A sense of fatigue has descended over relations between Greece and the European Union, with the EU feeling that it has done it all it can to help the cash-strapped country and that now it is entirely up to Greece to make good on its commitments, Maria Damanaki, the Greek European commissioner for maritime affairs and fisheries, told Skai Radio on Tuesday, following a meeting with Greek Prime Minister Lucas Papademos recently.
“There is a sense that the European institutions have done their job and that they are now waiting for results from Greece,» Damanaki said, speaking from Brussels. «The countdown has started. Time is now money, and Greece must speed up its decisions and meet its obligations.”
On a more upbeat note, Damanaki said «there is light at the end of the tunnel,» adding, however, «that the dilemmas are very real,» in reference to a possible exit of Greece from the eurozone.
“The dilemmas are not set by [German Chancellor Angela] Merkel or by [French President Nicolas] Sarkozy, or by [European Commission President Jose Manuel] Barroso, or by the Europeans, but by life itself. The euro is not a taboo for Greece, nor should it be taken for granted. The euro ought to be a conscious, political choice, which includes taking responsibility for the unpleasant decisions that go with it. We can’t have the delusion that we will remain in the euro — and this is what the vast majority of Greeks want according to polls — while at the same time failing to contribute.”
Damanaki admitted that the European Commission must assume its share of responsibility for the Greek crisis, saying that «we took too long to comprehend the depth of the problem. We delayed in realizing that it was a systemic crisis that concerned the euro as a whole, we delayed in realizing the major problems of cohesion that the euro has created in the European Union.”
The European commissioner also said that the chasms within the European Union are becoming wider, saying that this «has to do with the architecture of the euro and it will take some major decisions on the euro as a whole. This is not just about Greece.”
On the crisis in Greece specifically, Damanaki said it is structural in nature. «We continue to spend beyond our means, and this must change… For the past two years, the entire political leadership in Greece has used the weaknesses of the euro as an alibi not to address what is going on in its own home. This must stop,» she stressed. «The clock is counting down; there is no excuse for more delays.”
“The Commission has very specific demands, and they are reasonable in my view. We may not like them as Greeks, but they are reasonable,» Damanaki said. «Firstly, it is demanding fiscal adjustment. How is it possible that we are increasing our deficit in time like these? Then there’s the [streamlining of] the public sector; this is something we can’t ignore. There is the issue of structural reforms… and the absorption of EU funds, in which Greece is below the EU average.”
Damanaki further stressed the need to boost competitiveness, saying that reducing labor costs was a key part of this measure, though refuting accusations from Greek unions and other social partners that the European Commission is demanding the scrapping of the minimum wage.
“I am afraid that the Commission and the troika will be presented as the ‘bad guys’ once more because they [Greek unions and social partners] cannot a agree on a rational proposal to reduce labor costs,» Damanaki warned. «They can’t only care about the people who are working. What about the people who are out of work, who are losing their jobs? What’s going to happen to them?”
Regarding Monday’s scheduled visit by inspectors from Greece’s creditors, Damanaki said that «we have to appear determined to move forward.”