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Opinion

Opinion: Reluctant reforms in Greece

A familiar ritual has been repeated in Greece, with long overdue reforms being agreed at the last minute. That’s not helping much to improve the country’s situation, says Spiros Moskovou.

This particular show in Athens has been performed over and over again at almost regular intervals since 2010, despite changes in government. Only when an installment of international financial aid is due to be paid to an economically isolated Greece does the government in question deliver its own installment of promised reforms and austerity measures. And so it was again this weekend. With a slim majority of 153 votes, the Greek parliament passed large parts of the long overdue reforms to its pension and income tax systems.

The two-day parliamentary debate was a sad spectacle. The matadors from all the parties exchanged insults, calling each other liars and traitors. Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the new head of the conservative New Democracy party, which is currently leading in opinion polls, demanded the resignation of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, as well as early elections. His party, which last summer voted in favor of the contract with international creditors for a third bailout package, is now rejecting the measures needed to fulfill the contract. At the same time, there has been no constructive public debate about better alternatives - neither over the weekend, nor in the run-up to yet another "fateful" vote.

Growth remains elusive

In the seventh year since the onset of the Greek debt crisis, the leading political parties have yet to find a course for long-term recovery on which they can agree. A minimum level of patriotic consensus is what Greek politics needs.

Spiros Moskovou

DW's Spiros Moskovou

After the far-left Syriza party took control of the government in 2015, it became very clear that none of the existing political powers in the country would voluntarily push through the reforms necessary for the common good. Even the respective cabinet ministers repeatedly complain publicly about the recently agreed measures. It's no wonder that the reforms are barely having any effect.

The government doesn't stand behind them, nor do the people. The very word "reform" leaves a bitter taste in their mouths - the concrete reforms implemented in recent years may have cut costs, but they did not significantly improve everyday life. People often forget that the so-called "necessary reforms" can only bear fruit when they are accompanied by economic growth. And that remains elusive. The Greek economy is now 25 percent smaller than it was in 2009, and Syriza has failed to deliver on its promises to increase productivity. Tsipras' government has, until now, pursued policies that are the opposite of investor-friendly.

How will Greece proceed? Most likely, just as it has up to now - with a prolonged debt crisis. We've known for a long time that the eurozone freeloader called Greece cannot keep up with the rest of the members of the club, neither structurally nor fiscally. But given the current unstable and risky international environment, Europe is not prepared to make the club smaller.

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