Wed Apr 29th, 2015 at 09:22:49 AM EST
There is a coordinated PR attack against the Greek government, unfortunately also deceiving people from the left, regarding the Greek government's intentions and actions so far. It is far from certain what the results of the negotiations will be, but preemptively announcing SYRIZA's retreat seems to me to be a performative assessment, meant to both flatter the prejudices on which most of the austerian EU governments have built their TINA alternative, and to dissipate international support away from a government that has up to now, in a small but significant way, made the first steps against the dominant narrative, anywhere in the West, over the past 20 years.
So let me put to rest some of the more obnoxious misinformation that is being peddled by "EU / ECB circles" and international media, subservient to the cause of pressuring the new Greek government to submission, by pointing out a few facts...
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- As Alexis Tsipras himself noted in a televised interview the current problem stems from the fact that the SYRIZA government was hoodwinked by both Dijselboem and Draghi into believing that there would be some sort of, perhaps limited but significant, liquidity / funding relief from the ECB especially regarding T Bills and ELA after the February 20 agreement. In short that the Greek government would be allowed a brief liquidity respite until June in order to get its house in order - especially since the budget surplus delivered by the previous government was much smaller than it was reported to be and arrears were amassing in payments to procurers well beyond what was declared by Samaras' ministers. This was not put to paper however (a fact that Euclid Tsakalotos admits shows the inexperience and naive good faith with which the SYRIZA gvt dealt with the institutions) and thus it was void and null as they soon found out. Tsipras reaffirmed in this interview that SYRIZA would not capitulate on any austerity measures. In fact, he announced that if the "lenders" insist on crossing the government's "red lines" (see below) there will be a referendum on the deal presented. So even if there are indeed compromises (which there will be, there already are) it seems unlikely that they will affect the main goal at this point which is to stop austerity.
- The reason that the negotiations are not going anywhere is neither Yanis Varoufakis', lack of proper table manners nor some sort of inability of the Greek government to quantify their plans. It is the simple fact that there is a very important political gulf between the two sides on the following four issues:
- Labor laws / wages: the Greek government has already introduced a bill that restores labor protections and gradually raises the minimum wage in the private sector to 2009 levels, starting October and reaching 751 Euros/month next year. The Greek gvt is also unyielding to pressures aiming to further facilitate large-scale firings
- Pensions: The Greek gvt is adamant that no further cuts to pensions is possible and insists on reintroducing the Christmas bonus ("13th salary") for those pensioners under 700 Euros per month. Pensions were paid until 2010 in 14 installments. The troika demanded that these be reduced to 12, thus enforcing a 14% cut across the board in all pensions, and this apart from other nominal value reductions of monthly pensions, or indeed purchasing power losses. The average pension has been reduced since 2010 by 30-40%. 66% of all retirees are paid less than 500 Euros a month
- VAT tax: the Greek government is open to an increase in the luxury tax, but considers VAT to be ridiculously high at 23% already for an economy in its 5th year of depression. It also refuses to increase reduced VAT rated in the Greek islands, especially as the tourist season begins
- Public property: SYRIZA will not proceed with privatizations other than those already under way, and on those it wants a serious renegotiation of terms (which are colonial i.e. in the case of peripheral airports)
3. Regarding calls for SYRIZA to "ditch it's Left Platform"
and the alliance with Independent Greeks, in order to forge a new government that could include Potami and PASOK, this is a no go as it would be politically suicidal:
- There is no small "leftist opposition" within SYRIZA that is impeding a compromise. It is improbable that a majority of SYRIZA MPs would go along with a deal that significantly retreats from these red lines. The bulk of the SYRIZA base considers these lines to be an absolute minimum (and in fact already a compromise) if a left government wants to still call itself that. SYRIZA's commitment to stay in the Eurozone is not unconditional, there is no leadership of SYRIZA IMHO that can play along with an austerity agenda and still remain the leadership. In fact a majority of ministers would probably quit in such circumstances. Euclid Tsakalotos who is now appointed coordinator for the negotiations is, by all reasonable measures, to the left of Varoufakis. There is no SYRIZA ministry right now (and to this I can attest personally) that is planning anything but the dismantling of the austerity policies they have inherited, although the pace might vary.
- The great political rift line in Greece is between the pro-austerity and the anti-austerity parties. To Potami (and obviously PASOK) are wedded to austerity, but beyond that, they are (reasonably) seen as having ties with the oligarchy and the bankers' establishment, and are part of the neoliberal consensus around the "Extreme Center". In fact even with the bills introduced in Parliament regarding the liberalization of Greece's (decrepit) penal and system and on the refugee issue, To Potami is much closer to the xenophobic and "security"-obsessed right than are the Independent Greeks, whose penchant for nationalist rhetoric hasn't stopped them from supporting some of the most progressive laws introduced in Greece in the past few years.
4. As for the lamentations regarding SYRIZA's alleged capitulation coming from the left: I'm not sure where these are derived from. Certainly they aren't based on the actual government policies being introduced. As we speak many small steps in reversing the austerity disaster of the past 5 years have been implemented:
- abolishing the entrance fee to public hospitals and making them available to everyone whether or not they are insured (a big deal in a country where by now > 20% of the population is uninsured)
- re-establishing collective bargaining and labor rights and restoring by law the minimum wage (in two steps, over a period of a year, which is indeed a retreat from the initial intentions, but nonetheless a break with the past 5 years of continuous reductions)
- the public broadcaster ERT has been reopened and all of its employees rehired. Private TV channels exempted from all sorts of fees and taxes forever are now facing a huge bill and their illegal (and decried even by Freedom House) monopoly over the digital TV spectrum is being ended
- also within the year, a number of public employees, most prominently the cleaning ladies of the Finance Ministry (despite obstacles by a reactonary judiciary) will also be rehired, including around 4500 new nurses and doctors to support the decaying health system
- primary residences are again protected by law from foreclosure as are savings from confiscations from private debts. And (smaller than initially planned but significant nonetheless) emergency aid (electricity, transportation, housing and food) for the most afflicted has began to be delivered, while banks were forced to follow suit in removing debt burdens from the poorest
- meanwhile oligarchs are being brought to justice for tax evasion for the first time ever - with the help of the Lagarde list, tax avoidance by the rich is being addressed concretely again for the first time, while a deal with Switzerland has been inititiated that will tax depositors there immediately
- the corrupt edifice of (oligarch-run) football is being attacked
- anti-environmental mining is being impeded with the obvious intent of being stopped while the mother company is being prosecuted for tax-avoidance
- an instalment plan on tax and social security arrears (vetoed in the past by the troika) has been (quite succesfully) implemented and in fact extended
- this government has begun to address corruption on all scales, from procurements to clientelist networks of graft
In short, I see no preparation to capitulate, at most perhaps to compromise on particular issues, but that's hardly a surprise. That all this is considered some sort of "surrender in principle", seems to me to be plain silly at this point. This negotiation and the fight with neoliberal Europe can only be a marathon, in which every step will be fought tooth and claw against an increasingly undemocratic EU establishment. SYRIZA will either be forced to attempt to go it alone, or to remain within the EZ having created a space in which it can cultivate an anti-paradigm to current macroeconomic policies. If it is forced to submit, this will signal curtains for the whole European project as a democratically legitimate endeavour and the beginning of a very turbulent time for Greece.
Myself, I'd rather see my children go hungry than submit to what will have been proven to be a colonial plan to create a permanently dependent protectorate restored to its proper oligarchic masters and bereft of any hint of democratic legitimization.