Ahead of key parliamentary elections, Northern Greek businessmen express hopes for new beginnings: a new government and, finally, the implementation of reforms.
When they go to the polls for the second time in as many months, Greek businessmen do not fear an election victory by the radical leftist Syriza party alliance. What they care about is the formation of a government and the implementation of structural reforms in the country.
Dimitris Aftosmidis, a physiotherapist who heads his own business with several employees in the city of Thessaloniki, can no longer make ends meet despite working an 80-hour week. In January, the state social security agency stopped payment of his fees. As a result, he and his colleagues are threatening to stop treating patients with obligatory insurance. Pharmacists have taken a similar route: they only hand out medicine for cash.
As far as Aftosmidis is concerned, constant cuts in the state budget are to blame. These cuts, in turn, are part and parcel of the bailout package granted by the EU und IMF. And as if that weren't enough, Aftosmidis told DW, the international lenders are now trying to influence the outcome of the election. All that's lacking is for them to "advise us which politician to vote for," he said. If this pressure keeps up, the physiotherapist said, it is quite likely that Greek voters, just like last time, will prove themselves to be "Europe's naughty boys, the ones who act differently from what Europe's leaders recommended."
Kyriakos Harakidis takes a different view. The mayor of the northern Greek town of Drama expects a new government that will adhere to the agreement with the financial lenders, in particular concerning the realization of structural reform. Harakidis was voted into office as the candidate on the ballot supported by the mainstream socialist Pasok party in conjunction with the small democratic left party, Dimar.
The mayor is not concerned about a possible election victory on Sunday by Syriza, but he wonders about party representatives who come up with differing opinions on a daily basis. Harakidis expects Syriza to take a unified stance, make concrete proposals and most importantly, show a willingness to cooperate with the international lenders. "Without that cooperation, we'll be left all on our own - not on a lake, but in the middle of the ocean," Harakidis warned.
"It takes two to tango"
Greek business circles in general appear to be unperturbed in view of a possible Syriza election victory. They appear not to take too seriously vows by the party's charismatic leader, Alexis Tsipras, to cancel Greece's international bailout agreement if he wins. They do appear to agree, however, that certain commitments they believe are detrimental to Greece's economic growth must be re-negotiated.
Winegrower Federico Lazaridis, whose wines are served at the White House in Washington, D.C., makes it clear: "It takes two to tango," he told DW.
Among partners in the EU, the successful entrepreneur said, it is impossible "for one to say, I'm going to ignore the agreement we've made, while the other demands the agreement be fulfilled."
The businessman, who exports about a third of his produce but still feels the economic downturn in Greece, suggested the parties involved take a fresh look at the priorities and the timetable for the implementation of the requirements, particularly in view of the fact that sides pursue the goal of a modern, functioning Greek state.
Reform can't be avoided
Stamatis Kouroudis, a cotton grower in Komotini in the northeast of the country, exports all of his produce, but he is still concerned about the current political situation in Greece. Kouroudis maintains Greeks are not yet convinced of the necessity of comprehensive reforms because the country's economic problems and how to solve them haven't really been a topic of debate. "I am not optimistic at all, no matter who wins the upcoming election," he told DW.
Whatever reforms a future government wants to implement will have to be pushed through against the Greek people's strong opposition, he concluded. "The question is how the government will handle this opposition: can it overcome resistance, even convince people of the necessity of reform?" Clearly, no matter which party wins the elections and forms a new government, it will have to come up with solutions to the crisis – and that includes painful, unpopular measures.
Author: Panagiotis Kouparanis/ db
Editor: Simon Bone