As we go to press, Greek banks are closed, and will remain so until Monday next, as the biggest game of economic and diplomatic ‘chicken’ in the EU’s history continues to play out.
But whatever the outcome, it’s difficult to see how anyone, be it the EU or the ruling Syriza party in Greece, can come out of this sorry situation with anything approaching a victory.
Monetary union across 19 Member States means this economic crisis is unlike anything this or previous generations has ever borne witness to, but those of us who’ve studied history cannot avoid the image of people using wheelbarrows of practically worthless notes being used to buy bread 80-plus years ago.
The wording of a referendum called by Syriza in relation to the terms the Eurozone is seeking to impose on Greece in order to release further funds to Athens remains unknown at the time of writing. How meaningful that plebiscite shall prove to be in the long term also remains to be seen.
According to our financial columnist Jill Kerby (see News 14): “Desperately electing a government of radical left socialist academics, economists and activists, who, albeit didn’t contribute to the previous political rot but have no experience of running any kind state or private businesses or institutions, hasn’t proved to be a very good choice either.”
Syriza, which name checked Sinn Féin in the wake of its historic election victory in January, represented the first major political gain for the wider anti-austerity movement across Europe.
With that in mind, it has been no surprise to see Sinn Féin vocally and visibly re-iterating its support for Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsprias throughout the media over the past week in particular.
But if Greece leaves the Eurozone, reverts to a drachma that will surely be worth only a fraction of the current Euro and economically ties itself to Russia, it’s difficult to see how Syriza can claim that will improve matters for their people.
And if things get even worse, it’s hard to see how Sinn Féin can persuade disaffected Labour voters, for example, to their cause come next year’s election.
Remaining within the Eurozone and accepting what appears to be the least worst option would, in our view, represent responsible political leadership in Greece, surely a better option that populist grandstanding.
It’s not all that long ago that our ears were red with talk of Irish ATMs running out of money, and the cataclysmic consequences we would all face if we didn’t open the door to the EU/IMF/ECB Troika.
A small, vulnerable state on the European frontier had to, however indigestible, ingest some harsh medication and to those who claim we’ve abandoned the Greek people, can we remind readers that the Irish Government did lend Greece €350 million in the last bailout.
And If Greece is to receive debt forgiveness, would we expect any Irish Government to willingly acquiesce to such terms?
Seven years on, though by no means out of the woods, there are signs of a slow but gradual economic recovery – with 800 new job announcements in Waterford alone over the past six months.
Austerity is the least desirable means by which any Central Bank or government would seek to positively turn an economy around. But responsible governance requires making a choice between doing the least worst thing or taking the populist option. The cradle of democracy needs realism in leadership – as we all do.