Greece was yesterday’s news. Today it’s still the refugee crisis. But tomorrow Greece may again make the headlines as the Tsipras Government pushes 200 major legislative changes through parliament — changes that will have far-reaching impacts on Greek society, writes PhD fellow Jasmina Haas.
Such a programme would be a horrendous task for any effective government with a strong civil service; it would raise hell in any country for its impacts on society. It will be a massive burden on the Greek administration and will probably spark new protests, so it will be a miracle if Athens is not again on the front pages in late November, or early December, replacing what will then be a waning refugee crisis, as the winter weather makes travelling more difficult.
Many European citizens followed the Greek Parliamentary Elections on 20 September 2015 through the media. I was in Greece at that time, travelling in the north after arriving in Thessaloniki on 12 September. Occasionally I watched Greek TV in restaurants and bars. Nothing pointed to any election fever, either before or after the elections. In fact there seemed to be very little interest in the election at all. No posters on the street, no rallies (except in Athens or Thessaloniki, as I understand). Nothing would give visitors any impression that there were any elections. In the end the results were overshadowed by news on the refugee crisis and a football match between Thessaloniki’s Paos and Athens AER (which Paos eventually won 2-1).
The lack of enthusiasm for the elections was mirrored in the voter turnout: less than 55% — down from 65% in the January 2015 elections. It was 75% in the Dutch elections of 2012. A clear picture emerges after talking to shopkeepers, builders, farmers and those working in the tourism industry. There is no lack of interest in politics. On the contrary: there is a strong desire for change. Tsipras concluded his speech at the election victory with “people have voted for hope”. Indeed that seems to have spurred those who voted. Tsipras is still a new face who may put an end to the perceived corruption and inability of the government to deliver. But many did not vote because they are simply resigned to Greece’s fate as a country in default.
People don’t seem to blame Tsipras for his ‘capitulation’ to the EU on the additional 85 billion euro aid package. “He tried at least,” is what I heard. “But there was no choice.” “Merkel rules anyway,” one shopkeeper told me. Many prefer not to talk about recent years, saying only that “we have to get on with our lives”. There is hope that Tsipras will pull Greece out of the present quagmire; but it’s mixed with a resignation that “it is what it is and all alternatives have evaporated”. “We are corrupt as a people,” says Adonis in the car on the way to Porto Koufo; “we have to deal with that ourselves”.
Back in Athens in early October I got a different perspective. Most people are resigned, but the interest groups stand ready to fight the conditions of the aid package. Business leaders told me that they are holding off investments and continuing to send as much money abroad as they can. They still have to gain confidence in Tsipras’ ability to control corruption and improve the rule of law. This makes you curious as to the development of ‘corruption’ and the ‘rule of law’ in Greece, as measured by available governance indicators. According to the World Bank, Greece has slid down these scales since it joined the euro:
Source: World Governance Indicators, World Bank
On the one hand, Greece’s fall was not something that happened everywhere: Germany maintained its high standards of governance. On the other hand, Greece was not alone — firmly in the company of Italy. In any case, the Tsipras Government faces tremendous challenges: bringing the country back to the levels of 2000 and possibly better, while rolling out the legal changes required by the aid package. In the meantime tensions are likely to erupt again, which would put Greece back on the front pages for all the wrong reasons.
© European Union 2015 – European Parliament.