Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Why austerity makes corruption worse; in Greece and elsewhere.

One of the main culprits for Greece's damaged economy and financial troubles-according to most European media and analysts-was the corruption that plagued the country.

Greece suffers from it at all levels; starting from government corruption, which inevitably trickles down to the lower levels of its society.

But where does the delinquency culture has its roots and why hasn't been eradicated yet?

In Greece we have a saying: the fish stinks from its head. That means that in an organization, family or a country, the problems arise from its leadership; the parents, the management or the government.

And since it is the government and the state institutions in Greece that are corrupt and dysfunctional, how can anyone expect the country to seriously tackle corruption?

Government corruption derives from many sources. The Ottoman and Byzantine authoritarian legacy, Greece's troubled recent history, its deep ideological divisions which are remnants of the civil war, the Greek Orthodox Church. The list can go on.

The reality is that the Greek elites oppose or are reluctant allowing the country to change, because if it does so they will obviously lose out; in power, influence and economic prominence.

They are indifferent in reforming the country, or tackling the red tape that makes doing business in Greece difficult. Nor dealing with tax evasion, as they are the ones who are the worse offenders. If they modernize the country foreign investors might come in, posing a serious threat to their monopolies.

On the other hand, Greece's elites have been wasting Greek and European tax payer's money, for sustaining the European and American industrial elites.

They have been striking deals with leading German companies, or buying American, French or German weaponry that Greece does not really need; to protect itself from Turkey, a NATO ally.

Instead of investing in reforming the country and its institutions, they are playing their part in a global and pan-European financial and political establishment. The only government that shows some signs of moving away from this mentality is the government of Syriza.

Yet Europe is working hard to overthrow it, because it is Leftist and it poses a serious threat to the Liberal and Conservative European establishment. If Syriza succeeds, more Leftist governments might spring out across Europe.

Consequently, because of their ideological differences or national interests, European elites are opposing any potential change in Greece. Disregarding of course the fact that the former establishment parties, did nothing to reform the country.

Furthermore the Greek citizens have naturally their own share of blame. Their culture and mentality is heavily influenced by the country's Ottoman past. Greece's citizens-especially those in the countryside- seek to have a very personal and nepotistic relationship with local authorities and the government.

That is how they were brought up. In the past, especially during the junta era you just did not challenge the police or the local authorities, which had absolute power over you. They could confiscate your property and exile you in the Soviet states, if you were even accused of being a communist.

Due to the very unstable political past, most Greeks that are now middle aged and hold the reigns of the country, were raised in absolute poverty. The two world wars, plus the civil one that followed, crippled the country forcing millions in deprivation.

Back then, very few Greeks were getting any education. Their majority were forced to leave school early, to support their families. With little education, a large number of them were forced into emigration to other European countries, or the rest of the world.

Opportunities were scarce and overall the Greeks adopted a very opportunistic and selfish attitude, in order to survive. Poverty created more corruption as it became common practice to evade the laws, or bribe the local authorities in order to get them off your back. There was no justice or equality back then, you could not progress without the right connections or bribery.

Whole generations grew up under such conditions. We are describing most people that are now aged over 50 in Greece and of course, hold the top positions in Greece's education, local government and industrial or financial corporations.

This generation is not going to change easily or proceed with any reforms. Doing business the way they do is all they know. In fact they are the ones who are responsible for Greece's demise. The country's very leadership belongs to this generation, with perhaps the only exception the current Syriza government.

If Greece has to change, it must encourage its young people into these top spots. They have furthered their experience and education in international European universities. They have traveled more, are multilingual and have new ideas, plus they are at their most creative.

Unfortunately the Troika/EU inspired austerity forced this young generation into either emigration or unemployment and poverty. Young people in Greece right now suffer from lack of opportunities and to survive, they will probably have to do what their predecessors were doing to survive; cheat, tax evade or engage in unorthodox and illegal employment practices.

Greece is suffering from a brain-drain, since nowadays it is the most educated and qualified youths that are leaving the country. How can Europe expect the country to reform itself and change, without its best resource; its young, skilled workforce.

According to recent EU Commission report, Greece is to lose more than 20% of its population until 2060, due to its low birthrates and continuous emigration. Low birthrates that are also a result of poverty and unemployment, as young people can not start families of their own, well until their mid thirties.

The country will be a nation of pensioners, with few opportunities for young people. Any chance of reforms and a change in the Greek people's mentality, will be diminished with the continuous emigration. Older generations are more conservative by nature.

How does Europe hope to force Greece to reform, when it is condemning young Greeks into the same vicious circle of poverty, lack of education and employment opportunities?

These were some of the main reasons that corruption settled in Greece in the first place. The poorer a nation the more it suffers from it.

If the European leadership ever wants to have Greece as an equal, prosperous and dynamic member, it can't continue with its austerity policies that cripple the country's youth. Greece needs investments to offer employment opportunities to its young people and in addition reforms in government and local authority level.

Reforms that will never happen if Europe forces the Greeks into further poverty and constant humiliation. The more this situation continues, the more hard lined the response will be from the Greek people, opposing any reforms.

Or even worse, the on-going austerity and economic crisis, might further destabilize Greece politically and economically, resulting in an even more radical political party coming into power, like the Golden Dawn. With potential disastrous consequences for the whole continent.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Britain remains conservative, with consequences for Europe.

On the 7th of May the British public decided on their future government. While the pre-election opinion polls predicted a very close result, the Tories managed a surprise victory.

Despite the odds, they achieved a parliamentary majority meaning that for five more years, Britain will be ruled by the Conservatives.

This development will not only have an impact on the UK, but on Europe too.

With Conservatives gaining power in the UK, we now have the possibility of a "Brexit" from the European Union. Prime Minister Cameron has promised the country a referendum in 2017 on whether to stay in the European Union or to exit out of it. (CNN)

The result, if we take into account this election result, could be unpredictable. Europe will never be the same again without the UK as a member of the EU. 

