Europe's dangerous days

 
A Greek lady casting her vote, 6 May 2012 Greeks must hold a new election after politicians failed to form a coalition government

Europe's date with destiny has been inked in. June the 17th - when the Greeks return to the polls.

If they back candidates who reject the terms of the bailout deal that keeps the country from bankruptcy, Greece could be heading out of the euro.

Between now and then will be nearly four weeks of anxiety.

The biggest threat is that some event sparks a run on the banks - in either Greece or Spain.

Greeks have withdrawn 3bn euros in the past two weeks but there is no panic.

'Poverty, war and coup'

As the crisis deepens the Greek chorus is in full cry. It is not, however the Greeks who are doing the commenting; the cacophony of voices - mainly from outside Greece - is directed at the Greek people themselves.

In the past week they have been told that if they exit the euro they face mass poverty, civil war, a coup, hunger and the need for safe corridors to bring in humanitarian aid.

Charles Dallara, who heads the Institute of International Finance said the consequences of Greece leaving the single currency were "somewhere between catastrophic and Armageddon'".

Outside the euro, the Greek people have been told, there would be a run on the banks, exchange controls, bankruptcy and hyperinflation.

And the Jeremiads have scarcely begun.

Europe 'bluffing'

Over the next four weeks an intense battle will be fought for hearts and minds of the Greek voter.

European leaders have already tried to define the vote as a referendum on staying in the euro.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron, in Chicago, said: "We now have to send a very clear message to (the Greek) people - there is a choice, you can either vote to stay in the euro with all the commitments you have made, or, if you vote another way, you are effectively voting to leave."

Much of this is aimed at weakening the hand of the main anti-austerity candidate, 37-year-old Alexis Tsipras.

He was the rising star of the recent elections describing the austerity measures as "barbaric". He wants to stay in the euro but rejects the conditions of the bailout.

Francois Hollande and Angela Merkel at the Nato meeting in Chicago, 20 May 2012 Francois Hollande and Angela Merkel have pledged to work together despite their differences

Mr Tsipras believes Europe's leaders are bluffing.

The more they warn of the dangers to Europe of Greece leaving the eurozone the more it strengthens his hand, he believes.

He does not believe the Germans would risk forcing them out.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is on record as saying the risks of a Greek exit are "incalculable and therefore irresponsible". This risk-averse politician has not changed her mind.

Austerity vs growth

And then there is the arrival on the stage of the new French President Francois Hollande.

On his first day in office he spoke of adding measures to help growth in Greece.

Some voices have spoken of Greece needing a Marshall Plan to give the country a fighting chance to recover. Still others have suggested diverting EU structural funds to boost growth

All of this only confirms to a politician like Mr Tsipras that the game is very much in play.

Meanwhile the Greeks will watch as Europe debates the very policy that so many of them object to: austerity.

Increasingly, as was revealed at the G8 meeting, the emphasis is on growth.

In many senses it is a false debate. Every politician wants growth. The question is how it is achieved at a time when deficits still have to be reduced.

Here there are important differences between Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande.

Alexis Tsipras The leader of Greece's left-wing Syriza party, Alexis Tsipras, has threatened to tear up the bailout agreement

She believes growth comes from structural reforms; freeing up the labour markets. He believes in increased spending particularly on infrastructure and training.

On Wednesday at an informal dinner in Brussels these differences will be aired before Europe's leaders.

The new French president believes he is now the standard carrier for a majority.

He says he wants no taboos, no red lines. Every subject must be on the table, he says.

Room for compromise

So eurobonds, where debt would be underwritten by all 17 countries that use the currency, will be debated again.

Mrs Merkel sees that as a short-step to Germany bankrolling the irresponsibility of others.

Mr Hollande would like to see the European Central Bank lending directly to EU states via the main bailout fund.

That is anathema to the Germans who fear the independence of the central bank will be compromised.

The two leaders might agree on project bonds - where money raised for infrastructure projects would be backed by all 17 eurozone members.

They might also agree on boosting the capital of the European Investment Bank so it can borrow to finance big projects.

The German chancellor will feel under intense pressure. What she will not do is to sanction more borrowing to stimulate growth.

The Greeks will be curious spectators to see whether Europe's approach to the crisis is changing.

That might influence how they vote.

 
Gavin Hewitt Article written by Gavin Hewitt Gavin Hewitt Europe editor

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  • rate this
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    Comment number 388.

    @385. "Reunion was a condition for Cyprus's EU membership"

    No, it was not.

    @386 The Turkish expanded their grip on Cyprus territory well after the EOKA coup failed. They walked out of the Geneva talks in August 1974.

    Basically, the Turkish position is to claim equal political rights for the minority of Turks. This is very different from the one-man-one-vote situation in most democracies.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 387.

    Further to 386 I could add that Cyprus has no business in the EU in the first place because it is not in Europe but Asia Minor- same, incidentally, applies to Turkey: it should never be admitted to the EU. That Greek Cyprus was admitted despite blocking reunion- a condition for membership- is solely due to Greek blackmail.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 386.

