Sunday, July 12, 2015

Austerity pushed nearly half of the Greek pensioners below the poverty line

A new weapon is used by the creditors of Greece after the Tsipras government finally gave in to the Troika's demands: how can you trust the Greeks will do what they promise?

Well, if this is what the creditors think, why on earth did they engage in debt negotiations and pushed the Tsipras government to the brink of its credibility by making it accept Troika's demands?

Remember: some of the creditors warned the Greek people before Tsipras was elected that they should not choose him. And remember what Paul de Grauwe said in May 2015 in an interview with the Spanish journal La Vanguardia: Paul de Grauwe: "I suspect they want to tumble the Greek government.

But there is obviously a tough task for Greek officials to implement the new austerity programme. They will have to explain to an already suffering Greek population why they continue the same austerity policies of previous Greek governments, even though Greek citizens elected a new anti-austerity government in January 2015 and voted massively NO to austerity (following the advice of the Tsipras government!) in the recent referendum.

Simon Shuster of the journal Time vividly described, in a reportage from Athens, the difficulties Greek officials are facing:

"At least once a week, the Greek Ministry of Labor opens its doors to hear the complaints of the needy. The visitors might represent a factory that has closed down, a neighborhood succumbing to rampant poverty, or a group of elderly people whose pensions have been slashed. But regardless of their plight, they are escorted into the fifth-floor office of Deputy Minister Rania Antonopoulos, who looks them in the eyes as they tell their stories and ask for help. It is not unusual during these meetings, she says, for the guests to break down in tears. “That is the hardest part of my job,” Antonopoulos told TIME during an interview at the end of June.
In the coming months, it will probably get a lot harder for her to manage these complaints if Greece moves ahead with its plan for another bailout from European creditors. In exchange for about $59 billion in loans over the next three years, the Greek government pledged this week that it would raise taxes and carry out painful reforms, including cuts to Greece’s bloated pension system. On Saturday, European Finance Ministers met in Brussels to discuss the Greek proposal, and many of them expressed grave doubts about whether it could be carried out in practice. “We will definitely not be able to rely on promises,” Germany’s Wolfgang Schäuble told reporters as he went into the talks.
He is right to question the plan’s feasibility. Unlike the European technocrats watching from afar, Greek officials will have to deal on a personal and political level with the plan’s impact on their fellow citizens, who have already experienced five rough years of austerity and recession. As those confrontations play out on city squares, at voting booths and in the offices of public officials across Greece, the government will face tremendous pressure to amend, delay and otherwise ease the measures it has promised to enforce.
Antonopoulos’ experience shows just how hard that pressure is to resist. Although Greece has already cut the average pensions by about a third in the last five years, pushing nearly half the country’s pensioners below the official poverty line, it’s not these cold statistics that drive home the pain of austerity. “It’s when you look at someone and you see the tears coming out,” said the deputy minister. “And that person could be my husband who has been laid off, my brother. That could be me.”

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