Ireland for example will really need to rethink its relationship, both with Britain and the EU. The small country has close ties with its larger neighbor and the Northern Ireland situation will need to be renegotiated. Right now after the Good Friday Agreement, its citizens can chose either or both Irish and British citizenship.

How will this agreement be affected, once being British citizen won't guarantee being an EU one too? And will the borders between the North and the Republic have to be reinstated? 

Ireland of course will not be the only region of Europe which will be impacted. The EU will lose one of its oldest members and a net contributor to its budget, plus a nation with significant experience in international diplomacy and politics.

For Britain itself, a withdrawal from the EU could also bring numerous challenges. Apart from the obvious economic risks that many business and financial experts are warning of, there is also the question of Scotland.

The Scots may have voted against independence in the recent referendum, but that does not mean that the idea is dead in the water. In these elections the Scottish National Party became the third largest elected power in parliament. (CNN)

There have been speculations in the British press that a big win for the SNP could lead to yet another referendum in 2016. Many Scots also don't like the Conservative sentiments against the EU, where they'd like to stay. (CNN)

In an extreme scenario, Britain could leave the European Union, triggering Scotland to leave Britain, and join the EU. (CNN) Such possibility could redraw not only the map and politics of the UK, but Europe as well.

The only positive outcome from the British elections, is the failure of UKIP to win the seats they hoped for. The conservative party only managed to have one of their members in the new British Parliament, while its leader Nigel Farage has quit the party's leadership as result.

Nevertheless, the impact UKIP had in British politics is significant. One can say that they have achieved their goal, despite losing the elections. They have been a serious threat to the establishment parties, forcing the Tories and Mr. Cameron to guarantee a referendum on EU membership to the British people. 

Something that will result in their inevitable defeat in the next elections, should they backtrack on it.

But Britain's preference for the Right has not been the only one in Europe. In the recent Finnish elections, the nationalist Right-wing Finns Party came second, forming a coalition with the other two major parties in Finland. 

That will mean that the Scandinavian country will stick to conservative, nationalist politics that will pose some difficulties on European level. Especially in relation to managing the debt of other countries under the Troika's supervision, like Greece.

With Finland and Britain turning Rightwards, together with a conservative Germany as well as many other continental national governments, Europeans must realize that austerity is here to stay. Instead of complaining about it, they could start voting without being influenced by nationalist, populist agendas.

Perhaps Europe's citizens are not bothered by austerity after all. At least not until it starts affecting them in the same way it did, the citizens of the peripheral economies of the continent.

The only country that turned to the Left as a result of the austerity policies, was Greece. But how can a single Leftist government like Syriza can fight or limit austerity in Europe, when EU citizens keep voting for Right Wing and Conservative governments?

The latest developments in Europe's politics are thus particularly bad for Greece. The indebted country will have to face alone right-wing governments from all over Europe, organised in one political super-group the EPP. Their agenda is to turn Europe into a continent in which neo-liberal policies dominate, modeled after USA.

As result, an agreement between Greece and its European partners will be very difficult-if not impossible- unless other countries turn to the Left. But since Europeans seem to prefer conservative parties as governments, this outcome could be still far off.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Ireland decides on same sex marriage and family.

On the 22nd of May there will be another referendum in Ireland. This time on the right of same sex couples to marry. 

Civil partnerships already exist in the country since 2011, but now the Irish public will vote on giving full and equal rights to gay individuals on marriage.

Many view it as a milestone, as homosexuality was only decriminalized in the Catholic nation in 1993. They hope to make Ireland the 13th European state to give gay marriages full legal recognition and status.

While the opinion polls have been steadily showing support for a YES vote, the NO campaign has been increasingly vocal. Their arguments mainly evolve around the definition of the future Irish families and the rights of children.

Yet, the referendum question relates to the issue of loving and committed same sex couples having the right to have a civil marriage. That is the only issue and question being put to the voters.

This referendum is not about adoption or about surrogacy – these are clearly important issues and ones that people care about deeply but they are complex issues which are dealt with in legislation and are not part of this referendum and should not form part of the debate. (Marriage Equality

The Children and Family Relationship Bill 2015 will address many of the legal gaps faced by Irish children with lesbian and gay parents. This should become law by mid-April 2015. (Marriage Equality)

A single straight, lesbian or gay person can already adopt but an unmarried straight couple or a gay/lesbian couple cannot. For an adopted child already living with gay or lesbian parents, the Bill will mean that he or she can have a legal relationship with his/her second parent, the adoptive father or mother’s partner. (Marriage Equality)

The issue of adoption will be dealt with in the Children and Family Relationships Bill 2015 not the referendum. Adoption forms only a tiny part of this Bill and the changes mean that an unmarried cohabiting straight couple or a gay or lesbian cohabiting couple will be able to apply jointly to adopt. (Marriage Equality)

In other words the NO campaign uses the potential adoption of children by gay couples, to win the referendum. They cite that a child needs a mother and a father, thus underlining its human rights. 

They oppose such development because according their beliefs, it is not "natural". But the definition of family and marriage has been altered so much in modern times.

Nowadays we got many different types of families, other than the traditional. How "natural" is it, like in many cases of straight couples adopting, to have a "white" couple adopting an African or Asian child? 

And what of one parent families, could they be characterized as "natural"? People now form families from two broken ones, while there are families that are formed outside of marriage. 

Over the past decades we got over many of taboos and prejudices. Marriage between divorcees, between people of different race and children outside marriage. In each case there was always a debate, protests and demonstrations, but our societies always opted for freedom, equality and tolerance; and so they must now.

If our society chooses to forbid homosexual individuals to marry, on the grounds of opposing the redefinition of the modern family, it will simply act truly hypocritically. 

Our societies allow straight couples to adopt, often overlooking some realities. Especially when some of them pay for an adoption in a desperate attempt for a child, thus literally buying another human being.

All that so that they can hide from their community that they can not have children, aspiring to create a "normal" family. In reality a child won't save their marriage or legitimize it.