    Further to 385: However, Greece started screaming that if Greek Cyprus was NOT admitted to the EU, Athens would veto admission of Poland, the Baltics, Hungary etc.
    So the continuing division of Cyprus is thanks to Greek intransigence. And the Turkish invasion was caused by a Greek Cypriot extremist (EOKA) coup which ousted president Makarios, with the goal of reuniting Cyprus and Greece- enosis.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 385.

    @384 Cyprus is not part of Greece. Furthermore, the question of the division of Cyprus could have been solved years ago. Remember the referendums re reunion not so long ago? Turkish part said yes, Greek part said no. Reunion was a condition for Cyprus's EU membership, which the Greek "no" thus made impossible.... to be continued

  • rate this
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    Comment number 384.

    @384 Why don't you educate yourself? E.g. start with googling Aegean casus belli, and read the corresponding Wikipedia article. Turkey currently occupies part of Cyprus, and despite several UN resolutions, there are still ~30000 troops there. They also settled Turks from the mainland, in violation of the Geneva conventions.

    Relations between Greece and Turkey are not optimum, despite your NATO.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 383.

    @380 Greece's current frontiers are internationally recognized and Greece can do what it likes within the 12-mile limits of its territorial waters. If Turkey attacks Greece without just cause the NATO treaty obliges all other members to consider it as an act of war against Greece and respond accordingly. Turkey knows this- so, I presume, do you.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 382.

    #381. Who is occupied by 150 000 foreign troops? Just googled it, and found several answers: Afghanistan now, Iraq on 01/01/2009, France in 1815.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 381.

    nik

    Stop the waffle - you have been asked twice to say who is occupied by 150,000 foreign troops. Answer the question.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 380.

    377. D Bumstead

    Turkey has open territorial demands from Greece in the Aegean and it has a constant ''causus belli'' if Greece (that is EU) exerts its normal sovereignty rights over its sea zone. Ask your country how many miles of sea-zone does it have? Can for example I bring my warship at 10 miles from your coastline without being bothered by your forces? Or Is it something not to care about?

  • rate this
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    Comment number 379.

    378. D Bumstead
    Macedonia as a region lies around Olympus and is a coastal land strip in the corner of the Aegean, it does not extend to... Finland! FYROMian Slavs (of Bulgarian dialect) extend the name to NORTH of Macedonia using a twist of an old defunct Bulgarian propaganda (fueled by W.E. back then) and use the term ethnically for them opening issues of territorial demands against Greece.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 378.

    Further to my 377: I could also add that Holland, Belgium and France all have regions called Flanders- Zeeuws Vlaanderen in Holland, Vlaanderen in Belgium, Flandre in France. No problem for Dutch, Belgians or French. Again, what's the problem about the name Macedonia? Ancient Macedonia stretched way beyond modern Greece's borders so Greece has no sole right to the name.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 377.

    @373 Holland has a province called Brabant; so does Flanders, in Belgium. No problem. So why should "Macedonia" be a problem for you?

    @375 Foreign occupation by 150,000 foreign troops, the last US forces- who were here with our permission by the way- left Holland about 20 years ago and were nowhere near 150,000 in strength after 1945. So WHICH foreign troops? Please get your facts straight.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 376.

    375 Nik

    I'm lost completely, I have no shame in admitting. Who is under occupation from 150,000 foreign troops? Just help me get back on the same page here. Cheers.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 375.

    370. D Bumstead
    @369 And just WHO are assaulting Greece on all fronts?

    Sorry that the twitter style threads here do not permit full text explanations - we had discussed all that in the past when these were real forums. What one would expect is more self-knowledge from a guy coming from a nation that is under foreign occupation being under the boots of roughly 150,000 foreign troops.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 374.

    #355 Current Dutch parliamentary majority ... does not exist. There is only a caretaker government which produced a budget document for the EZ supported by the Kunduz coalition (2 parties with government members and 3 opposition parties).

    #367 The article clearly indicates that the views are selected from BBC News website readers. They are not your 'average' Greek (who does not read BBC News).

  • rate this
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    Comment number 373.

    370. D Bumstead
    @369 And just WHO are assaulting Greece on all fronts? Italy...? Albania? Bulgaria? Macedonia? Turkey?

    Macedonia is my home region. You use the name of my region to call FYROM a rogue state on a propaganda claiming the name of my region for their lands that stand north of my region as a basis to demand our lands, which receives full support by US and Britain

    ..then you ask me?

  • Comment number 372.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 371.

    370 Bumstead
    "Sorry, but try as I might I don't see any Arditi crossing the Adriatic"
    =========
    The generals certainly seem to think so - they are still spending merrily.

    No doubt we'll be blamed for that as well!

  • rate this
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    Comment number 370.

    @369 And just WHO are assaulting Greece on all fronts? Italy, led by Benito Berlusconi? Albania? Bulgaria? Macedonia? Turkey?

    Sorry, but try as I might I don't see any Arditi crossing the Adriatic.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 369.

    367. margaret howard
    My message below is very descriptive. More than 70% of voters are kept out consistently of BBC reports. BBC thinks that the 1st thing that preoccupies the average Greek is money when in reality it is national security isues in a country that is assaulted on all fronts.

    BBC balanced? Joke of 2012.

    Margaret my views do not represent the av. public? I only convey it when asked.

 

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