anyone expect the country to seriously tackle corruption?

Government corruption derives from many sources. The Ottoman and Byzantine authoritarian legacy, Greece's troubled recent history, its deep ideological divisions which are remnants of the civil war, the Greek Orthodox Church. The list can go on.

The reality is that the Greek elites oppose or are reluctant allowing the country to change, because if it does so they will obviously lose out; in power, influence and economic prominence.

They are indifferent in reforming the country, or tackling the red tape that makes doing business in Greece difficult. Nor dealing with tax evasion, as they are the ones who are the worse offenders. If they modernize the country foreign investors might come in, posing a serious threat to their monopolies.

On the other hand, Greece's elites have been wasting Greek and European tax payer's money, for sustaining the European and American industrial elites.

They have been striking deals with leading German companies, or buying American, French or German weaponry that Greece does not really need; to protect itself from Turkey, a NATO ally.

Instead of investing in reforming the country and its institutions, they are playing their part in a global and pan-European financial and political establishment. The only government that shows some signs of moving away from this mentality is the government of Syriza.

Yet Europe is working hard to overthrow it, because it is Leftist and it poses a serious threat to the Liberal and Conservative European establishment. If Syriza succeeds, more Leftist governments might spring out across Europe.

Consequently, because of their ideological differences or national interests, European elites are opposing any potential change in Greece. Disregarding of course the fact that the former establishment parties, did nothing to reform the country.

Furthermore the Greek citizens have naturally their own share of blame. Their culture and mentality is heavily influenced by the country's Ottoman past. Greece's citizens-especially those in the countryside- seek to have a very personal and nepotistic relationship with local authorities and the government.

That is how they were brought up. In the past, especially during the junta era you just did not challenge the police or the local authorities, which had absolute power over you. They could confiscate your property and exile you in the Soviet states, if you were even accused of being a communist.

Due to the very unstable political past, most Greeks that are now middle aged and hold the reigns of the country, were raised in absolute poverty. The two world wars, plus the civil one that followed, crippled the country forcing millions in deprivation.

Back then, very few Greeks were getting any education. Their majority were forced to leave school early, to support their families. With little education, a large number of them were forced into emigration to other European countries, or the rest of the world.

Opportunities were scarce and overall the Greeks adopted a very opportunistic and selfish attitude, in order to survive. Poverty created more corruption as it became common practice to evade the laws, or bribe the local authorities in order to get them off your back. There was no justice or equality back then, you could not progress without the right connections or bribery.

Whole generations grew up under such conditions. We are describing most people that are now aged over 50 in Greece and of course, hold the top positions in Greece's education, local government and industrial or financial corporations.

This generation is not going to change easily or proceed with any reforms. Doing business the way they do is all they know. In fact they are the ones who are responsible for Greece's demise. The country's very leadership belongs to this generation, with perhaps the only exception the current Syriza government.

If Greece has to change, it must encourage its young people into these top spots. They have furthered their experience and education in international European universities. They have traveled more, are multilingual and have new ideas, plus they are at their most creative.

Unfortunately the Troika/EU inspired austerity forced this young generation into either emigration or unemployment and poverty. Young people in Greece right now suffer from lack of opportunities and to survive, they will probably have to do what their predecessors were doing to survive; cheat, tax evade or engage in unorthodox and illegal employment practices.

Greece is suffering from a brain-drain, since nowadays it is the most educated and qualified youths that are leaving the country. How can Europe expect the country to reform itself and change, without its best resource; its young, skilled workforce.

According to recent EU Commission report, Greece is to lose more than 20% of its population until 2060, due to its low birthrates and continuous emigration. Low birthrates that are also a result of poverty and unemployment, as young people can not start families of their own, well until their mid thirties.

The country will be a nation of pensioners, with few opportunities for young people. Any chance of reforms and a change in the Greek people's mentality, will be diminished with the continuous emigration. Older generations are more conservative by nature.

How does Europe hope to force Greece to reform, when it is condemning young Greeks into the same vicious circle of poverty, lack of education and employment opportunities?

These were some of the main reasons that corruption settled in Greece in the first place. The poorer a nation the more it suffers from it.

If the European leadership ever wants to have Greece as an equal, prosperous and dynamic member, it can't continue with its austerity policies that cripple the country's youth. Greece needs investments to offer employment opportunities to its young people and in addition reforms in government and local authority level.

