Aftermath of the French President’s visit to Athens

Visiting our country last week, Emmanuel Macron appeared to be a pleasant person in his encounters, cultivated and also proud of his knowledge of ancient Greek history, like  any well-educated Frenchman.

In an attempt to pinpoint possible problems (as usual), in relation to this visit, let me emphasize that these are not to be found  on the side of the French president, but unfortunately on that of the Greek political leadership. The government, as well as the opposition, to a large extent, had great expectations of this visit, and paradoxically  seemed extremely satisfied after it, with no justification whatsoever.  Let us examine what the French President has brought to Greece with his speech, and what should have been the Government’s, as well as the opposition’s response, but unfortunately was not.

  1. The Speech

If one excludes his references to the achievements of our ancestors, and his very successful attempt to speak Greek, M. Macron’s speech was a recitation of generalities, not including  any concrete commitment to alleviating the suffering that the EU has been imposing on Greece for approximately 8 years. It is true that the French president mentioned the Greek predicament, but I could also discern an element of underlying praise towards our government for persuading  the people of the necessity, not to mention the supposed benefits, of this policy.

1 Macron was perfectly clear, just like the German Finance Minister, that there cannot be any discussion of “debt relief” before the “reforms” are completed. For M. Macron, who is not only one of the “enfants gâtés” of the international bankers but also a neoliberal himself, as he does not fail to state at every opportunity, the “reforms” are at the centre of his worldview. Since the world we live in has only two macroeconomic systems, liberal and interventionist, this choice is by no means to be condemned, but with the necessary qualification obviously, that the smooth functioning of economies requires their combined application rather than the dogmatic imposition of one, to the exclusion of the other. It would be interesting, therefore, if M. Macron could proceed to clarify the kinds of “reforms” which he, along with the German Minister of Finance, considers as a prerequisite for the salvation of our country. The truth is that no member of the government or the opposition, or even our “partners”, has ever thought it necessary during the last eight  miserable years to explain to us exactly what these fabled “reforms” consist of, exactly what is expected from them, and when they are supposed to end. It is clear that to simply mention reforms, without specifying their content, does not mean anything. As far as Greece is concerned, it is well known that, since the beginning of the crisis, “reforms”, which are not reforms, are confined, first of all, to the sweeping elimination of all the improvements achieved by the social struggles of the last 200 years to the – until then – barbaric labour market environment, and secondly to the massive selling off of the whole of Greece. The French, of course, and in particular  M. Macron, as an economist, are well aware that these do not fall into the category of “reforms” as these are extensively taught in the economic schools of France. They are also aware that the impoverishment of the workers leads to devastating economic and social outcomes and that the sale of ports, airports, water, electricity and nationally sensitive social services in generaldoes not constitute any sort of reform and is undesirable and dangerous in many ways. There are, by contrast, a number of real reforms that Greece urgently needs, but in which there is no interest.

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Another point in the French President’s speech was to emphasize the importance of Europe, its cohesion that we must rescue at any cost, so that it may play its important role on the international economic and cultural scene, in which the presence of Greece is obviously absolutely necessary. At the same time, he acknowledged (indirectly but very clearly) that this Europe needs to change (because it clearly has many problems) and to evolve into a federal one, with its leading representative a newly established Finance Minister of Europe. The idea is certainly not a new one, since it  forms the basic argument of all proponents of Europe who seek to calm  the reactions of European citizens, among whom the number of Eurosceptics has come to exceed the number of those accepting the continuation of a united Europe. Apart from the fact that this long-standing vision was rightly described by the German newspaper Die Welt on the day after the French president’s speech as  a “naïve utopia,” it has within it a poisonous thorn that was  embraced without hesitation by M. Macron from the moment he came to power. There have been  many reactions against it abroad (but paradoxically not in Greece), with concern expressed at the transformation of a Europe of equal member states (based on its founding treaty) into a Europe of many speeds.  I wonder if the leaders of our own government, who with such emotional enthusiasm have spoken about Europe and Greece’s participation in it (at any cost), have really so unhesitatingly adopted the concept of our country as the fifth wheel of the European carriage.

It is natural and perfectly understandable for the French President to serve the interests of his home country as he perceives them, and thus to avoid taking sides which might cause him problems with Germany. The revival of the Franco-German axis is at the heart of the attempts to buttress the collapsing regime in Europe. But our attitude, or rather the attitude of our politicians, can only be described as incomprehensible. In one word, the offensively submissive attitude of the Greek government, reinforced by its unconcealed excitement at everything  M. Macron said, is unfortunately proof of acceptance of Greece’s role as a colony of the Europe Union.

  1. B.    What the Greeks  would like to hear from their rulers, in response to Emmanuel Macron

“Dear M. le President of France, our great friend,

We are extremely happy to welcome you to Greece, and  also because you and your spouse have selected our country for your first official visits. We consider you a friend of our country, so apart from the traditional speeches and formalities, we will speak to you honestly about the unacceptable drama that our people have been experiencing for almost 8 years with the certainty that you will transmit it in any way you choose to the rest of our partners.

