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Greek reform efforts

June 21, 2012

Europe can say 'yes' to somewhat relaxing the reform timetable for Athens, but it should have no mercy with Greece's new old political elite, says DW's Spiros Moskovou.

The EU flag in front of the Acropolis Hill in Athens
Image: AP

Every crisis also presents new opportunities – even in the case of unfortunate Greece. The threat of bankruptcy, the international pressure and the social discontent among the Greek people have finally forced the political system of the crisis-ridden country to terms. In only three days, Greece has a new government, a coalition that has a 172 seat majority in a parliament of 300 seats.

The conservative New Democracy party of Antonis Samaras, the socialist Pasok of Evangelos Venizelos and the moderate Democratic Left of Fotis Kouvelis had the numbers to form a coalition after the first elections on May 6, but politically it took them until now to do so. The impatience of the voters had become too explosive, the threat of bankruptcy too imminent, and the rise of the radical left under Alexis Tsipras too dangerous for them.

The question now is if and how this coalition will be able to solve the financial and by now also social problems of the country. the new Greek government wants to continue on the path of austerity and implement the necessary structural reforms but it is worth remembering that since the beginning of the crisis early 2010, the New Democracy party has once and the Democratic Left has twice rejected the austerity packages in parliament.

Spiros Moskovou
Spiros Moskovou is the head of DW's Greek departmentImage: DW

Samaras himself seemed to be convinced that the policy of saving and cuts was the wrong path until one year ago. And next week Samaras, Venizelos and Kouvelis are to travel to an EU summit to negotiate the best "for the Greek people".

But already now it is more or less clear what can and what cannot be achieved. In light of the delay in implementing the reforms and the Greek economy facing a recession, some EU partners have already sent signals that they'll be somewhat flexible when it comes to the timetable for Athens' reform program. But the coalition talks have also shown other issues.

Many things point toward the intention of the new government to win concessions from Brussels in exchange for new promises to fight corruption and tax evasions. These concessions could then be sold the Greek public as the fruits of the adamant renegotiations with the international community. And in case there won't be any concessions, it's likely the blame will be put on "the others."

But what's stopping Athens from convincingly tackling corruption and tax evasion and only then asking for compromises from Brussels and the IMF? And why is it that the Pasok government after 2009 and the caretaker Papademos government in 2011 – which had the backing of both Pasok and New Democracy – had so little to show when it came to fighting corruption and tax evasion?

Despite all the relief about the speedy formation of a new government in what often seems like an ungovernable country in the birthplace of democracy, Europe now has to be firm. It can say 'yes' to somewhat relaxing the reform timetable for the reforms in Athens, 'yes' to growth stimuli to get the economy going, 'yes' to concrete measures to help the weaker strata of society – but Brussels should have no mercy with Greece's new old political elite.

Author: Spiros Moskovou /ai
Editor: Spencer Kimball