OPINION

On Tsochatzopoulos, Papandreou, euro crisis, debt haircut deal, Italy

Italy in fact the only reason that she attained this position was because there were two main contenders for this position and if either had been chosen there would have been a split in the party. She was virtually an unknown entity. She had however three distinguishing characteristics: she was practical, a good organiser and had firm principles. With firm principles she forged ahead with her programs and we all knew exactly what she would do under any given circumstances. Even if you disliked the woman, you had to give her credit, you knew exactly where she stood. Now compare that to our governments over the past 30 years and especially in today?s Parliament.

Papandreou made promises to the people, he didn?t keep them. He made promises to the Troika, he didn?t keep them. Then suddenly he decides to hold a referendum without notifying even his closest aides and we lost our credibility. Mr Samaras is no different, even worse he joins the coalition, then doesn?t want to sign. He agrees with the coalition but doesn?t agree. Next he sides with the unions and his supporters are left wondering which party they voted for.

I also am against the same political families controlling our political parties; however, I am sure at this moment in time Mr Papademos must feel extremely disappointed that the ND party chose Mr Samaras as their leader. He has no firm principles, having caused the fall of the Government in 1993, and like Papandreou none of us are quite sure what he will decide tomorrow. In practical terms, he has never proved to be particularly gifted as an organiser and the political party that he formed soon collapsed. The truth is that Samaras has caused further delays in implementing the necessary measures and I am quite sure that Mr Papademos regrets that Dora Bakoyannis wasn?t voted to lead the ND party; how much easier his task would have been. A united front from the coalition would also have given us better bargaining power for haircuts. She was after all the best mayor Athens ever had, and a respected foreign secretary. Definitely Greece doesn?t need elections in April; it?s far too early. like Monti in Italy, Mr Papademos needs far more time, or all the work that has been started will be lost.

Ann Baker

Tsochatzopoulos granted extension

What do you know? Extension on extension and delay on delay; pretty soon he will be wheeled into court a la Mubarak on a stretcher, too old and infirm to stand trial.

Monica Lane

Mayor Boutaris in Paris for sculptures? return deal

Congratularions to the Mayor and the Cypriot lady whose generosity will allow the return of the marbles to Thessaloniki.

We need news like this one once in a while to confirm our hope that there are still people out there who do the right thing without expecting anything in return.

Moncia Lane

Give the homeless a home

I?m perplexed on the matter of how real this is. Are there Greek homeless like they say? I hardly see this on the streets. I have seen people on the street but it?s not shocking anyone. I have done some travelling abroad to Canada and the States. In comparison to their homeless, we are have nothing to say. Most families do have support systems in place, thank God. Because if we really had a problem this government and all that have been have no idea how to share and love their people. The joke is that they often refer to patriotism and have the audacity to call on men for military service. If we needed to rely on the men and women in charge to house us and feed us, we would be out in the cold and starving while they sit and mourn our loss. I suggest we confiscate their mansions and fill them with people with needs. Seeing that they have the upper hand and full responsibility as active patriots. But then again we are the ones who are fighting for survival and know first-hand what it means to do an honest day?s work. So far so good.. I feel sad if there is anyone homeless and without food; I also know that we Greeks have a heart of gold and will always give where there?s truly a need and never wait for some dysfunctional government body to work up enough brain cells to act like they?re being paid.

Hari T.

Haircut talks with the IIF

Who is the IIF? Is the IIF mandated by foreign creditors of Greece to lead negotiations on their behalf?

Mr. Ackermann of Deutsche Bank is doing a lot a talking on behalf of the IIF but even his own bank denies that he has a mandate for negotiating on their behalf.

What about foreign creditors of Greece who are not members of the IIF (insurance companies, hedge funds, etc.)?

The process of dealing with Greece?s foreign debt is a joke, to put it mildly. Everybody feels free to voice his own opinions (the EU Commission, the EU Group, the ECB, individual governments, etc.).

The correct way would be to establish a Steering Committee comprising the interests of all foreign creditors, be they banks, hedge funds, insurance companies or whatever. Whenever there is a need for a debt restructuring (be it a corporation or a country), the first step is to establish a Steering Committee.

We are now into the third year of the Greek crisis and there is no Steering Committee as yet (but there are a lot of people, including heads of governments, who make public pronouncements only to find out afterwards that they should have asked their constituents before).

Klaus Kastner

Austria

Precious Papandreou

I see Jeffrey is still dithering about his future while the country spirals into the abyss. He has been cruising on his father?s legacy all his life and the moment he finally got the top job he proved incompetent. Not accepting his irrelevance, he clings on to power in hopes of securing any post that will keep him on the right invitation lists. If he had any honour he would resign and allow the party to pick a new leader and get on with the business at hand. But not Jeffrey, he?s too precious for that.

