Concerning Greece and its citizens, the apparent constants in our lives are not very reassuring, except, perhaps, the opinion polls showing the leftist SYRIZA party’s following mired at levels that offer no prospect of its regaining power in the near future. Still, no one can be absolutely certain, knowing the country we live in.
All the above statements are proven by the numbers and behaviors. The number of coronavirus cases is relatively high and declining slowly, the reluctance to be vaccinated is widespread, putting the country below the European average in terms of those who have had at least one dose. This is no surprise, given that a high percentage of medical and support staff don’t want to get vaccinated, there are similar attitudes among other professions, people refuse to turn up at vaccination centers in the countryside, even on islands dependent on tourism; many priests sway their flock against vaccination; a large percentage of youngsters are irresponsible; many professionals violate restrictive regulations and political parties, so-called “collectivities” and unionists are criminally insouciant about the whole thing, opting for opposition by marching in the streets. Everything plays a role in the serious effects, including the government’s preference for only a rhetorical challenge to all that.
Despite all that – even in the face of it all – a prevailing optimism is being cultivated about the economy, with ministers, assorted advisers and media naturally taking the lead. We are supposed to be essentially done with Covid-19 and its formidable economic and social disruption by September, because vaccination will have reached herd immunity levels – let’s see about that – and glory awaits us on the other side. After all, we have all these billions from the European recovery fund and the Structural and Investment Funds (ESPA) that will help us take off and justify great expectations for all. Of course, opposition leader Alexis Tsipras can dream with his economic plan, which reminds us of the notorious Thessaloniki plan he presented before he had governed, and can safely propose that all interested can splurge with the recovery fund money, notwithstanding the fact that it is targeted toward very specific actions.
It is true that the very generous and almost universal handouts by the government to all economic sectors, professionals and employees throughout the pandemic have contributed to the rising optimism, or, if you prefer, the containment of pessimism. Also contributing is the spectacular growth in savings by companies and individuals (the richest, of course) and the unexpectedly low decline of GDP in the first quarter of 2021 compared to the same period in 2020. But there is also a horizon that can only be described as gray and does not allow for silly and chipper statements by our politicians.
Greece has been going through a bleak period of very low investment over at least the past decade, which means that not only was the economy not boosted by capital injections, but its infrastructure and equipment in many sectors is aging. It will take a long time for tourism to recover and even longer for it to spread its benefits across the economy. We also have the real problem of delayed adoption of, and adaptation to, new technologies and the economic burden of our sickly pension system – also directly affected by the low birth rate and the resulting rapid aging of the population. Not to mention other maladies, such as delayed justice, the production of unskilled multitudes by the education system and too many people with conspiracy theory mindsets.
Recent reports by the International Monetary Fund and the European Commission are restrained over Greece’s growth prospects and they have reasons to keep warning about the debt, the banks and the public sector. It is also no coincidence that, recently, our former nemesis Wolfgang Schaeuble re-emerged to remind us about fiscal discipline. It won’t be all roses!