Tag Archives: New Democracy

Walking free or striding to jail?

Papageorgopoulos_390_2802They called him the “flying doctor” due to his sprinting exploits in the 1970s and Prime Minister Antonis Samaras referred to him in the past as an “honest man,” but on Wednesday the only place ex-Thessaloniki Mayor Vassilis Papageorgopoulos was striding to was Diavata Prison, where he is reportedly sharing a cell with nine rather dishonest men.

Papageorgopoulos and two ex-municipal employees were given life sentences for embezzling some 18 million euros from City Hall between 1999 and 2010, when the New Democracy politician served two terms as Thessaloniki mayor. Papageorgopoulos draped an overcoat over his arms as he left for prison to hide his handcuffs from photographers but it’s difficult to imagine what part of his reputation the 65-year-old thought he was protecting after being convicted of systematically plundering taxpayers’ money for over a decade. Nevertheless, Papageorgopoulos denies any wrongdoing and says he will appeal the decision.

While there is undoubtedly a personal story in all this (the tale of how a man who once competed for medals on the track ended up competing for space in a prison exercise yard), Papageorgopoulos’s spectacular fall carries two significant and wider implications for Greece.

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Banners and batons

mergosSeveral hundred people in Greece lost their jobs on Thursday. For other Greeks, it was business as usual: A few dozen protesters took their banners to the Finance Ministry, a few dozen riot police officers wielded their batons to push them back.

The incident prompted a new and predictable round in the ongoing row between SYRIZA and Public Order Minister Nikos Dendias. Moments before our decision makers banged their heads together in futility once more, the latest shocking unemployment figures (27 percent overall in November and 61.7 percent for under-25s) were published. The juxtaposition between these two events summed up the illness that is threatening to cripple Greece.

Members of SYRIZA’s youth wing, as well as two of the leftist party’s MPs, went to the office of Finance Ministry general secretary Giorgos Mergos to protest comments he made earlier this week suggesting that at 586 euros Greece’s minimum wage may still be too high.

There are several ways to interpret Mergos’s ill-advised comments. SYRIZA took it to be an insult to those earning basic pay, evident from the banner which challenged the official to try to live on that little. If this was his intention, then it is truly condemnable. It seems unlikely, though, that this was the idea he was trying to communicate.

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When silence is the best policy

KaramanlisPapandreou_Gump

Despite receiving a bullet in the post and having an MP from the Independent Greeks suggesting it won’t be long before someone shoots him, Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras is more likely to be concerned by this week’s “friendly fire” rather than any other kind.

Unhinged Cretans and boorish opposition MPs are hardly the worst that Stournaras is going to face during his time in the scorching hotseat at the Greek Finance Ministry. Attacks from within are a different matter, though.

A number of New Democracy lawmakers lined up to take pot shots at him over the past few days for a number of reasons, top of which was his decision in recent interviews to discuss the fiscal derailment that took place between 2004 and 2009, when Greece was led by Costas Karamanlis and his conservative government. In doing so, Stournaras has broached a somewhat taboo subject.

“I will show you a chart with annual public spending as a percentage of GDP,” he told Sunday’s Kathimerini in an interview. “From the early 1990s until 2006, when it reached 45.2 percent, there were few fluctuations. Immediately afterwards, in 2007 it rose to 47.6 percent, in 2008 to 50.6 percent and in 2009, it skyrockets to 53.8 percent. The only way I can describe what happened after 2006 is an economic derailment.”

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An issue of statistical significance in Greece

A Greek flag flies behind a statue to European unity outside the European Parliament in BrusselsThe head of Greece’s statistics agency, Andreas Georgiou, is to face a criminal inquiry. An ex-employee of the Hellenic Statistical Authority (ELSTAT), Zoe Georganta, has accused him of colluding with the European Union’s statistical arm, Eurostat, to inflate Greece’s deficit figure for 2009, thereby justifying Greece’s EU-IMF bailout, signed in May 2010, and  its drastic austerity measures. Georgiou vehemently denies the charges.

Financial prosecutors have referred the matter to a special magistrate and the Greek justice system will have to decide on the validity of each side’s arguments.

Beyond the judicial process, some observations about the case are needed as it goes to the very heart of understanding how Greece’s public finances veered dramatically off course and the country turned to the eurozone and International Monetary Fund for emergency loans.

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The man who wasn’t there

Cartoon by Ilias Makris

Cartoon by Ilias Makris

Since he began his political career at the unusually young age of 28, Panos Kammenos has made a name for himself by being involved in high-decibel attacks on opposition politicians. For years, he was one of New Democracy’s attack dogs, poised to bite the necks of any passing detractor. Now a party leader, Kammenos finds himself struggling for political survival as his propensity for blood and bluster proves his very undoing.

His failure on Monday to respond to complaints from Independent Greeks MPs about his leadership prompted the kind of furious ranting that Kammenos, usually with the aid of a sheen of sweat, has made his trademark. “He is a coward,” barked Yiannis Manolis, another politician who has shunned the sotto voce school of oratory.

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Straight lines are useful sometimes

If the new Greek government is attempting to bamboozle the country’s lenders into submission with its tactical meandering, who knows, it might have struck on a great idea. If it’s trying to convince the Greek people it’s capable of dealing with the economic crisis, then performing more sudden turns than Fernando Alonso going through the Monaco chicanes is just not going to cut it.

Within a week, the three parties who campaigned on a pre-election platform of renegotiation, renegotiation, renegotiation suddenly decided that the bailout terms are fine as they are for now. Then, they changed their minds again and decided it would be best to bring up the issue of changes to the loan deal in talks with the troika later this month.

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras caused consternation last week when they suggested there would be no Greek bid to renegotiate the bailout, without making it clear whether this meant abandoning efforts or simply putting them off. There is logic to the strategy of putting aside the renegotiation issue in the sense that the coalition government can draw a line under what has happened in the past, express its commitment to meeting fiscal and reform targets and allow a little time for trust with its lenders to be restored and goodwill credits that could be subsequently cashed in to be amassed.

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A Greek election diary, of sorts

Greece has been the centre of the world’s attention, again, over the past couple of weeks. The June 17 elections and their fallout has attracted interest from around the globe and I was lucky enough to be asked to write some articles about all this for The Guardian and Businessweek. I provide links to these stories below in the hope they will act as an election diary, of sorts (I was never very good at keeping diaries).

Wednesday, June 13
Greece faces an agonising election choice (The Guardian)
The fear factor in Greek elections (Businessweek)

Monday, June 17
The Greek election may yet prove a victory for SYRIZA (The Guardian)
For Greek politicians, election doesn’t make governing any easier (Businessweek)

Tuesday, June 18
Greece’s anti-bailout brigade is here to stay (Businessweek)

Wednesday, June 19
Greece nears a coalition that seeks space to fix the economy (Businessweek)

Thursday, June 20
Tourism in Greece may rebound with new government (Businessweek)

Friday, June 21
Greece vs Germany, the real fireworks come after the soccer match (Businessweek)

Sunday, June 24
Finance minister of Greece: the world’s worst job? (Businessweek)