John Dimitropoulos

Toronto

The Turks at Vienna

While it is important to look at the socio-cultural make-up of Greece and challenge what does and doesn?t work, we must not ignore that we have something to be proud of as Greek people. Philip Andrews is correct in pointing out that the recent history of Greece, in particular the Ottoman period, plays a large role in certain underlying habits present in Greek society. What is wrong is the positing of Oriental and Western European as opposing ideas. First of all the ?Oriental? concept itself is a symbol of Western imperialism, a well-made point by the respected Edward Said. The power of words is a great one. Greeks should not and do not need to aspire to be Western European. It is ludicrous for anyone to sit here and point to acculturation of the Greek people to the pseudo concept of ?Western European? as progressive. That culture is its own phenomenon with its own history that explains its particular development, and let us not pretend that Western Europe was always the socially progressive place it is now, even as early as the last century.

The social discussion in Greece is not about purging the Eastern and adopting the Western. That is overtly offensive to anyone Greek. It implies that Greeks are somehow intrinsically ignorant, and that only with the help of our more developed Western neighbors can we come into the ?paradise? that is the modern economy. This is offensive to the Diaspora community which has produced immensely successful people who have contributed very progressive ideas and actions to the world. The question of Greek social history and economic history is important. It is not far-fetched to say that the only reason Western Europe is a socially progressive place is because of the role women took in the economy during the World Wars when men were absent to drive the industrial machine of their nation, which put women in the role as the main force behind industry, and the social question regarding equal rights that this brief period inspired. Greece however has never been a developed economy. Women are still viewed as an economic burden, just as they are in China. This is not because Greece is more Chinese than German, but because women in Greece have never had the social responsibility of driving the economy, and therefore the intrinsically patriarchal, not ?oriental?, part of Greek society has never been questioned.

That is not to say that lessons cannot be learned from the West. The Greek state should look at itself, and then to the diaspora community of Greeks to see what is going wrong. Why is it that when society is structured differently Greeks succeed economically and intellectually? That they are innovative and progressive? Yet in Greece, most innovation, most intellectual and creative passion fades into nothingness or is always kept on a micro scale. It is because, as Philip Andrews points out, there is a resistance to change. This resistance to change is not however rooted in a fatalistic obsession with Asian Minor and the 1920s in the general citizenry. That is a symptom. A yearning by the average citizen for a time when vitality among those without connections was permitted, and passion could get you somewhere. The resistance to change is because of the vested interests in Greece. I am so sorry that I cannot recall who said it, but a few months ago in this paper someone characterized Greece not as a nation of citizens, but a nation of families. Those families which have carved out prosperity for themselves in Greece do not want to see their work destroyed by a social awakening. The second force preventing change, if the editor will permit a bold statement, is the Orthodox Church. If it is not telling enough that the word orthodox itself has come to mean rigid and unchanging, what else is there to say? The church is itself patriarchal. There will never be true equality for women so long as an intensely patriarchal structure like the church pervades Greek society, let alone even the beginning of a discussion on gay rights.

It is the socially aware Greeks, the ones who have a passion, who have a vision of the future that can save Greece. The government must find a way to foster the ambitions of the people. In short, Greece must find a way to become a meritocracy. It must respect tradition without squashing reformation. It must be supportive of intellectual discussion even if that discussion is in opposition to religious or societal norms. It must acknowledge when it is wrong and incorporate the ideas of others into the general philosophy of the nation. On the bright side, these are not practices foreign to Greece, or its ?Oriental Hellenic? history. It is not that Greeks need to forget their ?Oriental Hellenic history? (or more fittingly Hellenic since Hellenism is not a product of Western Europe), but that they need to remember the ideals that once made their region one of the most inventive places on earth, and recognize the forces that destroyed that progressive tendency.

Andreas Argeros

Greece, the drachma, the EU, Russia… or Turkey?

I must congratulate K once again on your courage in publishing some very strong and critical letters for your readers.

I understand completely why you didn?t publish my satirical piece. It was somewhat over the top.

However I will say this. You will have gathered by now that I am firmly of the opinion that Greece will inevitably have to leave the Euro and return to the drachma. For me there is no doubt about this.

When this happens Greece will have essentially two choices. The first choice will be to drift into a kind of very austere and severe isolationist sovereignty. This would undoubtedly to my mind be accompanied by replacing its civilian administration with one either directly military or indirectly controlled by the military. It would be, to coin a phrase, the Alexander-the-Great /Metaxas Option. Where it might lead God only knows, and as they say in English, He is not telling anyone.