If some people feel awkward about gay adoptions and they want to protect the rights of children, they are right to have concerns. But shouldn't they do so for straight couple adoptions? 

Since they want to open a debate about the consequences and effects of adoption they should do so for every couple, gay or straight.

It is true that some gay couples can never be eligible for an adoption, because of their circumstances or lifestyle. But so are many straight couples.

Besides, the main aim of the gay community is to be able to marry and their unions to have the same legal statues as those formed by heterosexual couples. Adoption is not usually their primary concern, at least for a large number of gay couples.

Thus the notion that if gay marriage becomes legitimate, our societies will be full of children adopted and raised by gay people has no grounds.

What homosexual couples are demanding is equal human rights and  in love.Why can a "straight" man marry a non-national woman and give her legal residence permission in the country, while a gay man can not do so for the person he loves?

And why can't a lesbian mother adopt her partner's child from a former heterosexual relationship, making her a legal guardian? What happens to a gay couple's joined property and wealth they have accumulated, after the death of one of the partners?

These are some of the issues that homosexual couples are facing and what this referendum campaigns should be focusing on.

It will be a benefit to our societies to grant homosexual individuals their human rights and integrate them fully. They have been forced to the periphery of our social fabric for too long, unjustifiably and unfairly.

They have greatly contributed to human culture, society and history, it is about time to end discrimination and stop treating them as second class citizens.

Ireland should become the 13th European state to recognize same sex marriage, but in no way should it be the last. All EU member states must adopt similar legislation to give the same rights to all the Union's citizens.

With the free movement of people being one of the fundamental rights of EU citizens, how can a marriage be recognized in one state while it won't be in another? And what about an adopted child's rights, if its parents decide to move to another EU member?

This referendum won't just be a milestone in Ireland's modern history, but a small positive step towards where the whole Europe should be heading; to equality, freedom and tolerance of every individual in this continent.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Europe's outrage by Tsipras' visit to Putin, is hypocritical.

On the 8th of April 2015, Greece's Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras visited the Russian capital Moscow, to hold talks with Vladimir Putin.

As expected, the European media found another opportunity for mud throwing against the Greek Left-wing government. 
Speculations about what will Greece compromise and if Russia will offer money to the indebted country, dominated the European social media.

Most European analysts and commentators, feared that Greece will slip into the arms of Russia; breaking Europe's foreign policy and common stance on the Ukrainian situation.

Besides, what has Europe done so far for Ukraine, apart from sanctioning Russia, harming its own economy collaterally? 

These views have no base and are signs of a mass hysteria, propaganda and an agenda to discredit the newly elected "radical" Greek government.

First of all Greece is a sovereign nation and it can do business with anyone it thinks appropriate. I can't recall any of Greece's European partners, from East or West, siding or supporting Greece on its national issues such as the Cyprus problem, the FYROM issue or Turkey. 

Every European government is allowed to follow its own policies, according their interests and needs. Besides, since Europe's treatment of Greece for the past 6 years has been unacceptable, it itself pushes the country towards Putin.

Secondly, the probability of Greece re-positioning itself closer to Russia is practically zero, as long as Greece remains a full member of European institutions and NATO (The Guardian). It is thus unlikely that Russia will proceed towards a closer relationship with a US ally.

Similar scenarios were played during the Cypriot bail-out. Everyone in Greece and Cyprus counted on Russia for their support, citing their close historic and religious ties. None of the hypotheses came true; the Russians were not interested.

Greece has always been close to Russia for various reasons throughout its history, that is a fact. However many other European nations have close ties with countries outside our continent on similar grounds. Plus Greece has decided on its allegiance long ago; its population is far more pro-European than many other EU member states'.

It is peculiar that the European public opinion worries about Greece, yet nobody does so about the lack of democracy and transparency in EU, or the fact that people bail out banks. As if Greece is Europe's biggest problem, not austerity. 

The diminution of our worker's and human rights across the Union is scandalous. The European media instead of focusing on the above issues, they are trying to disorient the continent's public opinion. Greece reaching out to Russia for help is not news; the fact that Europe is unwilling to help the ordinary Greek people is. 

The European elites are desperate to bring the Syriza government down and they are using the media to spread their propaganda. They fear that if a Leftist government succeeds more countries will follow its example, threatening the neo-liberal agenda that the EU institutions have been promoting for decades.

But by scolding Syriza and its leader so much, they may get something even worse: the far Right is still prominent in Greece. The Golden Dawn is the third party in the country right now and France, together with many other countries are not far behind.

Europe should be glad that the Greeks went leftward instead or Right wing. Syriza is more manageable than Golden Dawn. The current government has many high ranked university professors in its cabinet, unlike the Golden Dawn, whose members are often involved in criminal activities. 

Besides, the average Greek citizens were forced to chose this government, by the ruthless measures that were imposed on them. Similar reaction we observed in the past in Germany itself. 

A deep recession combined with an international humiliation, resulted in the far Right Nazi party to come to power. It seems that Europe never learns from its mistakes. 

It is up to the EU to gain the hearts of the ordinary Greeks again, by showing a bit of tolerance and compromise. Not for the sake of Syriza, but for Greece's citizens, the unity of the EU and the euro. If the Greeks see some relief and an end to the constant humiliation, they may gladly return to the established, mainstream political parties. 

Greece does not need more debt thrown on it, in the form of a third bailout. The country now needs some growth and investments to lift its population out of poverty, kick-starting its economy. Yet the European elites are too arrogant and blind to realize the plight of the citizens from a "peripheral" economy. 

Finances to them are far more important, than living standards and human dignity. In the beginning they blamed the Greek people's alleged "laziness" for the crisis in the country. When this argument was burst, they then used the tax evasion argument. 

It was then discovered that German companies were among the bigger tax evaders in Greece, or that Holland and Luxembourg are contributing to the problem by acting as tax havens. 

So they now argue on the importance of sticking to the rules and honoring the previous government's signatures. European elites clearly don't like democracy enough, to respect the Greek electorate's wish to end austerity. 

