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Shocked Greeks face crisis despite bailout deal

17 July 2015

by Gerald Butt


Keeping up with events: a Greek nun reads a newspaper in front of a church in central Athens last week, after the Greek government lodged a formal request for a bailout loan from the eurozone

Keeping up with events: a Greek nun reads a newspaper in front of a church in central Athens last week, after the Greek government lodged a formal req...

THE Greek political landscape looks bleak and confused in the aftermath of the bailout deal agreed in Brussels this week. The Greek people are in a state of shock.

Although the agreement has postponed Greece’s exit from the eurozone for the time being, and should enable the banks to reopen, it has ratcheted up the pressure on the Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras, still further, and has made the prospects of early elections increasingly likely.

This will add political instability to the existing economic chaos — which itself is being exacerbated by the continuing arrival of migrants from the Middle East and Africa.

Mr Tsipras’s political position is now extremely fragile, since the deal hinges on the implementation of economic reforms that are far more stringent than those decisively rejected by Greece in a referendum two weeks ago (News, 10 July).

In exchange for €82 billion of eurozone loans, the country must agree to tax increases, pension cuts, liberalisation of the labour market, and privatisation of the electricity network.

With members of the Prime Minister’s own party, Syriza, describing the Brussels deal as “Greece’s humiliation”, and its right-wing coalition partner Independent Greeks talking of Germany and other EU states as having mounted a coup against Greece, the future looks uncertain.

A confidential study by the International Monetary Fund, seen by Reuters, warned hours after the signing of the deal that Greece would need far bigger debt-relief than eurozone partners had been prepared to envisage, owing to the devastation of its economy and banks in the past two weeks.

In the short term, the loan will do little to reduce Greece’s €320-billion debt mountain, while the cuts will certainly make ordinary Greeks a good deal poorer.

Canon Malcolm Bradshaw, Senior Chaplain of St Paul’s, Athens, said: “People are shocked to the point of being numbed. They didn’t anticipate that the new deal would actually be a harsher deal. On the other hand, it is a medicine that has got to be taken, and there is now a chance of that medicine being swallowed.”

But, even as the bitter pills are handed out, the prospect of the Greeks’ being able to afford to live normal lives again remains distant; evidence of human poverty is everywhere in the major cities and towns.

The Anglican Church is helping to meet the challenge of caring for those in need, acting as a junior partner with the Greek Orthodox Church in running a soup kitchen in Athens. It started as a facility for migrants, and now provides up to 700 meals a day, largely for Greek senior citizens who no longer have income or pensions.

Then there is the problem of providing for thousands of migrants who arrive with no money or possessions. In the past month alone, Canon Bradshaw says, 30,000 refugees have arrived in Greece via the islands: “There is no welfare provision for them, no reception centres — it’s a humanitarian disaster.”

Another element in the crisis is underlying hostility to European countries such as Germany which took a hard stand against Greece during the negotiations. The fact that certain countries appeared willing to ignore humanitarian suffering, and concentrate exclusively on fiscal accountability, is causing some to question the moral and ethical foundations of the EU.

Some Europeans may question the manner in which a small impoverished country at the eastern end of the continent was treated at a time of severe crisis — even if that crisis was largely of its own making.

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