The second choice is just as difficult. Greece would have to look for an Overseeing Power to guide her and protect her. It could well be that once she has returned to the drachma, European assistance would gradually come to an end as the Greek situation deteriorates. This deterioration would take place whether Greece remained in the Euro or returned to the drachma. At least with the drachma Greece would have choices as to which direction she could take into austerity and severity rather than remaining on permanent Euro life-support.

Those choices would eventually devolve into choosing a protecting power. In an age of increasingly powerful regional blocs and regional players, a country with Greece?s small population and the meagre resources has to have a protecting power in order to survive at all. However, the choice of protecting power for Greece is strictly limited. The Europeans i.e. the French and Germans would in all probability gradually get fed up with Greek shenanigans and would most likely give her up as a lost cause, especially if the general EU situation continued to deteriorate. They would have far more important fish to fry.

The United States is most probably out of the picture given her own very difficult circumstances. Her days as an imperial power are rapidly coming to an end.

Back in the immediate neighbourhood there is Russia. However Russia is fully preoccupied with creating and enhancing her immediate neighbourhood of the FSU states. Putin when President will want press on with his Eurasian union. He will also want to focus on buying up as much of the core EU economies as possible. He may want to enhance his position with his natural allies in the Balkans such as Bulgaria and Serbia. I should imagine the last thing he will want to do will be to take on a truculent and failing state such as Greece. There would be little profit in this for him.

This therefore leaves us with the last immediate neighbour, the great taboo, Turkey.

In reality Turkey is Greece?s next door neighbour and her most powerful next door neighbour. This is an inescapable fact of geopolitics that only a fool would deny. Very soon now Greece may well no longer have the capacity to field an effective military force even to deter the Turks left alone to defend against them should the need arise. They probably won?t have the fuel or the ammunition for the Greek military if the Turks were to do anything stupid like move against an island or two.

In the dire situation that Greece finds herself facing, a certain accommodation would be inevitable and probably wise. This would go against the grain of Greek nationalist sentiment, but it would be more in keeping with Greek Oriental culture and heritage going back 3,000 years. It would be wise for Greeks at least to begin to consider Turkey as her principal geographical partner and economic partner if all else were to fail, however difficult this might be to stomach emotionally. Beggars cannot be choosers, and in this case Greece is definitely becoming the beggar, and Turkey may eventually be the only country offering assistance.

If Turkey were to offer assistance, and this is only a hypothetical case, it would probably come at a price. That price might well be the gas fields south of Cyprus. We are not speaking here of pleasant solutions but of geopolitical realities that may come about. It would be only natural for Turkey to take advantage of Greek weakness to press her agenda in the Aegean and in the East Mediterranean south of Cyprus.

Greece in her present state would have to be prepared to make some accommodation towards any Turkish move that might come as part of an assistance package. If Turkey were the last country to offer any assistance at all, Greece might in the last analysis not be in a position to argue. This is a possibility that Greeks from Mr Papademos downwards might ultimately have to take very seriously if equally painfully.

Philip Andrews

Greek banks must find 15 billion euros

Well, banks should talk to their depositors who still hold about 180 billion euros in bank deposits. If they offer them a super-duper deal, depositors might be willing to switch 15 billion euros of their deposits into bank shares. Such a deal could include: very low share price (i.e. proportionally high owership for the 15 billion euros) and a dividend higher than deposit rates.

Incidentally, well over 60 billion euros of deposits were withdrawn from the Greek banking sector in the last two years. The Central Bank claims that 25 billion euros were transferred abroad, which would mean that about 35 billion euros were withdrawn in cash. That is a lot of cash by all counts. So another 15 billion euros should not be such a big problem.

Klaus Kastner

Austria

Collective action clauses

Much talk is heard these days about Greece?s intent to introduce CACs into the text of sovereign bonds. A CAC means that all bondholders are bound by decisions which are approved by 75% of the bondholders.

The trouble with any bond as a public debt instrument is that, without a CAC, individual bondholders, however small, can torpedo an entire restructuring. For example: the entire Greek debt rescheduling could theoretically be jeopardized by a family office which holds perhaps 1 million euros of bonds. With a CAC, that cannot happen. Without a CAC, the larger bondholders typically agree to pay out those small blockaders in order to preserve the overall transaction.

So it is really not only Greece who should promote CACs. The large bondholders and Greece should form an alliance in that regard because the large bondholders clearly do not have an interest in paying out smaller bondholders.

