Why are you afraid of the Greeks, Mr Cameron?

Illustration by Manos Symeonakis

British Prime Minister David Cameron is a worried man these days. He has every right to be. An opinion poll earlier this month gave the Labour Party a 14-point lead over the Conservatives, the largest for Cameron’s rivals since 2002. The strains in his coalition with the Liberal Democrats are showing as the public questions his government’s austerity policies, welfare cuts and vapid initiatives, such as the Big Society. The UK economy is in its second recession in four years, the country’s longest slump since the 1930s. And, one of the UK’s largest banks, Barclays, has just been fined for trying to manipulate the Libor rate for inter-bank lending.

On Tuesday, Cameron set aside these worries and discussed with a House of Commons committee a completely different set of concerns, the most significant of which was what Britain would do if Greece were to exit the eurozone. “I would be prepared to do whatever it takes to keep our country safe, to keep our banking system strong, to keep our economy robust. At the end of the day, as prime minister, that is your first and foremost duty,” he told MPs from all parties.

When probed further to clarify his meaningless remarks, Cameron became much more blunt: he would be prepared to rip up the European Union treaties signed by his country and prevent people from another member of the 27-nation bloc, in this case Greece, entering his country.

“I hope it wouldn’t come to that but, as I understand it, the legal powers are available if there are particular stresses and strains,” he said. “You have to plan, you have to have contingencies, you have to be ready for anything – there is so much uncertainty in our world.”

Leaders under pressure often clutch at straws of populism to stop them from sinking further into the mire. Cameron and his Chancellor George Osborne have jumped at every chance to blame the UK’s economic problems on the eurozone. However, there were warnings this week that Britain’s AAA rating could be at risk due to failures to get government spending under control and to grow the economy – hardly all the fault of the eurozone. Perhaps concerned about the rise of the euroskeptic UK Independence Party, which labels Cameron a “Europhile”, and demands from dozens of his MPs for a referendum on EU membership, the British prime minister feels he has to appear to be bold on European issues. Cameron’s House of Commons statement is a shame. Rarely could such cowardly words have been uttered by the leader of such an upstanding nation as the UK.

He suggests that keeping Greeks out of the UK in the event of a euro exit would be part of a strategy to keep his country “safe.” Safe from what, though? What does he expect a possible influx of Greeks escaping an economic collapse would lead to? Would these newcomers to his country suddenly start stabbing schoolchildren in the streets, leave teenage girls pregnant, spend their time binge drinking, look for jobs while having no skills, engage in terrorism, infiltrate British banks and invest in risky derivatives to collapse the financial system or simply attempt to fix the Libor rate to maximize their gains at the expense of UK taxpayers? How, exactly, would they put Britain’s safety at risk?

Fears were also cultivated about hordes of Poles swarming to Britain when their country entered the EU. In reality, the only risk was that some bad plumbing would be fixed. If Cameron had bothered to check his facts, he would see that Greeks are among the least likely in the EU to leave their home towns, let alone their country. Expected mass emigration from Greece as a result of the crisis has simply not materialised. More than a million Greeks did leave the country as a result of the dire economic conditions in the 1950s and 60s. They went to countries like Germany, USA, Canada and Australia. Their largely impressive record there speaks for itself.

What does it say about Cameron’s Britain that his government would be willing to turn its back on people from a country with which it has built a relationship over many decades? A country that supplied – albeit against its will – the artefacts that form the centrepiece of what makes the British Museum the greatest in the world; a country whose people fought the fascists at one end of Europe while the British fought them at the other end; a country whose shipowners chose London as one of their bases, boosting trade and helping build a maritime infrastructure including insurance companies; a country whose students pay British university fees at a per capita rate virtually unrivalled by those from any other part of the world, a country whose rich have boosted UK stamp duty revenues by buying up luxury properties; a country that is home to some 30,000 British retirees; a country whose hotel and restaurant workers serve and clean up after wayward British youths each year; and a country that provided London with the flame that will burn in its Olympic Stadium this summer.

Sticking with people through thick and thin is what being in a union is about. When you stand by them in times of difficulty, you are eventually rewarded. My father was welcomed by Britain in the 1970s when he sought to escape a political, rather than economic, crisis in his country. There was no future for him in a Greece ruled by the junta but the UK offered him a chance to finish his university education and find a job. In the decades since then, he’s employed dozens of English people in the company he founded, he’s helped the UK’s trade balance and credit account by exporting his firm’s products all over the world and he’s contributed more than his fair share to Her Majesty’s Revenues and Customs.

