Two parallel realities

By Nikos Chrysoloras*

There is no better proof that my country is drifting away from the eurozone than the sharp difference between the prevalent mood in Brussels and Athens, in the aftermath of May 6th’s elections. While Europe was desperately trying to figure out how to react to the inconclusive result and the huge blow that pro-bailout parties suffered in Greece’s polls, Athenians were in a state of joyful confusion, like the one people experience the next morning after a revolution. “We‘ve sent Europe a message at last: we can’t take it anymore” said a friend, echoing the feelings of hundreds of thousands of other Greeks.

In the days that followed, the feedback that EU correspondents, like me, got, was that the euro states and banks, the Commission and the ECB have already started ‘technical’ preparations for what, until recently, was considered unthinkable: the ousting of Greece from the eurozone. But my alarming reports, as well as those of my Greek colleagues, working here in Brussels, made no difference. Despite the increasing number of European officials and leaders warning that the formation of a government which will implement the austerity measures and structural reforms, already approved by the previous parliament, is a condition sine qua non, in order for the financing of the Greek economy to continue, opinion polls suggest that the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA), the major anti-bailout party in Greece, has increased its strength since the last election and may even score a stunning victory on June 17.

In effect, Greece is living in a different dimension from the rest of the eurozone. Greeks blame the Adjustment Programme for the fact that the country’s economy is contracting for a fifth year in a row, while unemployment is hitting all time record highs. They also feel humiliated by the insults coming from Berlin and all the demeaning comments in the international press. “To hell with it”, many of my compatriots think, “How much worse could it be, if we return to the drachma.” On the other hand, many Europeans also feel that they had enough with Greece and they also think “to hell with it. How much worse can it get if we pull the plug.” Both sides are equally tired of the Adjustment Programme, for very different reasons. And both sides are equally wrong.

The drachma will not solve any of the problems, which bankrupted Greece, namely, public finance mismanagement, over-reliance on public and private consumption, lack of export-oriented enterprises, low competitiveness, tax evasion, and weak administrative capacity. Moreover, introducing a new currency while already in a state of default is a suicidal move. On the other hand, Europe should bear in mind that all projection studies have shown that helping Greece is much less expensive for the taxpayer than letting it go down, while history will not forgive those who will decide to risk the European unification project.

Both Greece and Europe have made sacrifices to keep the eurozone together. Greeks endured the most savage austerity programme ever implemented in the developed world and Europeans made a huge leap of faith by essentially guaranteeing Greece’s debts. Let us not call it quits now. Let us not allow populism to prevail. Let us not give the enemies of a united Europe the opportunity to smell blood. Let us understand, before it’s too late, that the road ahead is long, but jumping off the cliff is not really a viable shortcut.

*Dr. Nikos Chrysoloras is a Brussels-based correspondent for Kathimerini, Greece’s leading newspaper and a Robert Bosch Stiftung “EU Journalism Fellow” for 2012, on a journalism practice with