Here we go again, for the umpteenth time. Greece is pushed into a corner, with the demands of the hawks — led by the IMF and Wolfgang Schauble — who are not satisfied and keep asking for cuts, in an eternal present that seems impossible to leave behind.
This time the International Monetary Fund plays the villain. It is demanding that the Greek Parliament approve preventive measures amounting to €3.6 billion, which would enter into force in case the cuts accepted so far by Athens should prove too “light,” not effective enough.
And of course, this generates two problems, one of a formal nature and a completely practical one. On the one hand, the Greek legislation does not provide options to allow the Parliament to legislate on eventual measures “that may apply in the future,” but only on certain issues. Even so, there is a substantial difference, compared to the Italian safeguard clauses: in the case of the Tsipras government, it is not allowed to include “guarantee” measures within a financial law, but it calls for an ad hoc law.
In addition, from the point of view of citizens, overwhelmed after five years of never-ending austerity, these new measures required by the IMF — if they were to be applied — would lead to new cuts in salaries and pensions of approximately 8 percent of their total amount, in combination with an additional increase of VAT rates. Forcing to close, for example, even the publishers who had so far been able to withstand the crisis, among countless sacrifices.
The Syriza government is proposing a mechanism that would automatically offset any revenue to the state coffers, but it wants to safeguard the most vulnerable social classes and it doesn’t want to have to submit the creditors’ law to parliament.
Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras stated that negotiations with creditors have stalled and he has called for an extraordinary European summit to discuss the situation in order to find a political way out. The final decision should be taken today, but the position of the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, does not seem the most encouraging: his staffers have leaked that the solution must be found exclusively within the Eurogroup. The meeting scheduled for today, of course, has been canceled and the additional waste of time can go only to the detriment of Greece.
The president of the Socialists and Democrats group at the European Parliament, Gianni Pittella, has sided openly in favor of Athens, asking not to strangle Greece. Jean-Claude Juncker, according to the Greek press, speaking to the European College of Commissioners, seems to have declared the measures requested of Greece unreasonable and unconstitutional.
This seems to be an early stand against the axis of absolute austerity, one built by Berlin and the IMF, based in Washington. But it is clear that at this point clear actions are more than necessary, energetic and visible support, either from Paris or Rome, if there is any hope that something can change. Otherwise, by the end of May, Athens could have liquidity problems again and the payment of pensions and salaries would once again be at risk, as happened in June 2015.
One needs not be particularly malevolent to remember that just a few weeks ago, WikiLeaks had released the contents of a long conference call between Poul Thomsen, head of the European department of the International Monetary Fund, the rigid Delia Velculescu — who represents him in negotiations with the Greek government — and another leader of the IMF. In the conversation in question, they clearly referred to the possibility of bringing the country to economic collapse again, given also the resistance of the Syriza government to accept the neoliberal diktats.
All this, in a country that continues to host more than 50,000 refugees and migrants that have arrived in recent months, enduring a huge practical and economic burden. And despite the difficulties, Greece has not closed its borders, as the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia did and as Austria is threatening to do now.
Athens hopes it will come out of the impasse, to reach the conclusion of the deal and move on to the very delicate phase that will involve the easing of Greek debt. As the days and weeks go by, and the Greek economy fails to recover, the usual vicious circle continues: minimum consumption, high unemployment, lower revenue for the state and request for further cuts by creditors.
It seems the austerity hawks have learned nothing in all these years. And maybe they do not even understand the most important thing: that in Greece, for them, there are no comfortable political alternatives. A possible conservative government, or even a large coalition, would never be able to carry forward the new plans desired by the IMF and ultra-neoliberals.
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