Because of gutless politics and a fear of a non-existent threat, Cameron would deny other Greeks the same opportunity my father had. Perhaps such small-mindedness and opportunism is to be expected given the Conservative leader’s track record. Following a junket to Skopje in 2003 to watch the England soccer team play the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, the then MP wrote a newspaper column in which he presented himself as an expert on Balkan issues and declared that to help FYROM’s cause he would refer to Greece as The Former Ottoman Possession of Greece, or FOPOG, as he put it.

Mr Cameron, I have a British passport but my wife’s is Greek. If the unthinkable happens here, you needn’t worry about her threatening your safety. You see, a Britain that only stands by partners with which it can trade or from which it can profit is not a Britain I recognize. It’s not a Britain that gave my father a home and the chance to prosper. It’s not a Britain that gave me a wonderful start to life. It’s not a Britain I would want to be part of. I am sure there are many decent people in your country who feel exactly the same.

Nick Malkoutzis

22 responses to “Why are you afraid of the Greeks, Mr Cameron?

  1. Well said Nick!

  2. Pingback: Why are you afraid of the Greeks, Mr Cameron? | Greece Solidarity Campaign

  3. Pingback: Why are you afraid of the Greeks, Mr Cameron? | Coalition of Resistance Against Cuts & Privatisation

  4. Pingback: Why are you afraid of the Greeks, Mr Cameron? | Mad about Messinia

  5. Excellent article! I’ve added a link to it on our site madaboutmessinia.com so that our members can enjoy it too.

  6. Paul Mackney, Chair Greece Solidarity Campaign

    An excellent article, the eloquent fury of which has been much appreciated and is posted on various web and facebook sites. I have written to the Guardian Letters Editor: “A former Conservative Prime Minister, inspired by the Greek resistance during the Italian and German invasions in 1940-1, said, “Hence we will not say that Greeks fight like heroes, but that heroes fight like Greeks”. Our current considerably less than heroic, ungrateful, uncaring and xenophobic miserable apology for a Prime Minister is now determined to reward this bravery with a policy of ‘No homes for the descendents of heroes’, particularly in their hour of need. The 4 July 2012 Guardian article was headlined ‘UK may block entry to Greeks’. Well, it’s not in our name, nor presumably that of the over 30,000 UK retirees in Greece. Aλληλεγγύη και φιλία – solidarity and friendship
    Paul Mackney Chair – Greece Solidarity Campaign – http://www.Greecesolidarity.org

  7. Thank you. Thank you for so eloquently articulating my fury. Your article has been shared and will be shared again and again by my friends, indignant Greeks and indignant friends of Greece, living in Greece.

  8. Louna Coumeri

    Nick, this is an awesome piece of writing. No one could have said it better! I am so very very proud of you!!!

  9. You’re right about the Greeks, wrong about the Poles. Long-term unemployment among people who have never been workshy, especially the middle aged, is growing, unsurprisingly, since there are perhaps a million Eastern Europeans here doing the jobs Brits used to do. As a double whammy, many agencies recruit Eastern Europeans directly from Eastern Europe (even the Construction Industry Training Board, which recruited them for the Olympic project), so that British workers never see the jobs to apply for them. Now these British workers who want to work, but can no longer get any, face benefit cuts and workfare, while our European neighbours do rather well for themselves. Additionally, we have seen British jobs moved to Eastern Europe – thank you Cadbury and other manufacturers.
    I imagine Cameron will use weasel words like ‘national interest’ to keep out genuine refugees from Greece, while presumably he thinks it in the national interest to have a million British workers displaced from work and have the taxpayer paying European’s wages and Brit’s welfare payments at the same time (not forgetting that many Europeans will qualify for welfare also, if they are on low incomes), and crippling school places and maternity ward shortages, which have even forced our children to be taught in an old chain store building.
    This ‘show of nationalism’ is false, and most of us know this.

    • Thanks for your comments. It’s wrong to look at this as a one-way street, though. Due to the entrepreneurship and adventurous spirit of its people, Britain takes advantage of open borders and immigration policies more than most countries on earth. A public policy study conducted a few years ago found there were 5.5 million Britons living abroad (with 2,000 people leaving every week) and that the only reason the UK’s population had not fallen was due to immigration: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/6210358.stm. You can’t have it both ways, wanting other countries to accept your people with open arms while blocking those who want to enter your country, especially if they are part of a union to which you have committed to legally. By and large, the UK has achieved a good balance so far and Cameron’s comments, apart from suggesting something illegal, are not in keeping with the spirit Britain has shown over the years.