Reforms that will never happen if Europe forces the Greeks into further poverty and constant humiliation. The more this situation continues, the more hard lined the response will be from the Greek people, opposing any reforms.

Or even worse, the on-going austerity and economic crisis, might further destabilize Greece politically and economically, resulting in an even more radical political party coming into power, like the Golden Dawn. With potential disastrous consequences for the whole continent.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Britain remains conservative, with consequences for Europe.

On the 7th of May the British public decided on their future government. While the pre-election opinion polls predicted a very close result, the Tories managed a surprise victory.

Despite the odds, they achieved a parliamentary majority meaning that for five more years, Britain will be ruled by the Conservatives.

This development will not only have an impact on the UK, but on Europe too.

With Conservatives gaining power in the UK, we now have the possibility of a "Brexit" from the European Union. Prime Minister Cameron has promised the country a referendum in 2017 on whether to stay in the European Union or to exit out of it. (CNN)

The result, if we take into account this election result, could be unpredictable. Europe will never be the same again without the UK as a member of the EU. 

Ireland for example will really need to rethink its relationship, both with Britain and the EU. The small country has close ties with its larger neighbor and the Northern Ireland situation will need to be renegotiated. Right now after the Good Friday Agreement, its citizens can chose either or both Irish and British citizenship.

How will this agreement be affected, once being British citizen won't guarantee being an EU one too? And will the borders between the North and the Republic have to be reinstated? 

Ireland of course will not be the only region of Europe which will be impacted. The EU will lose one of its oldest members and a net contributor to its budget, plus a nation with significant experience in international diplomacy and politics.

For Britain itself, a withdrawal from the EU could also bring numerous challenges. Apart from the obvious economic risks that many business and financial experts are warning of, there is also the question of Scotland.

The Scots may have voted against independence in the recent referendum, but that does not mean that the idea is dead in the water. In these elections the Scottish National Party became the third largest elected power in parliament. (CNN)

There have been speculations in the British press that a big win for the SNP could lead to yet another referendum in 2016. Many Scots also don't like the Conservative sentiments against the EU, where they'd like to stay. (CNN)

In an extreme scenario, Britain could leave the European Union, triggering Scotland to leave Britain, and join the EU. (CNN) Such possibility could redraw not only the map and politics of the UK, but Europe as well.

The only positive outcome from the British elections, is the failure of UKIP to win the seats they hoped for. The conservative party only managed to have one of their members in the new British Parliament, while its leader Nigel Farage has quit the party's leadership as result.

Nevertheless, the impact UKIP had in British politics is significant. One can say that they have achieved their goal, despite losing the elections. They have been a serious threat to the establishment parties, forcing the Tories and Mr. Cameron to guarantee a referendum on EU membership to the British people. 

Something that will result in their inevitable defeat in the next elections, should they backtrack on it.

But Britain's preference for the Right has not been the only one in Europe. In the recent Finnish elections, the nationalist Right-wing Finns Party came second, forming a coalition with the other two major parties in Finland. 

That will mean that the Scandinavian country will stick to conservative, nationalist politics that will pose some difficulties on European level. Especially in relation to managing the debt of other countries under the Troika's supervision, like Greece.

With Finland and Britain turning Rightwards, together with a conservative Germany as well as many other continental national governments, Europeans must realize that austerity is here to stay. Instead of complaining about it, they could start voting without being influenced by nationalist, populist agendas.

Perhaps Europe's citizens are not bothered by austerity after all. At least not until it starts affecting them in the same way it did, the citizens of the peripheral economies of the continent.

The only country that turned to the Left as a result of the austerity policies, was Greece. But how can a single Leftist government like Syriza can fight or limit austerity in Europe, when EU citizens keep voting for Right Wing and Conservative governments?

The latest developments in Europe's politics are thus particularly bad for Greece. The indebted country will have to face alone right-wing governments from all over Europe, organised in one political super-group the EPP. Their agenda is to turn Europe into a continent in which neo-liberal policies dominate, modeled after USA.

As result, an agreement between Greece and its European partners will be very difficult-if not impossible- unless other countries turn to the Left. But since Europeans seem to prefer conservative parties as governments, this outcome could be still far off.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Ireland decides on same sex marriage and family.

On the 22nd of May there will be another referendum in Ireland. This time on the right of same sex couples to marry. 

Civil partnerships already exist in the country since 2011, but now the Irish public will vote on giving full and equal rights to gay individuals on marriage.

