Crisis and opportunity

Greece’s deficit woes have become a source of chronic instability, drawing pressure from Brussels. Budget deficits have been far in excess of the European Union ceiling, creating problems for virtually all aspects of Greek public life. Ever since the early 1980s, when the late Socialist Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou went on a spending spree with borrowed money, the situation has never really been brought under control. Occasional attempts to remedy the situation lacked the needed determination and consistency, and inevitably fell through. As a result, the problem has persisted, with attention to it varying according to the way political winds are blowing. Although the issue gained new urgency during Greece’s preparations for eurozone entry, the campaign for reform was finally reduced to shaky accounting tricks. Sweeping the deficits under the carpet, the Socialist governments created a whole host of new problems. The public sector is mired in debt and unmet obligations. From the Olympic Airlines and the OSE railway problems to the state clinics and the social security funds, from education and culture to local administration, the fiscal figures are bogus, increasing the strain on the state budget. The Socialist governments disguised the problem, thereby preventing the public from realizing its full extent. Recent revelations about Greece’s understated deficit figures and the risk of sanctions from Brussels leave no room for relaxation. The government, which shouldered a great cost by revealing the true figures, now needs to take some daring steps. Fiscal reform demands imagination, political courage and painstaking effort. Crises are always pregnant with an opportunity for revival.