  10. Alan R German

    I agree with all previous comments so feel it unecessary to repeat. All I would like to add is now we have a wonderful new museum in Athens it is time the ‘Marbles’ were returned and displayed where they belong. I may be wrong but I thought an agreement was made that once Greece had created a venue for the ‘Marbles’ they would be returned.

  11. Sharon Hillman

    Well said – brilliant and true words. Have visited Rhodes 11 times and have made many friends there. Cameron needs to be scared of British people rebelling against his heartless, disgraceful cutbacks…in hospitals and with our armed forces to name just two!!

  12. An excellent piece of writing Nick; eloquent and passionate and displaying tolerance which is sadly lacking in the Tories, their pathetic leader, UKIP and the miserable people who vote for them.

  13. I second the previous comments, but would like to add that restrictions on the free movement of workers – this cornerstone of EU integration – are not Mr Cameron’s invention. Certainly, the British PM doesn’t quite grasp the legal implications of his crassly populist remarks or indeed the implications of a ‘No’ to the much-discussed referendum on the UK’s EU membership, which his remarks essentially foster; you’d have to be woefully misinformed about the economy or pathetically stuck in Britain’s colonial ‘glory’ to think it can cut off the Continent, as it were, and go it alone.

    All that notwithstanding, it was Spain that recently imposed restrictions, which are temporary by law, on the free movement of workers from ‘new’ EU member state Romania on very similar grounds to the hypothetical ones Cameron described. I placed ‘new’ in quotes, because Spain imposed those restrictions at the end of 2011; that is well over four years after Romania acceded to the EU.

    The European Commission approved of Spain’s request, although ‘it is clear that recent EU-2 movers [i.e. Bulgarian and Romanian citizens] played a very minor role in the labour market crisis of individual countries. For instance, in 2010 they represented only 1 % of all unemployed persons (aged 15-64) in EU-15 countries, compared to 4.1 % for recently arrived third-country nationals’.* Sure, in 2011 Spain had (and still has) a huge unemployment rate of 21.7%, but Romania’s mere 7.7% was still considered a threat, apparently, as many Romanians moved to Spain.** Inevitably, Romanians were irate and spoke of being scapegoated.**** Greece, by the way, isn’t exactly a paragon of fairness either when it comes to free movement of EU workers: less than a month ago it was asked by the European Commission to stop discriminating against teachers who have been previously employed in another EU member state.***

    All of which, I suppose, is my way of saying that if you cross out as a potential home every country whose PM is obnoxious, or racist, or a crook, or delusional etc., you’ll be left with very few options on this planet, if any.

    * http://europa.eu/rapid/pressReleasesAction.do?reference=MEMO/11/773
    ** http://epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/statistics_explained/index.php?title=File:Unemployment_rate,_2000-2011_%28%25%29.png&filetimestamp=201205021003380
    *** http://ec.europa.eu/social/main.jsp?langId=en&catId=457&newsId=1379&furtherNews=yes
    **** http://www.euractiv.com/future-eu/spain-obtains-safeguard-romanian-news-506979

  14. Pingback: Greece Solidarity Campaign Update: 5 | Greece Solidarity Campaign

  15. Pingback: Greece Solidarity Campaign Update 5 | Coalition of Resistance Against Cuts & Privatisation

  16. The Coalition government has made several u turns on policy but despite the failure of it’s own austerity measures it refuses to change it’s economic plans. Not only is there no growth but Britain has fallen into a double dip recession. Savage cuts to public service continue as does youth unemployment. Cameron wants to distract the British public from his millionaire cabinet’s poor decision making and blame Europe. Not only this he is now making xenophobic comments about Greeks. We need to show solidarity with the Greek people and resist the cuts and divide and rule tactics.

  17. Sophia Vassilacos

    Dear all,

    I would like to share a story: A Greek admiral named Emmanuel Peloponnissios was the harbor master of Piraeus in 1988 when an Italian ship sunk Jupiter- a cruise boat that carried 600 English pupils at 19,00 pm in 21 October 1988. He organized the operation and saved them all. Her Majesty honosred him by sending a wassophiapel@yahoo.comrship in order to organize a ceremony and made him member of the British Empire (MBE). He risk Shis lifSophia e for British Citizens.
    The last few years, saw every months the diminution of his pension without complains but you can in his eyes that he loose his hope for a descent life. I wonder how is he feeling after Prime Minister David Cameron declaration.

    I believe that England has to help Greece to understand the problems and resolve them so it will be no need for the Greeks to abandonee their country. England has the power to play that role but does has the will? I hope Mr Cameron and his voter take the right and not the easy decision. Thank you for your time.

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