We agree in principle with you that the dissolution of Europe would be shameful and that the euro should be rescued  (if possible) in spite of its serious problems. But this is why Europe needs to change fundamentally, moving towards its peoples rather than towards more bureaucracy, elitism and minimization of democracy. This is a difficult task, perhaps at the limit of the impossible. We wish you every success. In the meantime, however, Greece cannot wait, because it is crumbling under the sheer weight of memoranda that lead nowhere, and of the quasi-reforms that impoverish it from day to day.  Do not listen M. le President to everything  we occasionally say in order to  appease the justified wrath of our compatriots. Greece is not recovering and cannot do so.  In fact unemployment is rising, but it is masked by ignoring the long-term unemployed who are too disillusioned to look for a job any more, by not counting the many thousands of young people who have left Greece hoping for a better life away from it, and above all by the growth of employment with no social benefits, also extended to those who work for 1-2 hours a week, but are regarded as employees. As an economist you know that, however desirable development may be, it is impossible in an economy where all trends towards development are ruthlessly crushed.  Let me mention one, which is quite sufficient, namely the demand for staple foodstuffs, which has been sinking over the last few years. In spite of the impoverishment of workers, many of whom work for €200-300 per month, often for 10 or 12 hours a day, and despite the fact that the labour market (due to “reforms”) has turned into a jungle, our partners call for their continuation, and have even reacted against  the fact that the new Minister of Labour tried to pass some completely marginal improvements to a recent relevant bill. Taxes of every kind, many resulting from an extremely vivid imagination, have drained the last drop of liquidity from the economy, thus completing the inhumane effect of spitting out the enormous primary surpluses required by our partners. Draconian wage and pension reductions continue unchecked. Public hospitals lack adequate staff, basic medicines and gauze. The number of businesses closing  is consistently higher than the number  being established. So, let us tacitly forget about development, since any form of development is a joke, under the conditions prevailing in Greece.

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In the absence of growth, however, it is impossible to repay this huge debt, even by the year 3000. And it goes without saying that until 75% has been repaid, Greece will be under surveillance through some form of memorandum. So M. le President, do not take our government seriously when it says that coming out  onto the markets will also ensure  abolition of the memoranda. On the contrary, we will then be paying much more interest on loans … but what is there to do? The people need some hope, even if it is unrealistic.

Let us therefore, M. le President, share your enthusiasm for the present – or for the new – Europe and let us not make disruptive moves (which, however, are absolutely necessary in our case). You will agree, however, that we have already made great sacrifices considering the size and capabilities of our small country, for the sake of saving French and German banks for the sake of not breaking up Europe. Sacrifices that have destroyed an entire nation and killed a  people. Now, however, the time is up and we can no longer deceive the Greek people for the benefit of the EU: people who are slowly dying under torture. The EU, albeit without the IMF, must assume its responsibilities and cease imposing programmes and measures on Greece while knowing perfectly well that they are not only doomed to fail but will also consummate the disaster that we have experienced so far.  You are well aware, M. le President, that since the beginning of the crisis Greece has been obliged to implement inadequate programs with no chance of success, which are not being revised, as if to forestall recognition of the errors made by our partners and the IMF. This criminally erroneous policy, however,  is constantly being condemned by individual EU and IMF officials, but is still, nevertheless, being  imposed by force, at the expense of Greece’s survival.

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This constant deception is inconsistent with what history associates with the French people.  It is incompatible with democracy, which, as you said, was born on the Pnyx. Neither does it serve Europe, because sooner or later the Greek people, who are ready, and who have nothing to lose, will rise again. You certainly know  that leading economists, including among them many French scholars, (e.g. Professor Gerard Lafay), have taken a very clear position through their analyses in  books and numerous articles (self-evidently), of how and why the memoranda and “reforms” are destroying Greece rather than saving her.

Therefore, if you wish to save the EU from collapsing, we request that you become our  own precious ambassador, explaining to our other partners why the European programmes for Greece must be urgently and radically revised, why all the useless urging as to the putative need for quasi-reforms should cease, and why instead appropriate reforms need to be seriously considered, reforms which will make it possible for the Greek economy really to improve through development, and not just shrink.

Let us summarize, M. le President. For Greece, the growth potential (which has been foregone due to the memoranda and “reforms”) is infinitely more important than any type of debt relief. If this debt is relieved of its burdensome and odious part, and if Greece is allowed to develop, we will need no loans, memoranda, perpetual negotiations or other similar miseries. With an annual growth rate of 3.5% per year, which we can clearly achieve, we will pay our debt over time.

An honest solution to the Greek problem is now more urgent than ever, because it is no longer possible forever to continue narratives about development … which is forever coming closer but not arriving. Furthermore, M. le President, you must understand that the counterweight to the ongoing deadly sacrifices you are asking of us is cannot reasonably be for us to occupy a servile position in the new Europe of  many speeds that you envision.

Thank you for your attention,
Maria Negreponti-Delivanis
former rector and professor at the University of Macedonia,
president of the Delivanis Foundation