OPINION

Greece in 2019: High hopes, low expectations

greece-in-2019-high-hopes-low-expectations

Hopes may run high at the start of the first year in which Greece finds itself free from bailout programs after eight years, but realistic expectations remain, unfortunately, low.

The focus of many analysts is on the many elements of uncertainty that permeate the Greek economy – from the high cost of any potential foray into the markets, to several judicial rulings that have found pension and bonus cuts unconstitutional, threatening to upend the budget and throw long-term planning off balance, and from the non-performing loans that imperil banks to the risks for Greek exports from the emerging global economic slowdown and big players’ trade wars.

These worries are all well founded, but there is also another concern. The objective observer cannot but express dismay at a prevalence of behavior – politicians, business people, social partners, opinion makers and simple citizens – that points to a need for a serious shift of mentality. This is essential to building the new and different Greece that some people dream about – at least those who truly care about the country. They are the people who, in today’s cynical times, are often dismissed as dreamers.

My mind goes back to an interview I did in December 2010, at the start of the Greek crisis, with the head of the International Monetary Fund at the time, Dominique Strauss-Kahn. He told me two things: To overcome the crisis, Greece’s two major political parties (at the time, the governing socialist PASOK and the main opposition, conservative New Democracy) had to reach a consensus and Greeks themselves had to take ownership of the reforms the country needed. Of course, neither of these suggestions were taken on. Hence, eight years later, we may have officially exited the bailout program but as a society, as an economy and as a political system, we haven’t changed.

Realists remain justifiably pessimistic but hope has to be kept alive. Some of us choose to imagine that soon the country could start moving toward a different state of mind, to a point where politicians will dare to boldly state some difficult truths, where meritocracy in public life will be encouraged, where we will invest in innovation and where healthy businesses are allowed to flourish.

These are some of the many ingredients needed for real and sustainable growth but they cannot be found in the present environment of polarization, vulgarity and criminalization of political life.

As the new year begins – a year with three elections, a constitutional revision vote and crucial, binding decisions on sensitive national issues – the country needs prudence, consensus, conciliation and cooperation. The hopes of many are high – but so are the country’s needs.