Apart from being isolated, Greece is now further ridiculed. Countries like Spain or Portugal, who would ideally benefit from a Syriza victory are distancing themselves from it, because they have Right wing governments. Their leadership belongs to the same European political group as Angela Merkel's party. 

It is also noticeable that most Eastern European countries are seemingly against Greece. Partly because they have been under Soviet rule and find Greece's closeness with Russia outrageous. To them, Russia is a constant threat and the West the goal they've always aspired to.

They may have an underlined complex, seeing Greece-a country that allegedly benefited so many years from the West- being so "ungrateful". They are so keen to shake off the image of the communist, poor and backwards region that were themselves. 

As result, they have adopted a hard line pro-Western, liberal and capitalist agenda. If they suffered in order to achieve the transition from communism to capitalism, so must the Greeks. Besides, many of them have contributed to the Greek bail-outs, despite them being poorer than the Greeks.

The reality is quite different. Firstly the bailouts were not given to the Greek people, but the European banking system, in other words they stabilized Western European banks. 

Secondly capitalism is not perfect as a system. It may offer more prosperity than communism, but it also harbors inequality in a society and among the EU member states. How "lucky" was Greece to be a capitalist country in a system that regards it as a "peripheral" economy, aka of secondary importance?

In addition, although many of them are being praised for the achieved reforms and their economies are booming, their citizens are still looking to migrate to Western countries for a better future. The benefits of the efforts to embrace capitalism, have not been equally distributed it seems.

Finally Eastern European states should not be angered by Greece's closeness to Russia, as it is not related remotely to their Soviet experience. Themselves have close links with Germany, Scandinavia or other nations. To Greece, Russia has always been a close trade partner and occasionally an ally.

Besides, it is doubtful that Greece under Syriza will ever plan to conspire against Europe and the West. Its leadership merely uses Russia as a wild card. The aim is clearly to give a message to the rest of its EU partners, that if they continue refusing to compromise, Greece has other allies to turn to.

And Putin obviously values this opportunity, stating that he can still find allies among the EU itself, potentially influencing Europe from within. Additionally, Greece and Russia without the meddling from the rich yet arrogant Western European nations, could strike very profitable deals for either parties.

Greece needs the investments and since Europe refuses them, the country has every right to look elsewhere for them.

To conclude, no one has the right to point the finger to Greece for seeking to better its position and finances. It is clear that European solidarity and unity are far from being achieved and it is the major European powers that prevent this development. 

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Humor: European perspectives on tax evasion!


If a British man keeps his money in a tax haven like the Isle of Man or the Channel Islands is a clever businessman. 


If a German man keeps his money in Switzerland or Luxembourg is a thrifter and reasonable investor. 


If a Russian man keeps his money in Cyprus is a mafia oil oligarch. 


If a Greek man keeps his money in Switzerland is a corrupt and lazy tax evader. 


Finally when a French guy keeps his money in a tax haven like Monaco or Switzerland he is simply........ Gerard Depardieu...!!!

Friday, March 20, 2015

What are the "necessary" reforms that Europe demands of Greece?

Apparently today there was another meeting in Brussels. EU leaders of Germany, France and the EU institutions met with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on the sidelines of the EU Council at his request. 

Though Greece and its negotiation with international creditors was not on the summit’s formal agenda, Greece’s economic woes were ominous. (Independent Balkan News Agency).

Yet for the past few weeks prominent EU and European leaders, were complaining that Greece is not doing enough to keep up with the requested and necessary reforms. 

Pressure was mounting on the Greek leadership, while its partners grew increasingly annoyed and often offended by Mr. Tsipras and Mr. Varoufakis tactics, comments and "lack of action to keep up with the promises made". 

But what are the "necessary" reforms that the EU demands of Greece? The Greek and European public has been repeatedly informed about the "lack of reforms", but does any of us actually know what Greece's partners are asking?

Has anyone explained to the Greek people what is at stake? How do the EU and European leadership expect the Greeks to accept everything that need to be "reformed," if they don't tell us what we must do. 

All Europe is saying is literally "do as we say and we will give you more money". I can't recall any list of demands being made public, or any suggestions on which fields and in what manner Greece must proceed with its reforms.

If the Greeks must bare the austerity that Germany, the Troika and the ECB are imposing on them, shouldn't they at least be aware of what they will have to lose or gain?

The main demands evolve around privatization initiatives. If that is the sole case, then this is not an assistance, it is a black-mail to force Greece to sell out its natural resources.

The Greek state does not need necessarily this massive sell-out. What it needs to do, is to cut its red-tape so that the native entrepreneurs and foreign companies can do business easier and invest in the country.

It needs to tackle corruption and tax evasion and of course to set up a land registry. If these are the "reforms" that Europe is demanding, it is right to do so, but harsh austerity is not the best way to achieve them.

The more austerity, the more the Greeks are opposed to these reforms. They are a very rational race of people, they do not just obey laws without question.

Someone needs to explain to them what is happening and then they will condone; or not! But when the Greek and European leadership do not give them any credible feedback about the situation, then we are having a serious democratic deficit.

Shouldn't all Greek households, that are forced to endure six years of the harshest austerity seen in Europe for a long time, be informed about what their country is required to give up or sell out to Greece's partners?

Lack of communication leads to misunderstandings and it makes it more difficult for the Greeks to accept these unknown reforms. 

It is crucial to keep the pro-European sentiment among the Greek population, not make the situation worse with derogatory comments and constant negative criticism of Greece's democratically elected government.

What possibly is happening, is that the European establishment is determined to get rid of Syriza, before other leftist governments mushroom all over Europe. That would mean a disaster for them, their interests and the neo-liberal agenda they plan to apply across our continent.

They are working hard, by using propaganda and slandering Greece's Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, in order to discredit them and force them to call an election. 

The EU and European leadership are behind this plot. But it is not the average German citizen's fault, as it is not the average Greek or any other EU citizen's fault either. 

The continent's elites, represent these policies that want to shape a two tier Europe, a divided continent. Some poor, some rich and developed; periphery and core economies, North and South.

