For nearly a decade, Greece has been in a state of generalised economic crisis: economic, social, and political. And since 2009, when the country was barred from international markets due to the high level of debt, it is struggling unsuccessfully to find a new pace.
The successive salvation programmes imposed by creditors and adopted by a series of governments proved inadequate, either because they were not implemented with determination or because their approach was one-sided and stiff.
Now, after eight years of constant and largely oppressive adjustment, the results leave much to be desired. While the economy and society have found their balance at a lower level, all indications are that the new balance is not enough to achieve the leap that the country needs.
Businesses and citizens are being chased under the weight of skyrocketing taxes and constant budget cuts, and they cannot find either the space or the resources to develop investment and other initiatives.
At the same time, the cycle of huge obligations towards foreigners remains strong and unsurpassable, and leaves no room for a breather or revitalisation.
The country’s political forces, dominated by power syndromes, have chosen a strategy of heightened tensions on the one hand, and of wear on the other, which do not permit organised and coordinated nationwide efforts, which alone would be able to create the conditions for an exit from the long and tortuous crisis.
Although fiscal conditions are better and a host of structural changes have been implemented, nothing for the time being guarantees that the country will be freed, nor is there room to cultivate expectations of progress and prosperity.
The national debt is so overpowering and primary surpluses so demanding until 2023, that they do not permit the freeing up of economic and social forces, aiming at the reconstruction and rebirth of the country.
For an independent observer, neither the argument of the prime minister, who wants to see the country as ready to take off, is tenable, nor can the main opposition leader’s argument, that the country will take off under his leadership, guarantee an exit from the crisis.
Without an adequate debt restructuring, sufficient to reduce over time the burden of servicing it, the country is in danger of entering a stage of stagnation and anemic growth, with all that accompanies that.
Greece now needs leaps of progress, but these cannot occur in an environment of tensions, of declaring the guilt of others, of scandal-mongering, or of political prosecutions.
Andreas Papandreou, whom the current prime minister often invokes and even imitates, in 1994, ahead of Greece’s entry into the eurozone, sought and was able to make political peace and temper political passions.
The prime minister could do the same today. The upcoming negotiations on debt reduction are a golden opportunity.
With that in mind, the prime minister needs to create an inter-party debt negotiation committee, comprised of distinguished personalities with in-depth knowledge of the problem, who are in a position to competently negotiate with creditors and decisively support the government’s efforts.
In the coming months, the country’s fate will literally be decided. The conditions will be created for either a withering away or a rebirth.
If the prime minister cares for the country and truly loves the people, which he often invokes, let him put the knife in the sheath, and pursue political peace and consensus, at least on the overarching issue of the debt.