The new Greek crisis through British eyes

The new Greek crisis through British eyes

London, December 15, 2014/ Independent Balkan News Agency

By Thanasis Gavos

Over the period of the crisis in Greece the majority of the main British media had their representatives camped in Athens, often breaking news stories through their close contact with Greek officials. Is has come as no surprise then that the latest episode in the Greek volatility saga was instantly dealt with rolling coverage and extensive analyses.

If one had to sum up the approach of the UK media commentators this time around, they could say that there is recognition of the Greek people’s sacrifices, but the job is considered half done – therefore creating uncertainty.

There are two factors that the British commentators see as contributing to the creation of the conditions that ensure the job is left unfinished. As the Financial Times’ Tony Barber has commented, the European partners and investors shouldn’t be worried about the parliamentary arithmetic in Athens or the latest cuts the creditors ask for next year’s budget, but whether Greece has the desire and ability to carry on with the modernisation effort that started during and because of the crisis.

Over the last years British commentators have lamented the emphasis that has been given to budget cuts and general austerity instead of necessary structural reforms. Their criticism has had two recipients: the Greek governments that have not been bold enough to radically change the way the state works and the troika of international creditors (EU, IMF, ECB) for completely missing the essence of their mission in restricting their mandate to demonstrations of vengeful accountancy demands.

There have been many British economists that had supported Greece’s exit from the eurozone. Most of them, despite automatic condemnation by Greeks and eurozone officials, were coming to that recommendation as what they were seeing was making them believe the euro was not workable, at least for the weaker countries of the periphery. Now the renewed political uncertainty has allowed for the return of the term ‘Grexit’.

The Guardian has written about of a repetition of the 2012 drama and a revival of talk of a Greek euro exit. The Times have commented that if Greeks wanted to leave the common currency they should have done so two years ago, when it would matter to the rest of the partners. “Greece is not a systemic risk for the eurozone now,” have concluded the Financial Times.

However, commentators speaking to the Times have pointed to the inevitable fear of anti-austerity contagion in Europe if SYRIZA and its defiant leader Alexis Tsipras come to power; especially in a year of elections in Spain and Portugal, but also Finland and the UK.

On the other hand, the Financial Times see the prospect of a leftwing government in Greece as a prospect that might benefit other member countries and the eurocracy. As John Dizard has noted, Wall Street and the City of London don’t have too much to make out of a new Greek crisis anymore.  But governments facing “populist threats” could conceivably point to images of demonstrations and ATM queues in Greece and ask their people “is that what you really want?”

So, despite the fact that the UK media have long pointed to a democratic deficit in the way the eurozone is working in practice, the question asked anew is a familiar one: “Is there room for defiance?” As the Guardian’s Athens correspondent has written, commenting on the intervention of Jean Claude Juncker in favour of “familiar faces” in power in Greece, this was “not the first time that the politics of fear have been invoked to ensure that the twice bailed-out Greece toes the line.”

In short, the British conclusion is that Greece is trapped anyway. Either it chooses a rift with the eurozone partners and possibly goes it on its own with all the risks entailed, or it chooses more of the same and just sits through the pain.