Such development won't be good for any worker across the continent, either in Greece, Germany, Ireland or any EU member state.

The Germans and the rest of the ordinary EU citizens need to understand that. The European elites just demand Greece to repay and save the European banks.

In my opinion all the fuss about these "necessary reforms," is nonsense. They don't really care about Greece or it's people, otherwise they would have heard their cries years ago, when they were calling that this austerity is unfair, unbearable and not justified.

It is privatizations that they want, little do they care about Greece's future. Because that future is not built on a massive debt that the country won't never be able to repay anyway. 

The EU and European leadership just want someone to take the blame for all that is wrong in the euro-zone and the European economy. They will never admit that they created a mess with everything, it is good enough to them that the Greeks take all the blame.

Yet it is encouraging though to see waves of support and solidarity from the average European citizens, across the EU, Germany included.

Recently riots took place in Frankfurt, demonstrating against the new ECB's head-quarters opening, while millions of ordinary people are facing austerity. It is more than heartening to see ordinary Germans, finally understanding that their government's policies, together with the EU's are not favoring ordinary people, in Greece, their country or elsewhere.

That was one the greatest displays of European solidarity in recent times, not the smokescreen of financial support that the European elites were trying to fool us with. Citizens must stand together. Now it is Greece; in the next crisis it could be your country. 

Friday, March 13, 2015

EU loses Iceland as a member, out of its myopic policies.

Iceland has dropped its bid to become a member of the EU.

Foreign Minister Gunnar Bragi Sveinsson said he had informed the current EU president Latvia as well as the European Commission about the move. (Euronews)

Who can blame them really. Why anyone would like to join a union, where the citizens are the ones who bailout the banks with their taxes, while being slandered on top of that if they protest.

The Icelanders jailed the bankers and did not gave them more powers, unlike the rest of Europe and America. The Icelandic way of dealing with the economic crisis, has conveniently slipped out the European media and in extend, the public opinion's attention.

Instead, the continent's media institutions, found joy in slandering the Greeks for complaining about austerity. In addition they focused in everything that was wrong in the country's economy and society, trying desperately to justify that the Greeks have to suffer for their laziness and corruption. 

The events that were taking place in Iceland on the other hand, were not mentioned by the mainstream media. 

Iceland's 38-year-old prime minister, Sigmundur Davíd Gunnlaugsson, elected in April on populist promises of mortgage relief for every homeowner. Syriza did exactly the same, yet it is being scorned and scolded by its European "partners".

Gunnlaugsson earned his spurs in years of outspoken campaigning against the foreign creditors, particularly the British and the Dutch governments, which intervened after the collapse of Landsbanki, the bank behind Icesave, on 7 October 2008.

A poisonous diplomatic row was sparked between Iceland, the Netherlands and Great Britain, that against the odds, Iceland won. While many other politicians in Iceland had urged a policy of appeasing the enraged British and Dutch governments, Gunnlaugsson had insisted they should go hang.

Having helped win the famous Icesave victory from outside government, Gunnlaugsson has promised to carry that uncompromising approach with him as prime minister, hinting at a new wave of attacks on the interests of foreign creditors to Iceland's three failed banks: Kaupthing, Glitnir and Landsbanki. 

Between them, these institutions had assets more than nine times the size of Iceland's economic output when they failed in 2008.

His attitude personally reminds me of the attitude or the Greek Minister of Finance, Yanis Varoufakis. Yet, since outside the EU, the Icelanders did not have to face the same pressure from their partners, through the EU institutions.

As result, the Icelanders are fast on their way back to becoming among the richest people in the world, just five years after experiencing one of the most dramatic financial meltdowns in history.

"We raised almost every tax there was – and introduced new ones," recalled the then finance minister, Steingrimur Sigfusson, adding that there were considerable cuts in public spending too as government debt swelled to eye-watering levels.

By August 2011, Iceland had graduated from its International Monetary Fund bailout program with flying colors. "We became a poster child for them," suggests Sigfusson, noting how the fund is still struggling to right many other sinking economies on Europe's peripheries.

Iceland is now held up as an example by some of how to overcome deep economic dislocation without undoing the social fabric.

Since then, with government borrowing receding, Iceland has been able to return to the international debt markets, and has begun repaying its emergency loans. Meanwhile, the economy – having shrunk more than 10% in two years – bounced in 2011 and 2012, and will grow by about 1.9% this year.

Nobel prize winner Joeseph Stilitz agrees. "What Iceland did was right. It would have been wrong to burden future generations with the mistakes of the financial system." For Financial Times economist Martin Wolf too, it was a triumph. "Iceland let the creditors of its banks hang. Ireland did not. Good for Iceland!" Less good, of course, for the foreign creditors. (The Guardian)

It is the obviously the attitude of Germany, it's satellite states and the EU institutions and the way they treat Greece and other nations under an EU/IMF bailout program, that put the Icelanders off EU membership. They do not need the rest of Europe anymore, they have proven they can make it on their own.

And not just that, but why would they put up with institutionalized bullying by their EU counterparts, that want to save their own banks and insure the maximum return for their bond holders? 

Iceland's case is a true example of a real patriotism and fully functioning democracy, where the leaders listen to their voters' needs and work hard for their interests. This is quite the opposite of what the former Greek government and many of their European counterparts were doing,

 Losing Iceland as a potential EU member, is a real loss for Europe, European democracy and the continent's dream for unification. European leaders, take not and hang your head in shame! 

Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Euro-zone crisis can not be solved by national governments.

For the past six years since the economic crisis has hit the euro-zone, Greece and its relationship with its partners have been always making news. 

Recently though, things have been turning constantly for the worse. Particularly Greece's relationship with its main creditor and Europe's economic powerhouse, Germany, has turned really sour. 

After being scolded, mocked and constantly criticized by its partners and especially by the German media, the Greek voters have elected a "radical" Leftist party in government; Syriza.

