Outrage and disenchantment in Greece ahead of austerity vote
The protests have become the largest social movement in Greece since martial law in 1974. More than a pushback against austerity, they hint at broad skepticism toward Europe's leaders.
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George Stefanatos, a graphic artist, has come to Syntagma Square, an acre of palm trees and evergreens, every weekday since May 24. "I'm here because there is a deeper crisis of ourselves and our society. We've been closed in our houses, sitting on our couches, watching TV. No one questioned anything; it wasn't healthy. But I think we are waking up. We have started talking with each other. That's why I am here. We are talking about the economy but really we are talking about many other things."Skip to next paragraph
Loukas Tsoukalis, director of the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy, says the dynamics date to the 2008 economic crisis: "The bursting of the economic bubble is leading to substantial changes in many countries; it is shifting the tectonic plates and we are seeing new forces. In Sweden and Finland we've had the election of nationalist parties unimaginable a few years ago. What is common is anger at political elites. In Greece we see a challenge to established parties – but which way it will go we don't know."
Teetering on edge of default
The big issue remains the deep austerity cuts, adding to last year's cuts after Greek leaders revealed public debt of $350 billion. That threw Europe into a stark moment of soul-searching and an eventual bailout or "stability fund." Greece now needs a second deal and austerity is required by the EU for Greece to receive the $12 billion loan by July 15 – or face bankruptcy.
Having tremulously survived a June 21 confidence vote, the Papandreou government, armed with a new and influential finance minister who had been the prime minister's chief rival, still faced passing austerity cuts on June 28.
The possibility of a Greek default – with untold consequences for the world economy – has suddenly and powerfully seized Europe's attention. And as the crisis continues to unfold, fingers are pointing in every direction.
European officials are gnashing their teeth, irritated that a small southern nation making up 2.5 percent of Europe's gross domestic product could trigger a genuine crisis. US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner called out Europe's leaders on June 21 for a lack of decisive action to quell a dangerous default at a time when global recovery is fragile. Oxford University's Timothy Garton Ash says the problem is a flagging ardor in Germany for the European project, and that Chancellor Angela Merkel must explain to a skeptical public why it is in Germany's interest to put its mighty weight behind a deal to calm the markets.
Corruption and overspending
In Athens, despite charges of collective denial in many quarters, there is a strong awareness that the nation overspent and is corrupt from top to bottom, as Mr. Papandreou has said openly. A store clerk argues, "We need to change our mentality. Those Greeks that say they can't find a job are not entirely honest. You can find a job if you try. I don't buy the excuses."
Reform-minded experts such as Takis Pappas at the University of Strasbourg in France say Europe has no option but to bail out Greece or let it default, and default is a "catastrophic option." At the same time, Mr. Pappas argues that "Greece is blackmailing the EU and I don't like this. They see there is no alternative. What we need instead is a bridge between austerity and growth."