Greece’s leftist prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, on Thursday unveiled a package of measures to benefit low-income pensioners. There was something more important to his pledges – which were made in a televised address to the nation – than whether the speech was a public relations stunt or a case of political fraud; than whether it was a prelude to early elections or a sign of the government’s panic; than whether it was intended as an alibi for the upcoming austerity measures or the swan song of a collapsing government or a message to the country’s partners and international lenders. More important than all of the above was the underlying mentality of the prime minister’s address.
The SYRIZA-led government’s promise to grant 617 million euros to 1.6 million pensioners and, similarly, the decision to suspend the measure to increase value-added tax on the islands of the northern Aegean (which have borne the brunt of the migrant influx) are significant in that they create expectations: Is this Christmas bonus the work of a miracle or the harbinger of yet more trauma?
Asked by a television crew whether he was happy about the news, a Greek pensioner responded: “Yes, I am, but only for the time being. Not about the future. It’s just bait. [Tsipras] will hand them out, only to take them back later.”
Most of those questioned were unsure, or even reserved, about the news. Because no one-off miracle of this sort could possibly offset six years of falling incomes and declining confidence in Greece’s political system.
In fact, the opposite is more likely. Pledging a special handout (in the form of a 13th pension), does not necessarily trigger a pleasant trip down memory lane to the pre-crisis years; it’s more likely to act as a reminder of the painful loss.
We should not fool ourselves: 2017 will be an even more difficult year. Any policies that feed unreasonable expectations will only make things worse. Sure, any help, however small, will be welcomed among the crisis-hit households looking for any relief after six years of cost-cutting measures. But the government’s cynical short-termism is confirmation of its inability to move forward and to avoid making the same mistakes.
The prime minister is effectively saying, “I cannot pursue,” or, worse, “I am not interested in pursuing policies that will produce long-term results for the country and its people.”
Short-term measures may be easier to see right now, but they fool no one. Neither the country’s citizens nor the government’s political clients.