 The new Greek leadership has broken the lines of the country's former governments. The ministers of PASOK and the New Democracy were more compliant, diplomatic and keen to satisfy Greece's creditors' demands. By doing so, they agreed to implement very harsh and unpopular austerity measures, that  eventually led to their defeat in the last Greek general elections.

Naturally such outcome was expected. The Greek voters saw their politicians' surrender to the demands of the Troika as a national disgrace and surrender. After of six years of extremely painful policies that they had to endure, they had enough.

Yet the grave mistakes that the former Greek governments did, are not to be blamed on their European partners. It was not them who decided to cut the Greek salaries by 40%, destroying the internal market of the country. 

In Ireland the government also implemented austerity measures, but the salary cuts were never as severe as in Greece. After 2-3 years, the Irish market managed to bounce back, simply because the Irish consumers did not lose almost half of their income.

Nor it was Greece's partners who failed to proceed with reforms, mainly sorting out the country's taxation system, its red tape and tax evasion problem. It also failed to establish a land registry and even worse, go after the rich of the country, who are the worse offenders of tax evasion.

When Syriza came into power, understandably tried to gain some of Greece's dignity. To please its voter back home, it was very quick to challenge the Troika, the Eurogroup, the German leadership and all its European creditors and partners. 

Ideally that is not the way to gain support for your cause and pass a message to your partners about the need to reconsider Greece's situation. If only, you are only isolating yourself and you damage your country's image. 

Having said that, the way the European, notably the German media and governments have treated Greece is not fair either. They have slandered the former governments for "lying" to enter the euro. They have repeatedly treated Greece as the black ship of the family, underlining the faults in its system, more than they did for any other country.

They used Greece as a scapegoat, to cover all the mistakes that the European leadership made when creating the euro. 

Instead of pouring some light in the EU institutions' shortcomings and offer more transparency on their functions, they preferred to literally "feed" the Greeks to the outraged European public opinion.

The German leadership in particular, acted in a very arrogant way. They may have good intentions overall for the euro's recovery, or they just want to apply their tried and tested formula that they used during the unification of Germany.

But they forget one thing; in the German situation, its government was elected by a German majority of voters and naturally had its backing. In the effort to unify Europe, this panacea can not be applied as easily, simply because Europe is not one nation.

The Greek voters did not vote for the German government, or had any say on who is get elected. Thus when the German leaders are keen to tell the Greeks how to run their country, they are not helping much with the situation. They should leave the EU institutions to apply pressure on the Greek leadership and proceed with the necessary reforms.

In addition, by applying such harsh criticism on just one nation under EU/IMF bail-out program, they naturally increase the resistance of the Greeks against their demands. German government officials together with top EU officials, have been giving in the media's demand for a story, making inflammatory statements about the Greek situation.

That is not a wise way to appease the country's public, that has to suffer not just the harshest austerity measures in recent European history, but a decade long criticism and humiliation. Especially when no other EU nation has its social and financial shortcomings so openly discussed or analysed.

It is clear that the Euro-zone crisis can not be solved by national governments. The constant clash between the Greek and German governments, is high jacking the future of the euro, postponing its recovery and dividing the European public.

No side wants to back down and each one takes the fate of millions of people in the zone for granted, to satisfy the demands of voters back home. If we want to keep the euro, we got to face the facts: the only way to govern a single currency is a single government.

So no national EU government can meddle with the decisions to serve their own ego, ideology, national superiority or the idea of it. Syriza has a very different ideology than the rest of the European political elites. Naturally it opposes the way that the EU institutions have been run over the previous decades.

But until other nations decide to be as bold as the Greeks and vote for an outsider in government, Syriza is damaging Greece's interests by going against everybody in the EU. Ideally they should wait until other nations like Spain to also elect a leftist government, then launch a full on attach on the neo-liberal agenda of the EU institutions.

The Germans on the other hand must abandon their arrogance, thinking that because they "pay" for all others, they are entitled to dictate them or dominate the whole continent. Because the reality is quite different. It is the European banking system that it is being bailed out, not the countries and their citizens that receive the loans. 

The clash between Germany and Greece is constantly turning for the worse. Recently the Greek government decided to ask for the WW2 reparations from Germany, something that was received by the Germans and their supporters with even more content and ridicule. 

The situation leads nowhere and both sides have a fair share of blame. But as long as it is down to national governments to reach an agreement, the euro-zone will always remain in limbo. The national interests are getting in the way in finding a satisfactory solution for everybody.

Since we came this far to share a single currency, it is decision time. If we want to keep the euro, we need to create an ever closer political union, as well as a banking one. The euro was create as a symbol of European "unity" and upon its launch, the Greeks were promised that it would turn Greece as rich as the Northern European nations.

That no only did not happen, but actually quite the opposite took place. This is not just the fault of the Greek governments, but the way the euro was created and the opposition of the German leadership to allow the transfer of wealth towards the poorer, peripheral economies.

In other words, the only way the euro can fulfill its purpose is when the rich EU nations will allow this transfer of investments and funds. While the poorer nations should proceed with necessary reforms, to transform their countries into a model that is more compatible with that of their Northern European counterparts.

From what we observe, our governments fail to agree, save the euro and the European economy, or fulfill their obligations towards their citizens. We need a new type of government to deal with this mess, one that will force all governments to comply with what must be done, should Europe decides to keep the single currency.

That government must be created on a pan-European level, by pro-European politicians, committed and dedicated to Europe's cause, not to any pitiful, conservative, nationalist agenda. 

Friday, March 6, 2015

The Greek bashing in European media, obstructs reforms in the country.

For the past five years, no other EU member state had received so much attention by the European and global media regarding the euro-zone crisis, as much as Greece. 

Ever since the global economic meltdown hit the country, its affairs kept the European media busy. All the shortcomings of the Greek economy and society were exposed, by every media organization across the continent.

Stories kept being published about how the Greeks are not working hard, how they all tax evade, or how corrupt the country's institutions are.

Most of these articles or reports, have of course a great dose of truth; no one ever denies in Greece that nepotism and corruption was a major obstacle to Greece becoming a real European economy. 

