Heading into the July 7, 2019 elections, New Democracy promised numerous reforms that would, in theory, stimulate the Greek economy. At the same time, New Democracy emphatically denounced SYRIZA’s policies as obstacles to the country’s growth. It was a paradoxical argument as it failed to acknowledge that recovery and stabilization and the return to growth were achieved by SYRIZA.
There is no real question about this, and the 2015-19 data and figures – ranging from public debt servicing and growth rates to employment figures and the absorption of European programs – leave no room for second thoughts.
But it's not just the numbers. The – allegedly dangerous and ineffective – SYRIZA implemented institutional reforms and promoted a comprehensive National Growth Strategy, while at the same time making efficient use of public tools, such as the Public Investment Program, and developed new ones, among them the Development Bank.
In short, SYRIZA took advantage of every available source of funding in order to promote a socially just policy that would at the same time promote growth and development. And we managed to do this in a way that was technically sound and financially efficient. The result is evident: From 2017 to 2019, Greece came first in the absorption of funds through the Juncker investment plan.
In just four years, SYRIZA implemented reforms that the old political system had avoided for ages. The implementation of a credible system of public procurement, compliant with European standards, is one obvious example. It wasn't always easy. In Greece many who are vocal in asking for healthy entrepreneurship suddenly lose their enthusiasm when concrete reforms take shape. We witnessed this in our effort to enable deliberately inactive control mechanisms such as the Economic Crimes Enforcement Agency and the Hellenic Labor Inspectorate so they could fulfill their core mission: to consolidate equity and transparency in the labor market.
Therein lies the intractable knot: Do we want growth that involves and is based upon equal rules for all, or do we perceive growth as just a smokescreen to reinforce a powerful elite?
I am afraid that New Democracy, within six months in government, has already answered this question. There is no other way to interpret its systematic attack on SYRIZA’s reforms such as the institutional framework for the Development Law and Strategic Investments. At the same time, every reform by the new government invokes the worst days of the memorandum surveillance. The policies of the Ministry of Labor, for instance, indicate a deregulation policy that ultimately impedes growth. The result is already visible: an 18-year record in layoffs last October, with a loss of 126,000 jobs.
We must warn the government. With these practices, under the policies of the former two-party system, our country reached the brink of bankruptcy. In recent years, the collective effort of Greek society and SYRIZA's policies created new opportunities for a qualitative leap forward for the local economy. No one has the right to undermine these opportunities in order to serve specific interests. Because that's what the actions – not the words – of the government suggest: releasing foreclosures connected to bank accounts whose beneficiaries are being investigated for financial crimes, immunity for bank executives, arrangements where the auditor identifies with the audited, photographic provisions riddled with favoritism.
When the Financial Times comments on the gratuitous actions of the Greek government, the latter can no longer shrug its shoulders indifferently. Nor can the government overlook the fact that 2019 ended with numerous alarming signs – from the decline in industrial production and trade turnover during the festive period to the slowdown in the Greek economy’s growth and the under-utilization of the Public Investment Program.
The government is failing to admit that it is following the wrong path because, and one must give them that, it is consistent with its ideological pillars. It revives bad practices of the old political system together with neoliberal prescriptions of apprentice magicians who, despite being refuted in the past, still believe that austerity policies lead to growth. All this could have academic interest if it didn’t concern the country’s future.
In 2018, SYRIZA accomplished what seemed impossible: the country’s exit from the memorandum program and the opening of a well-defined path to rebuilding society and the economy’s growth with equal rules applying to everybody. This achievement cannot be taken for granted anymore. Time has already been wasted during the second semester of 2019 and, more importantly, there has been a waste of opportunities for a different development model.
We do not have the luxury to allow the country to return where it was before 2015 – to opacity and waste, to austerity and bankruptcy policies. We now know, and we have conquered this through the crisis, that we must follow a different path: with a vision of growth, with rules that in turn will lead to a fair distribution of wealth, environmental protection and prosperity for the many.
Alexis Charitsis is former interior minister.