Klaus Kastner

Austria

Facile comparisons

We are constantly comparing Greece?s reforms (or lack thereof) to Italy?s, Ireland?s, Portugal?s etc. What these comparisons almost never reveal is that the Greek state budget has been slashed by 16%, whereas Ireland and Portugal have only slashed 5%. Italy even less. So, when giving compliments to other countries for reform, realize that the size of the reduction matters significantly. When one undertakes a massive reform in the absence of economic stabilizers such as currency devaluation, then the results will be quite different than a reform that is at least one third the size. The situations are incomparable. Greece may be as dysfunctional as ever, but we are not going to find out how well Greece could be run in the face of the massive adjustment required of it. That was never in the cards. An economic death spiral was always the inevitable conclusion of the program. Let us not pretend that deregulating the retail pharmacy sector, etc., would have made a difference. It may be needed, but really it?s just convenient scapegoating.

Dimitri Anastasopoulos

The lords of Pompeii

The only loser in this is Greece and the Greek people. Papandreou may have tried his hardest, and Papademos may try the same as well, but there is a fundamental problem with how this situation is being handled. Borrowing from the IMF will turn Greece into a third world nation, as most countries that borrow from the IMF turn into and stay as. The rates to repay the debt to the IMF will be too high. Likewise, this selling off of assets is just going to cause more problems down the road when prices go out of control and average Greeks will suffer once again. I am so sad to see the state of Greece today. The rich fat cats will be fine, they always will, but for most Greeks, this will not be the case. Does anyone remember a few years ago when there were advertisements on TV for short-term loans for things like vacations or Easter? The whole situation is awful, and throughout this it has been shown that the Greek Elite are too greedy, and not willing to change. People like Evangelos Venizelos, who have their own agendas and don?t care about the consequences of their actions.

Irene K.

In search of a leader with reformist vision

Greece needs leaders and strategists. Those who happen to live in Greece in order to reform the country would need to escape from their established Greek thinking and once they do they would have to take into consideration the same. It is exactly what distinguished Frederick the Great of Prussia as superb strategist and Napoleon the Great as great leader. Neither of them were both. In Greece the definition of leader has a twisted meaning deriving from the heir of a political family to a charismatic, but irrelevant orator; in both cases, the result is hot air. I am sure the right people are there waiting to be discovered, the question is whether the people of Greece will be open-minded enough to see them and accept them.

Marcus Templar

Out of the euro

Fear mongering at its very best. Yes, it will be difficult and will require serious changes in the structural economy. But after a short period of time Greece will begin to see results. The key however is and will be, will Greece and its citizens be ready to make the necessary changes? If the game is being played with the old rules, then yes, the results will be catastrophic.

Peter Kefalas

Euro crisis

I know that I might not be Greek, but, as a fellow European citizen, I wish all the best to Greece getting out of the trouble she is in.

From what I have read, everything seems to be about maintaining the status quo. I however think that if Greece stood tall, even in the face of a euro exit, it could be a hard landing with a quicker route to growth. Greece has so much going for it that it could turn the current position on its head.

The first thing that Greece has is its location location location; as for a growth area, tourism is one building block, with Greece being so close to Turkey — a country not in the Euro. A lot of tour companies have been sending customers there instead of to Greece. Coming out of the Euro would mean that this seasonal but lucrative business could get seeds of growth as a new currency would be a mega-attraction to Northern Europeans and other countries.

The next thing is agriculture: it may have been forgotten but this could be used not only for Greece itself but for exporting to the rest of Southern Europe, which has another lucrative market — winemaking. Also the farmers could make their homes into Bed and Breakfast hotels, gaining extra revenue from tourism and offering another way to see your great country.

Also if Greece was to default, any agreements on solar energy could be ripped up and negotiated on much better terms for Greece.

And lastly, a euro exit need not be a European Union exit, as one of the most stable ways of controlling an exit would be to agree that Greece would set a precedent for how other countries if need be could exit. The way this could be done is by Greece continuing as a full EU member with one exception, that of a temporary bar for an agreed period from EU funds. This would mean instead of leveraging with debt ESFS/ESM; leveraging with funds that would have been paid if the status quo was maintained. This most probably would be more politically acceptable in Northern Eurozone countries.

Kevin Diamond

Get the hook

Ex-PM George Papandreou?s desperately grasping on to the props and scenery and refusing to leave the political stage even after the audience has begun to boo his amateur performance and the curtain has started to come down reminds those of us who were around when his father, Andreas, old and ailing, had to be carted off the scene refusing to release his shaking grip on power long after he was taken off political life support and the ?Do Not Resuscitate? sign was posted. It seems the sign can now be hung around the neck of PASOK.

Peter Kyriakeas-Kirk

Stoupa