Yet I do not recall any newspaper analyzing the US economy so much, where the crisis begun. There haven't been any condemning articles about the mismanagement of the US finances and the totally irresponsible policies that its banks adopted. 

Nor I do not remember any harsh and analytic reports being made for Ireland, France, Italy, Spain, Cyprus or Portugal, many of those being also under an EU/IMF bail-out agreement, or facing hard economic realities. 

I live in Ireland for more than 10 years now and I am very familiar with its weaknesses as an economy and a society. I was surprised that no media organization visited the country to write about people collecting social welfare while working illegally, or how corrupt its property market is, once under IMF supervision.

I doubt that Portugal, which has a very similar economy to that of Greece is less corrupt, or Spain for the same matter. In Italy it is well known the extend of the activities of its famous Mafia, yet no one ever portrayed the whole nation as thieving, murdering thugs.

There have been of course a numerous reports, speculations or analyses on the faults of the euro currency, but never any blame was placed on any current or former EU official and leader of any national government, for creating a totally shambolic single currency.

Again it was the former Greek governments who were blamed for "lying" about the country's finances to adopt the euro. If that is true it exposes how the euro currency was established with extremely weak foundations. 

I doubt that no one knew about Greece's "lying". If only, it is most likely that such practices were widely common among European governments, to keep their economies afloat.

Most Western European nations are heavily indebted. Perhaps Greece just went overboard and its economy could not support so much borrowing. That is not a reason to punish and humiliate the ordinary citizen of Greece though. 

It would be refreshing for once, to have the media focus dropping Greece and turning on the shortcomings of the European banking system and the EU institutions instead. There we have transactions worth of billions, not a few hundred euro of tax evasion like in some cases of citizen fraud. 

In addition, after being totally humiliated for years in a row, the Greeks are fed up of being treated like the black ship of the continent. Thus they decided to revolt and vote for a so called "radical" party into government. 

Once more the European media started the mud throwing and propaganda campaigns. This time they focused on Greece's newly elected leader and Finance Minister, Mr. Tsipras and Mr. Varoufakis. They criticize anything from their lack of "professionalism," to their casual dress sense. 

The truth is that the European elites do not like to be challenged, by what they see as arrogant politicians. Yet the Greeks had to deal with inflammatory comments by many of the continent's "arrogant" media and politicians, notably from Germany and its satellite states. 

It must be understood that Germany should stop being seen as the one pulling the strings in the euro-zone crisis, even if everybody knows that it is true. How could anyone convince the Greek voters, to accept policies from a finance minister of another EU country, that they have not voted for?

This reality creates a major democratic deficit, where one country must follow the economic policies that are promoted by another EU member's government. The German leadership may still have a major say, but in my opinion they should leave to the EU institutions the implementation and adoption of such policies by Greece or any other country.

Either it is the European media's fault, or the German leadership's arrogance, constantly criticizing another EU government, naturally creates divisions. Besides, it is not all about Germany or Greece; there are 17 other members of the euro-zone.

Any policies or recommendations by Germany to Greece, should come through the EU institutions. The German leadership should avoid throwing oil to the fire, by directly "advising" or commenting on the Greek affairs.

Finally I wish that the EU could stop punishing the ordinary Greek citizens for the mistakes of the previous governments. Of course they were voted in power by the Greek voters, but one must understand the political reality of the country.

Sadly Greece has inherited a lot by its Ottoman rulers and Byzantine past, where the governing elite were seen as the absolute rulers that could not be challenged. The only way you could deal with them was through the exchange of personal favors.

This mentality still prevails among the majority of the older generation and it can only be changed through education. Something that requires increasingly more funds, that right now the average Greek family is struggling to come by. 

In other words the more Greeks are remaining in instability, poverty and ignorance, corruption will never be eradicated. 

In addition, the more they are being slandered and used as a scapegoat by the European media to cover the faults in the euro, the more hard-lined their attitude will be towards reforms and change. 

By constantly criticizing them and their new "radical" government, Europe is actually pushing them to stand more firmly behind Syriza and even pushing them towards Russia.

Maintaining a pro-European sentiment among the Greek population, by encouraging them or communicating the more appropriate things to them, it is vital to keep pushing for reforms and even bring back a more "mainstream" political party in power.

The German leadership must remember, that it was not just their nations' hard work that made their country wealthy today. After WW2 many nations, that include Greece, signed a debt forgiveness agreement for Germany.

Not only that, but funds kept pouring into the German economy by the US (Marshall Plan) and other creditors, in order to lift the German economy out of a permanent recession. If something must be taught by Germany's history is this: its economic success is not solely down to the hard work of the German people.

Besides, hundreds of thousands of Greeks migrated to Germany over the decades, worked hard and helped the German and other European economies. How can anyone now call them lazy?

What helped Germany to rise again back then, is what Greece needs right now too: not just austerity and "hard work", but also investments, debt forgiveness and a growth stimulus. 

The Greeks have sacrificed a lot and they proved their willingness. Why aren't we seeing some investments yet into the country? The Europeans' lack of trust for the Greek government, draws a very bad image on European solidarity and cooperation, if that ever truly existed.

And it definitely underlines the need for more transparency, a stronger fully functional democracy and less intergovernmental-ism in EU. Something that seems like a very distant vision, when EU governments and citizens are constantly divided by the media. 

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

We share a European heritage, we do not own parts of it.

When we are trying to discuss or explain national identity or its negative side-nationalism- we tend to focus on the things that separate us from other nations. Like our ancestors' achievements, our art, cuisine and language, as well as events that marked our country's history.

But when we try to analyze what means to be Polish, Greek, German of a Spaniard and what makes us so special or different than others, there are often disagreements.

The reason of course is that our continent has been divided and partially united so many times, that the ethnic and cultural lines are blurred after all these centuries. Many great civilizations and empires on our continent clashed in its long history, and from their shatters new nations were born.