Many view it as a milestone, as homosexuality was only decriminalized in the Catholic nation in 1993. They hope to make Ireland the 13th European state to give gay marriages full legal recognition and status.

While the opinion polls have been steadily showing support for a YES vote, the NO campaign has been increasingly vocal. Their arguments mainly evolve around the definition of the future Irish families and the rights of children.

Yet, the referendum question relates to the issue of loving and committed same sex couples having the right to have a civil marriage. That is the only issue and question being put to the voters.

This referendum is not about adoption or about surrogacy – these are clearly important issues and ones that people care about deeply but they are complex issues which are dealt with in legislation and are not part of this referendum and should not form part of the debate. (Marriage Equality

The Children and Family Relationship Bill 2015 will address many of the legal gaps faced by Irish children with lesbian and gay parents. This should become law by mid-April 2015. (Marriage Equality)

A single straight, lesbian or gay person can already adopt but an unmarried straight couple or a gay/lesbian couple cannot. For an adopted child already living with gay or lesbian parents, the Bill will mean that he or she can have a legal relationship with his/her second parent, the adoptive father or mother’s partner. (Marriage Equality)

The issue of adoption will be dealt with in the Children and Family Relationships Bill 2015 not the referendum. Adoption forms only a tiny part of this Bill and the changes mean that an unmarried cohabiting straight couple or a gay or lesbian cohabiting couple will be able to apply jointly to adopt. (Marriage Equality)

In other words the NO campaign uses the potential adoption of children by gay couples, to win the referendum. They cite that a child needs a mother and a father, thus underlining its human rights. 

They oppose such development because according their beliefs, it is not "natural". But the definition of family and marriage has been altered so much in modern times.

Nowadays we got many different types of families, other than the traditional. How "natural" is it, like in many cases of straight couples adopting, to have a "white" couple adopting an African or Asian child? 

And what of one parent families, could they be characterized as "natural"? People now form families from two broken ones, while there are families that are formed outside of marriage. 

Over the past decades we got over many of taboos and prejudices. Marriage between divorcees, between people of different race and children outside marriage. In each case there was always a debate, protests and demonstrations, but our societies always opted for freedom, equality and tolerance; and so they must now.

If our society chooses to forbid homosexual individuals to marry, on the grounds of opposing the redefinition of the modern family, it will simply act truly hypocritically. 

Our societies allow straight couples to adopt, often overlooking some realities. Especially when some of them pay for an adoption in a desperate attempt for a child, thus literally buying another human being.

All that so that they can hide from their community that they can not have children, aspiring to create a "normal" family. In reality a child won't save their marriage or legitimize it.

If some people feel awkward about gay adoptions and they want to protect the rights of children, they are right to have concerns. But shouldn't they do so for straight couple adoptions? 

Since they want to open a debate about the consequences and effects of adoption they should do so for every couple, gay or straight.

It is true that some gay couples can never be eligible for an adoption, because of their circumstances or lifestyle. But so are many straight couples.

Besides, the main aim of the gay community is to be able to marry and their unions to have the same legal statues as those formed by heterosexual couples. Adoption is not usually their primary concern, at least for a large number of gay couples.

Thus the notion that if gay marriage becomes legitimate, our societies will be full of children adopted and raised by gay people has no grounds.

What homosexual couples are demanding is equal human rights and  in love.Why can a "straight" man marry a non-national woman and give her legal residence permission in the country, while a gay man can not do so for the person he loves?

And why can't a lesbian mother adopt her partner's child from a former heterosexual relationship, making her a legal guardian? What happens to a gay couple's joined property and wealth they have accumulated, after the death of one of the partners?

These are some of the issues that homosexual couples are facing and what this referendum campaigns should be focusing on.

It will be a benefit to our societies to grant homosexual individuals their human rights and integrate them fully. They have been forced to the periphery of our social fabric for too long, unjustifiably and unfairly.

They have greatly contributed to human culture, society and history, it is about time to end discrimination and stop treating them as second class citizens.

Ireland should become the 13th European state to recognize same sex marriage, but in no way should it be the last. All EU member states must adopt similar legislation to give the same rights to all the Union's citizens.

With the free movement of people being one of the fundamental rights of EU citizens, how can a marriage be recognized in one state while it won't be in another? And what about an adopted child's rights, if its parents decide to move to another EU member?

This referendum won't just be a milestone in Ireland's modern history, but a small positive step towards where the whole Europe should be heading; to equality, freedom and tolerance of every individual in this continent.