Over the past couple of years, more and more Greek friends and acquaintances living abroad have been asking me if I think it would be a good idea for them to return to their homeland.
This is mostly people in their 30s and 40s who migrated to Europe or the United States, and who are now earning more-than-decent salaries working for private firms or at universities. Despite the high cost of living, the majority of them have a good life. However, they do miss their country. They want to start a family here and they want to live close to their aging parents.
They sense that at least some change has taken place – but they can’t be totally sure. They want to know if the government is doing a good job, if Greece is really out of the woods following the 10-year debt crisis, if the market is moving, if there is capital for new businesses, how much tax they will have to pay, and if they will ever receive a pension.
The political class never found the political courage to break eggs in the market, at universities, in the justice system or in the public sector
I try to be fair; I offer them a mixed picture. Sure, there are good reasons to consider a return to Greece. The country has improved on its reputation and tidied up its public finances, it has increased employment and – in a first – attracted new technology investment. It offers tools for financing and it has made strides in facilitating citizens’ online transactions with the state. I argue that because of the lengthy crisis, there is still untapped opportunity and, hence, larger growth margins compared to more mature economies.
On the other hand, I would never argue that Greece has changed overnight. The political class never found the political courage to break eggs in the market, at universities, in the justice system or in the public sector. There has been no radical break with the old mentality. The conservative government suffers from evident shortcomings whereas the leftist opposition has nebulous policy ideas and a strong penchant for populism. I try to explain the risks stemming from the upcoming general election and why the single proportional representation system could jeopardize the nation’s political stability. I point out that economic recovery started from a very low base, under the shadow of a new global crisis and a mammoth debt burden.
Many of these people actually make the big decision to return in the hope that they will find a changed country. They often bring their British, German or American partners along with them – people who usually know very little beyond the Aegean islands or Crete. Their decision is a vote of confidence in Greece.
The Greeks who moved abroad during the financial crisis are, reluctantly, starting to repatriate. We should not let them down this time. Because they can leave as easily as they came.