A very spe­cial case

Kathimerini English - - Front Page - BY NIKOS KONSTANDARAS

“Greece is a spe­cial case. Nowhere the ex­tent of the prob­lems was as large as in Greece, and the ad­min­is­tra­tion as weak,” Klaus Regling, the head of the eu­ro­zone bailout fund said in Munich yes­ter­day. Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel has been say­ing the same for years. “We have said time and again that Greece is a spe­cial case,” she com­mented in early 2012. Seven years af­ter the first bailout was signed, Greece re­mains a “spe­cial case,” stum­bling along the Grexit cliff, ne­go­ti­at­ing, up to the last gasp, the next sub-tranche of for­eign loans. A “spe­cial case” or, as Paul Krug­man wrote in 2012, a “lost cause”? We are not lost yet, but, af­ter so many sac­ri­fices, with fear rooted in­side us, nor are we saved. And if once we may not have been a “spe­cial case,” our ex­cep­tional in­abil­ity to get out of the cri­sis has won us this bit­ter lau­rel. At the start of the cri­sis we could see Greece’s spe­cial prob­lems, but we could also see the prob­lems in the eu­ro­zone’s in­ad­e­quate tools for deal­ing with prob­lems, as well as our part­ners’ haste to save their banks while push­ing old and new debt onto the Greeks’ shoul­ders. We could trade ac­cu­sa­tions with each other for our be­hav­ior be­fore and af­ter cri­sis struck, and blame for­eign “usurers.” Above all, though, we could hope that this trial would end. Af­ter Greece, other coun­tries un­der­went the bailout scourge, with painful re­forms and aus­ter­ity, and came out on the other side. We, wav­ing our “spe­cial case” flag, man­aged to get our cri­sis to beat the Great De­pres­sion for du­ra­tion and depth. And it is not only the length of the cri­sis that makes us spe­cial but also our per­sis­tence in con­jur­ing up ar­gu­ments while avoid­ing ac­tions that could help to­ward re­cov­ery. To­day, aside from the public debt, which the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion es­ti­mates at 179.7 per­cent of GDP in 2016, ci­ti­zens owe 120 bil­lion eu­ros in taxes and so­cial se­cu­rity dues. Non­per­form­ing loans, which were at 5 per­cent of the to­tal at the start of the cri­sis, are now at 45 per­cent. More and more peo­ple are pushed to­wards early re­tire­ment or un­em­ploy­ment, leav­ing fewer to pay taxes and so­cial se­cu­rity fees. As “spe­cial cases,” our po­lit­i­cal par­ties did not see the ab­so­lute ne­ces­sity of end­ing uncer­tainty at any cost, of com­ing to a ba­sic agree­ment on the need for change, of hav­ing a joint stand against cred­i­tors and against the forces of in­er­tia in­side Greece. This in­abil­ity to deal with hard choices has played a greater role in the cri­sis than the prob­lems im­posed by the bailouts. To­day, though, the great­est re­spon­si­bil­ity lies with those who, for what­ever rea­son, al­low the cri­sis to fes­ter. Greece is, in­deed, a “spe­cial case.” But now so are some of our cred­i­tors.

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