United we stand

On Wednesday, Greece was one of six members of the European Union to be named subject to an «excessive deficit report» – the first step toward demanding stricter fiscal measures to bring an economy in line with its partners. Others named were powerhouses France, Spain and Ireland, along with minnows Latvia and Malta. From the way the Greek and international press had anticipated this in recent weeks, one would think that only Greece had an excessive deficit and was capable of undermining the euro on its own. In the end, the European Commission called for Athens to take measures such as curbing public sector wages, cutting spending and carrying out reforms to the tax administration, healthcare and pension systems. It noted that Greece has not adopted fiscal stimulus measures, but added that this was «an adequate posture in view of still positive growth and its high debt and large economic imbalances.» Now Greece is waiting for March 24, when the Commission is expected to announce a two-year deadline for the deficit to be brought under the 3 percent limit. Economic Affairs Commissioner Joaquin Almunia noted that Greece’s problem was its need to deal with a very high public and foreign debt and that it had to convince lenders of its creditworthiness. It is more the perception that Greece has a problem – rather than the problem itself – that has forced us to pay about 3 percent more than the Germans in order to sell state bonds. This is what worries officials both in Athens and Brussels. Athens is also awaiting judgment on the government’s decision to give farmers some 500 million euros in order to get them to stop the protests that blocked highways and border posts last month. Once again, Greece waits for Brussels to pass judgment to help solve its problems. This has been a fundamental part of the relationship since 1981, when Greece joined what was then the European Economic Community. Kathimerini’s veteran Brussels correspondent Constantine Kallergis provides an illuminating overview of how this relationship has changed over the decades (Page 5). His point is that for the last few years Greece has been an integral part of the EU, with problems that are similar to those of other members and not some troublesome new member. What is worth remembering – whenever times of crisis make Greece’s problems look larger than those of others – is that the Greeks have consistently been among the most ardent members of the European Union. No matter their politics nor the circumstances of the time, the Greeks know that EU membership has changed their country for the better in ways that no one could have expected when Greece emerged from a seven-year dictatorship and witnessed the invasion and occupation of part of Cyprus by Turkey in 1974. EU membership ensured the longest period of peace and stability that modern Greece has known. Whether we have made the most of the opportunities provided us is debatable; what no one, bar the Communist Party, can ask is whether we were right to join the union. But what is also worth noting is what the ancient Greeks referred to when they said that «even if the goddess Athena is on your side, you too must make an effort.» It took a monumental effort by the late Constantine Karamanlis to persuade the EU’s founding members to allow Greece to join as early as it did. Then, under Prime Minister Costas Simitis, Greece managed to be in the first group of eurozone members. Today it is evident that our troubles are of our own making, thanks to our society’s jealously guarded inability to adapt to change. But in the safe haven of the euro we know that we will escape the worst of the international crisis. Be warned though, if we do not take the opportunity to reform our economy, sooner or later we will find ourselves dangerously alone.

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