Athens-Brussels relations

Earlier this year, when Greece found its way out of the excessive deficit procedure, a very serious snag was overcome in relations between Athens and Brussels. Naturally, there is still a lot to be done, but nothing is more important than rectifying the damage suffered by Greece as a result of a fiscal revision in 2004, which reaffirmed all the suspicions held by EU officials regarding the real picture of the country’s economy, and even its credibility. Exiting the state of excessive deficit put an end to that test, much to the benefit of Greece as far as ties with Brussels are concerned. In this context, Brussels does not simply represent the European Commission bureaucracy, but the entire complex that makes up Europe – councils, committees and all sorts of services, procedures and customs which, on a daily basis, give shape to the European Union. It is only an understanding of the system’s operation, limitations and opportunities that can provide solutions. It is primarily a practical issue: The ability of a country to avoid thin ice and draw the maximum benefit from the EU mechanism, which – like all mechanisms – has its own codes, actions and formalities. Such a battle – for it surely is a battle – is taking place on two, strongly interconnected levels: the political one and the one relating to the various services. Greece has had a number of problems for many years on both levels. But now, at least on the political level, there are good indications that conditions are certainly improving. Sooner, or later, governments come to realize what goes on, adjust their targets and approach to the system and begin to accrue what benefits they can for the country. Greece’s current government came to realize this after 2004, following a particularly tough time before officials were able to see what can and cannot be done in Europe. As a result, problems in relations between Athens and Brussels, though not entirely overcome, have been reduced from the moment that Athens and Brussels found the requisite common language, along with the necessary understanding of what each one means, requires and can – or cannot – give. It is from such understanding that credibility and its associated benefits derive not from submission nor absolute alignment. However, there are still problems on the services level. For instance, a year ago, the National Statistics Service (NSS) estimated that the country’s GDP should be revised upward by 25 percent. A few months later came Eurostat’s decision, which surprisingly cut the above figure to 9.6 percent. In its decision, it noted that the NSS’s methodology was simply not the right one.