by Nick Dearden
Greece is heading towards its third “bailout”. This time €86 billion is on the table, which will be packaged up by international lenders with a bundle of austerity and sent off to Greece, only to return to those same lenders in the very near future.
We all know the spiralling debt cannot and will not be repaid. We all know the austerity to which it is tied will make Greece’s depression worse. Yet it continues.
If we look deeper, however, we find that Europe is not led by the terminally confused. By taking those leaders at their word, we’re missing what’s really going on in Europe. In a nutshell, Greece is up for sale, and its workers, farmers and small businesses will have to be cleared out of the way.
Under the eye-watering privatisation programme, Greece is expected to hand over its €50 billion of its “valuable state assets” to an independent body under the control of the European institutions, who will proceed to sell them off. Airports, seaports, energy systems, land and property – everything must go. Sell your assets, their contrived argument goes, and you’ll be able to repay your debt.
The port of Pireus looks likely to be sold to a Chinese shipping company. Meanwhile, 490,000 square meters of Corfu beachfront have been snapped up by a US private equity fund. It has a 99-year lease for the bargain price of €23million. According to reporters, the privatisation fund is examining another 40 uninhabited islands as well as a massive project on Rhodes which includes an obligatory golf course.
Side-by-side with the privatisation is a very broad programme of deregulation which declares war on workers, farmers and small businesses. Greece’s many laws that protect small business such as pharmacies, bakeries, and bookshops from competition with supermarkets and big businesses are to be swept away. These reforms are so specific that the EU is writing laws on bread measurements and milk expiry dates. Incredibly, Greece is even being told to make its Sunday opening laws more liberal than Germany’s. Truly a free market experiment is being put into place.
On labour, pensions are to suffer rapid cuts, minimum wages are to be reduced and collective bargaining is to be severely curtailed while it is to become easier to sack staff. All of this is far more extreme that many of Greece’s “creditor” countries have implemented themselves. Changes to tax includes a massive hike to that most regressive of taxes VAT, on a wide range of products.
Of course, reforms in some areas of Greece’s economy might be a good idea, and indeed Syriza came to power promising to make serious reforms in, for instance, taxation and pensions. But what is being imposed by the lending institutions is not a series of sensible “reforms”, but the establishment and micromanagement of radical ‘free market’ economics.
The privatisation and deregulation bonanza opens vast new swathes of Greek society to areas where big business has never been able to set foot before. The hope is that this will generate big profits to keep big business growing, as well as providing an extreme model of what might be possible throughout Europe. Although what’s even more distasteful than the hypocrisy of European leaders forcing policies onto Greece that they themselves have not dared to argue for in their own countries, is the cynicism of those same leaders imposing policies that will benefit their own country’s corporations.
The intensity of the restructuring programme currently being agreed for Greece should dispel any lingering notion that this is a well intentioned but misguided attempt to deal with a debt crisis. It is a cynical attempt to set up a corporate paradise in the Mediterranean, and must be resisted at all costs.