Greek austerity: It’s about ideology, not economy

Why can’t the Greeks accept reason? Do they know something we don’t? Yes, they do.

They know what’s really at stake and they are not taking it. They see through the arguments from the European Commission, the European Central Bank, the IMF, the World Bank. Most of all, they see through the ideological tear-gas smokescreen their banker government is spreading to obfuscate their real intentions.

But hey, Greece IS broke, right? The state has completely overspent, mismanaged, spoiled. It has no income anymore. Austerity is the only possible answer!

Is it? We have been bombarded over the last three years with factoids about the lazy Greek worker, the corrupt civil service, the massive tax dodging by all Greeks. Surely, that needs to end.

Well, point taken. Like in any other country, the Greek authorities need to spend taxpayers’ money efficiently at the service of its people. If that state can not organize sufficient income, austerity is the only solution. Greece is already doing just that. With some 36 per cent of GNP spent on salaries, it is one of the lowest of the EU. Some 11 per cent of the workforce is in civil service, again one of the lowest in the EU. Also one of the lowest paid.

So the Greek state is poor, the Greek are poor, but Greece is not … In fact Greece is filthy rich. Some facts.

Greek shipping companies own some 4,100 ships, 16 per cent of the world’s merchant fleet. In 2010 their annual income rose to 15.4 billion euro. On this, they pay next-to-no taxes. The Greek fiscal authorities cannot check their accounts. They are in Switzerland or London anyway.

The Greek Orthodox Church owns stock in the National Bank, hotels, parking lots, convenience stores, businesses, forests, mountains. It is the biggest landowner of the country. Most of this income is tax free.

Some 560 billion euro are stashed away in foreign banks. That is double the Greek GNP.

There’s more. France, one of the EU countries so eager to penalize Greece for its “bad behavior” sold 3 billion euro of navy ships and helicopters to the country in 2009. That’s right, in the middle of the crisis. In fact, defense is the only state department that does not have to cut down. The European Commission seems to have a blind spot there.

Here in Brussels, there’s an excellent new book out on this by Peter Mertens. It’s called “Hoe durven ze?” (How dare they?). Ignored by the mass media in Brussels, it’s a top-seller anyway. It has a whole chapter on Greece. In a decent world, this book would be translated to English (and Greek!). Well, not quite, in a decent world books like this one would not have to be written.

This is a social experiment. The bankers are trying out how much they can get away with. Their plan is to make future elections irrelevant, to make democracy redundant, empty, meaningless … penniless. More for us, nothing for you.

We can only hope for the resilience of the Greek people to keep up the fight for social justice and for massive international solidarity. The first thing is already happening, the latter not (yet). What the Greek now practice on the streets has a name: democracy (that is a Greek word, folks!)

It’s up to us to help them. We owe it to the Greeks. They are fighting for our future.