Greeks call­ing for smaller public sec­tor, lower taxes

New sur­vey by Dia­neo­sis think tank shows a smaller per­cent­age in fa­vor of state in­ter­ven­tion­ism and more root­ing for in­vest­ments

Kathimerini English - - Focus - BY YANNIS PALAIOLOGOS

On a su­per­fi­cial level, the find­ings of the third “What Greeks Be­lieve” sur­vey by the Dia­neo­sis non­profit think tank – pub­lished ex­clu­sively by Kathimerini on Sun­day – ap­pear con­tra­dic­tory. A deeper read­ing of the im­pres­sive and in­ci­sive 305-page re­port, how­ever, shows a cer­tain consistency. This edi­tion of the sur­vey (the first two were con­ducted in April and Novem­ber 2015), with a new and broader ques­tion­naire, was con­ducted in co­op­er­a­tion with the Univer­sity of Mace­do­nia in De­cem­ber 2016, based on a sam­ple of 1,294 re­spon­dents for the first part and 1,263 for the sec­ond.

“What Greeks Be­lieve” is like a de­tailed x-ray of so­ci­ety, and the part fo­cus­ing on the cri­sis, its causes and pos­si­ble so­lu­tions (“Econ­omy, state, pri­vate ini­tia­tive”) is par­tic­u­larly in­ter­est­ing. Here, we see a preva­lence of re­al­ism and a de­sire for a new de­vel­op­ment model that is more open and less de­pen­dent on the state.

In short, this part of the sur­vey tells us that Greeks would like to see a smaller public sec­tor and lower taxes – even if this means a re­duc­tion in so­cial ben­e­fits – with growth driven by for­eign in­vest­ments and ex­ports, rather than the spend­ing poli­cies of a “pop­ulist gov­ern­ment.” Glob­al­iza­tion, which three in five see as a threat to Greece on an ab­stract level, is also re­garded as the only way to re­turn to pros­per­ity.

Other find­ings, how­ever, from the first part of the sur­vey, ti­tled “Greeks, Europe, the World and Na­tional Iden­tity,” of­fer a dif­fer­ent pic­ture. They point to a so­ci­ety that is in­su­lar, pho­bic to­ward the world at large, leery of change, and stuck on un­founded the­o­ries that don’t stand the test of re­al­ity. Euroskep­ti­cism con­tin­ues to gain ground as the be­lief takes hold that Greece has en­joyed few ben­e­fits from its par­tic­i­pa­tion in the Euro­pean com­mu­nity. One in three Greeks be­lieves that the coun­try’s in­ter­ests would be bet­ter served by an al­liance with Rus­sia rather than re­main­ing in the eu­ro­zone, while a large ma­jor­ity said they be­lieve in the ex­is­tence of ne­far­i­ous hid­den forces that shape his­tor­i­cal de­vel­op­ments.

Hos­til­ity to­ward mi­grants also re­mains high, as al­most one in two Greeks has a neg­a­tive view of Mus- lims and two in five ad­mit to be­ing both­ered by the con­struc­tion of a mosque.

A new prag­ma­tism

The con­clu­sion that can be drawn from the part of the sur­vey con­cern­ing the cri­sis is a sense of prag­ma­tism and ac­knowl­edg­ment of a new re­al­ity. For ex­am­ple, 62.1 per­cent of re­spon­dents ad­mit­ted that “our own fail­ures” are largely re­spon­si­ble for the cri­sis, while just 9.7 per­cent put it down to for­eign in­flu­ences. A large per­cent­age (76 per­cent) put the onus on so­ci­ety at large, which had be­come ac­cus­tomed to liv­ing be­yond its means, while a smaller per­cent­age blamed the global fi­nan­cial sys­tem (59.4 per­cent com­pared with 77.3 per­cent in April 2015).

The gap be­tween those who be­lieve the state is overly in­ter­ven­tion­ist and those who think it doesn’t in­ter­vene enough has also grown sig­nif­i­cantly to 28.8 points from 11.4 in the April 2015 sur­vey. A re­ver­sal of public opin­ion is also ev­i­dent in the choice be­tween high taxes and a strong wel­fare state ver­sus lower taxes and lim­ited so­cial ben­e­fits. In April 2015 the former po­si­tion was ahead by 10.5 points, while in the lat­est sur­vey, the cham­pi­ons of lower tax­a­tion led by 22.6 points.

