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A Death Sentence for Greece

“We are facing destruction. Our country, our home, has become ripe for burning. The centre of Athens is in flames.”

— Costis Hatzidakis, conservative parliamentarian 

On Sunday, the Greek parliament approved a new round of austerity measures that will further deepen the 5-year depression and sever the last fraying threads of social cohesion. In order to secure a 130 billion euro loan, Greek political leaders agreed to comply with a “Memorandum of Understanding” (MOU) that will not only intensify the sacrifices of ordinary working people, but also effectively hand the control of the nation’s economy over to foreign banks and corporations. 

The Memorandum is as calculating and mercenary as anything ever written. And while most of the attention has been focused on the deep cuts to supplementary pensions, the minimum wage, and private sector wages; there’s much more to this onerous warrant than meets the eye. The 43 page paper should be read in its entirety to fully appreciate the moral vacuity of the people who dictate policy in the EZ. 

Greece will have to prove that it’s reached various benchmarks before it receives any of the money allotted in the bailout. The Memorandum outlines, in great detail, what those benchmarks are— everything from reduced spending on life-saving drugs to “lift(ing) constraints for retailers to sell restricted product categories such as baby food.” 

That’s right; according to the author’s of this fuliginous memo, the only way Greece is going to be able to lift itself out of the doldrums is by poisoning its kids with banned baby food.

The MOU also calls for a 10 percent cut to government workers wages, cuts to “social security funds and hospitals”, and more privatizing of publicly-owned assets, all of which will only further shrink GDP.

On Privatisation: “The Government stands ready to offer for sale its remaining stakes in state-owned enterprises, if necessary in order to reach the privatisation objectives. Public control will be limited only to cases of critical network infrastructure.” 

Instead of providing fiscal aid so Greece can meet its budget targets and can get back on its feet again, the troika (the European Commission, European Central Bank, and International Monetary Fund) is using the crisis to snatch vital state assets and deliver them to its corporate friends. The MOU is opening new avenues for exploitation and plunder. And there’s more: 

“The Government will neither propose nor implement measures which may infringe the rules on the free movement of capital. Neither the State nor other public bodies will conclude shareholder agreements with the intention or effect of hindering the free movement of capital or influence the management or control of companies. The Government will neither initiate nor introduce any voting or acquisition caps, and it will not establish any disproportionate and non-justifiable veto rights or any other form of special rights in privatised companies.”

Well, that’s pretty clear: Capital Rules. The interests of corporations and banks will take precedent over those of the people. The proclamation limits the role of government to rubber stamping the predatory actions of cutthroat speculators whose only interest is fattening the bottom line for their shareholders. 

There’s also a long section on “Growth-Enhancing Structural Reforms” that never explains how the economy is supposed to expand when austerity measures are reducing the amount of consumer spending and business investment. Instead, the Memo focuses laserlike on eviscerating trade barriers and slashing workers’ wages. Here’s a sample: 

“Given that the outcome of the social dialogue to promote employment and competitiveness fell short of expectations, the Government will take measures to foster a rapid adjustment of labour costs to fight unemployment and restore cost-competitiveness, ensure the effectiveness of recent labour market reforms, align labour conditions in former state-owned enterprises to those in the rest of the private sector and make working hours arrangements more flexible. This strategy should aim at reducing nominal unit labour costs in the business economy by 15 percent in 2012-14. At the same time, the Government will promote smooth wage bargaining at the various levels and fight undeclared work.” 

Don’t you think, dear reader, that if you had recommended policies that resulted in a severe two-year recession and record-high unemployment (Greek unemployment is now at a peak of 20.6 percent), that you’d keep your mouth shut and admit that you don’t know what the hell you were talking about? 

Not if you were a EU finance minister, you wouldn’t. You’d prescribe the very same policies that had failed throughout; the policies that have reduced spending, shrunk government revenues, increased joblessness, and deepened the slump. This is the type of idiocy that passes as policy in the eurozone. 

The Memorandum also contains an illuminating section on “Business environment”, which covers everything from perks for industry to unrestricted free trade. Here’s a typical example:

“…cease to earmark the non-reciprocating charge calculated on the fuel price infavour of Mutual Distribution Fund of the Oil-Pump Operators of Liquid Fuel.”

Ka-ching! More freebies for big business. The whole memo reads like this, just one corporate handout after another. 

“Implementation of law 3982/2011 on the fast track licensing procedure for technical professions, manufacturing activities and business parks and other provisions”.

What does this have to do with anything, you ask? 

It doesn’t. It just shows what the MOU is really all about. It’s a corporate “wish list”; a mix of punitive belt tightening policies for working people and perks for big oil, big gas, electric, aviation, railroads, communications etc. “Fast track licensing” and “baby food” have nothing to do with helping Greece reach its budget targets. It’s a joke. Just look at this: 

Memo: “In line with the policy objectives of Law 3919/2011 on regulated professions, the Government removes entry barriers to the taxis market… in line with international best practice.”

So even taxi drivers get a spot at the trough? Doesn’t that seem a bit irrelevant? 

None of this has anything to do with helping Greece. It’s just corporate pillaging gone haywire. Greece is a big pinata that’s just been cracked open and everyone is pushing and shoving to grab their fistful of candy. 

Memo: “The Government establishes a task force (to) review the ….judicial case management, including the possibility of removing dormant cases from court registers.” ….Following on the submission of the work plan for the reduction of the backlog of tax cases in all administrative tribunals and administrative courts of appeal in January 2012, which provides for intermediate targets for reducing the backlog by at least 50 per cent by end-June 2012, by at least 80 per cent by end-December 2012 and for the full clearance of the backlog by end-July 2013, the Government presents by end-May 2012.”

If Greece wants to increase its revenues, then why restrict the pursuit of tax cheats? Isn’t that counterproductive? This is just another sign that the Memo was crafted by powerful men operating behind the cover of their political lackeys. 

Memo: “The Government implements the Presidential Decree on the reform of the magistrates’ court by creating their new structure, filling vacant positions with graduates from the National School of Judges and redeploying judges and administrative staff on the basis of existing resources available within Greece’s judiciary and public administration.[Q4-2012] The Government launches, jointly with an external body of experts, a study on the costs of civil litigation, its recent increase and its effects on workload of civil courts, with recommendations due by end-December 2013.”

Sure; just let big finance and corporate elites “streamline” the courts or load the bench with their “picks” and lawsuits will be cut in half. What does say about the men who authored this text?

You can see what a farce this so-called Memorandum of Understanding really is. It won’t help Greece emerge from its depression, and it won’t lead to more eurozone integration. It’s just another feed for the corporate hyenas. 

What Greece needs is a radical restructuring of its debt. It needs to wipe out bondholders, recapitalise its banks, and increase fiscal support until the economy gets back on its feet. Another loan package won’t help to achieve those goals. It will only delay the day of reckoning. It would be better for everyone, if the country defaulted quickly and began the process of digging out now rather than later. 

MIKE WHITNEY lives in Washington state. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, forthcoming from AK Press. He can be reached at fergiewhitney@msn.com

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MIKE WHITNEY lives in Washington state. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press). Hopeless is also available in a Kindle edition. He can be reached at fergiewhitney@msn.com.

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