Europe's borders were ever shifting and its people were also constantly on the move. And as it is in human nature to copy others and exchange ideas, Europe has created a unique mosaic of cultures that are so different, yet so similar to each other.

In fact, Europe's cultural richness and diversity derives from the constant moving, meddling and mixing of its peoples and cultures. And today it is one of our advantages, when compared to other regions.

If we try to analyze each nation's cultural or genealogical elements, we will realize that our modern nations are the result of this everlasting mixing, mingling and intermarrying of our ancestors.

It is this cultural diversity that created all of the ancient civilizations that we know. There was simply no "pure" ethnic group or culture in human history whatsoever, apart perhaps the ever wondering tribes-people.

For example Ancient Greece, which was the result of the migration and mixing of the Greek tribes, that conquered and assimilated the previous inhabitants of the southern Balkan peninsula, was not a homogeneous nation as we understand it today.

It was since then debated who was of Greek origin and if a city state or kingdom was agreed to be one, then in was allowed to participate in the Olympic games. Back then these games was an agreed reference of "Greekness," just as today we are trying to define our "Europeaness" by identifying a common set of values.

Similar debates are taking place today. For example about how European Turkey or the nations of the Caucasus region are and if they should join the European Union. Many identify a nation as "European", if it is located in what is perceived to be the geographical region of Europe, plus if it is a Christian nation.

Others have a different point of view. For some, "European" is not necessarily Western or Christian, as there are European Muslims in the Balkans. Besides, the region of Anatolia, used to be part of the Hellenistic and Roman Empires and was heavily colonized by their people.

Thus for many individuals these nations have undoubtedly inherited European heritage, through their historic links with the rest of the continent.

It is not uncommon to encounter many other disputes in Europe too, over names, products, customs, historic sites, cuisine or beverages. That is partially understandable given the number of times Europeans had to fight against each other, while keep redefining their identity each time an empire collapsed.

If only we could see things through a different perspective. Bringing as an example the region I originally come from-the Balkans- the most underdeveloped region of Europe and the most volatile, we could see how misled our nationalism is.

The richest region of Europe historically, is the poorest financially. And the reason is because its inhabitants haven't managed yet to overcome their complexes and settle old disputes.

If only every Turk, Bulgarian, Albanian, Greek, Serb, or Slavomacedonian realized that they share a common Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Slavic and Ottoman heritage and instead of fighting over it, they should be proudly promoting it to the rest of the world.

Instead of that, each nation is entering a never-ending debate over absurd "ownership rights" of the region's greatest exports and achievements.

The Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman empires, were multinational and multicultural melting pots. There might have been a dominant ethnic group in most of them, but their achievements can never be limited or monopolized by one nation.

The influences that created the heritage of these empires, were extracted by every single ethnic group living within their borders.

And so now we have the same type of food or beverage, being popular across this region, yet in every country is being served as a national dish.

The ancient ruins of the former civilizations that existed in this part of Europe, can be undoubtedly classified as Greek, Roman, or of any other culture of the antiquity. However they should not be a hot-spot of debate or dispute.

Anyone can recognize artifacts of the Greco-Roman civilizations, yet they do not solely belong to the heritage of the modern states of Greece or Italy; but also to the countries that they are discovered within.

They are part of the collective heritage of the whole region of the Balkans and the Middle East. The Ancient Greeks and Romans, left their mark and influence throughout these lands, thus these artifacts are only a manifestation of this fact.

As long of course the nations in which their discovery takes place, do not try to alter historic facts by presenting them as their own, to serve their nationalist propaganda in an effort of national self determination.

I would be very proud to see one day other nations like Turkey and FYROM, proudly exhibiting their Greek heritage and not necessarily be intimidated by the fact that Greeks inhabited their lands in the past. The whole of Europe claims Greek heritage and Greece's neighbors have been exposed obviously the most to it.

Equally so, the Greeks should accept and be proud of their Ottoman heritage. The fact that they were subjects to an empire dominated by a different ethnic group, does not take away from their "Greekness". It actually contributes and enhances the country's cultural and historic diversity.

We were all part of four very rich, powerful and influential empires, that defined Europe and its history for thousands of years. That is a fact that should be uniting us, not dividing us. If we think about it, we got more things in common that we want to believe.

Of course such issues do not affect the Balkans only, but they can be found throughout Europe; especially in regions that old powerful empires have been established, like the Austrian-Hungarian Empire.

Yet other nations have been a bit more successful in dealing with their common heritage. No one disputes for example that the Vikings originated from Scandinavia and who they were.

So while today the Scandinavian nations claim Viking ancestry, other regions like Ireland claim their heritage too, without entering into any disputes.

Ireland has been colonized by the Vikings, as well as many other regions like Britain, Northern France and Russia. While these countries are including and promoting their Viking heritage, they do not try to claim it as their own, alter it or the historic facts that are evident from the Viking colonization of their lands.

Similarly, many nations that share a Celtic heritage (like Ireland, France, Spain, Portugal and Britain) instead of fighting over it, they have created numerous heritage events, celebrating their common music and culture.

These cultural events should be promoted in every region with common historic and cultural links, but also throughout Europe. If something ever is going to unite the European continent, it definitely won't be a single currency or market.

All Europe's regions have inherited more than one heritage. We are a continent with a very rich history and culture, but that should not stand in the way of creating a diverse and competitive continent. We should be including these elements in the creation of the Europe of the future.

Besides, we Europeans love our history and heritage so much and it is evident in our folklore, the movies that we watch and every corner of our cities and countryside. We could never have a Europe without them.

They are also very attractive to so many tourists from all over the world, making our tourism industry vital to our overall economy.

To conclude, more needs to be done to promote our shared European heritage. It can be used to end disputes across the continent, unite all nations and regions and provide a vital life-line to our economy through tourism. How could we exclude or overlook our true wealth from our future?

It can also be a reference of inspiration instead of promoting nationalism and bigotry, if we study it with our eyes open. Our nations were created, prospered and developed, because of the constant cultural exchanges and ethnic mixing, not because of the absolute exclusion of anything "foreign".