Ac­cord­ing to 62.4 per­cent of re­spon­dents, Greece needs a smaller public sec­tor. Just 21.8 per­cent be­lieve that a re­bound will come from rais­ing state salaries and pen­sions, against 73.2 per­cent who said that the gov­ern­ment needs to pro­vide in­cen­tives to at­tract in­vest­ment and boost ex­ports as a means of eco­nomic re­cov­ery.

The ex­pe­ri­ence of the last two years has led to an in­crease in the share of re­spon­dents who be­lieve it is naive to think that tax eva­sion can be curbed in Greece (71.1 per­cent from 62.2), while 38.9 per­cent view tax dodg­ing as a “jus­ti­fi­able de­fense” against over­tax­a­tion.

Fi­nally, 84.4 per­cent of Greeks have a pos­i­tive view of for­eign in­vest­ments, with 92.1 per­cent say­ing they cre­ate jobs and 88.8 per­cent that they in­tro­duce new tech­nolo­gies. The per­cent­age of skep­tics – re­gard­ing the ef­fects of for­eign in­vest­ment on work­ers’ rights and na­tional sovereignty – was lower in this sur­vey than in that of April 2015. Yet the con­ver­sion to re­al­ism is not com­plete: Just 5.8 per­cent of Greeks agreed that the re­tire­ment age should be above 65 years old, while 51.7 per­cent said it should be be­low 60.

Iden­tity and (in)tol­er­ance

Greece is still a long way from be­com­ing a tol­er­ant so­ci­ety, ac­cord­ing to the sur­vey’s find­ings. As many as 46.6 per­cent have a neg­a­tive view of Mus­lims, against 36.3 per­cent with a pos­i­tive view, while 49 per­cent have a neg­a­tive view of im­mi­grants, against 37.6 per­cent with a pos­i­tive opin­ion. Fur­ther­more, 88.3 per­cent agree or pos­si­bly agree (80.1 per­cent plus 8.2 per­cent) that the num­ber of mi­grants in Greece over the past decade is ex­ces­sive, 64.4 per­cent said mi­grants con­trib­ute to ris­ing crime rates and 58 per­cent hold them re­spon­si­ble for grow­ing un­em­ploy­ment. In con­trast, only 25.4 per­cent view mi­grants as part of a so­lu­tion to Greece’s bur­geon­ing de­mo­graphic prob­lems.

It is worth not­ing, how­ever, that though these per­cent­ages are high, they are sig­nif­i­cantly lower than the cor­re­spond­ing an­swers in April 2015, par­tic­u­larly in re­gard to mi­grants’ con­tri­bu­tion to crime.

Asked what needs to be done with un­doc­u­mented mi­grants in Greece, fewer than one in five Greeks are in fa­vor of them be­ing in­te­grated, either fully (2.2 per­cent) or grad­u­ally and un­der cer­tain con­di­tions (17.5 per­cent). The re­main­der would opt for dif­fer­ent means of re­moval/re­lo­ca­tion, among which 20 per­cent are in fa­vor of im­me­di­ate de­por­ta­tion.

Greeks’ view of their own na­tional iden­tity also seems to be af­fected by their fears con­cern­ing mi­grants and the refugee cri­sis: 47.2 per­cent told re­searchers they be­lieve na­tional iden­tity to be a ques­tion of genes rather than choice and 36.1 per­cent said peo­ple who do not have Greek par­ents can­not be re­garded as Greek.

In other re­spects, how­ever, Greeks seems to be more tol­er­ant than they were in the past, al­beit well be­low the av­er­ages of most de­vel­oped coun­tries. For ex­am­ple, 50.4 per­cent of re­spon­dents said they are in fa­vor of same­sex mar­riage in this sur­vey com­pared to 36.3 per­cent in April 2015.

On the sub­ject of crim­i­nal jus­tice, too, Greeks seem to be mov­ing closer to Euro­pean norms, as the per­cent­age of re­spon­dents who want to see a re­turn of the death penalty dropped to 29.2 per­cent in De­cem­ber 2016 from 41.2 per­cent in April 2015.

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