Still from July 7th, 2019. Photo: Gerasimos Domenikos / FOS PHOTOS

41 Germans Asked Questions About Greek Elections. We answered

How is the Greek youth doing, WW2 reparations, start-ups, the legacy of the newly-elected Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and the Tsipras era.

AthensLive News
Jul 11, 2019 · 18 min read

By Tassos Morfis, Sotiris Sideris, Rachel Maher, Petros Konstantinidis

A few days before the Greek National elections of July 7th our inboxes were full of questions. How are we coping with the heatwave, if we have any plans for the summer, who were we going to vote for, who will be in charge of the new government, if SYRIZA managed to deliver, what’s the plan of New Democracy and others. So together our friends at Krautreporter asked their readers what they would like to know and we answered. We received 41 questions and we tried to answer most of them. We categorized into the following thematics:

  • The role of Germany in the Greek crisis.
  • Ten years since the beginning of the crisis.
  • The new government and the Tsipras era.
  • WW2 reparations, climate change, communities, refugee crisis, tourism, health care.

You can also find the German version of this article here.

The role of Germany in the Greek crisis

Germany, in particular, adopted a very tough negotiating strategy, not least to protect the banks. How was this perceived? (Thomas) How does the Greek population interpret the role of Germany? How do they see the situation today? (Thomas)

In Greece during the last decade and the crisis the anti-German sentiment grew stronger because of populism that goes hand in hand with nationalism. This sentiment was cultivated by the far-right and a section of the populist left that compared the German Chancellor to Nazi officials and Germany to the Third Reich. But, due to a number of factors, such as tourism, the hundreds of thousands of Germans who supported Greece during the crisis, the hundreds of thousands of Greeks who migrated to Germany at the same time, the solidarity campaigns of the Left, the cooperation between Angela Merkel and Alexis Tsipras, and especially the similar(?) stance of both countries during the refugee crisis, this perception about Germany has changed. This may be the reason why small parties who adopted this rhetoric vanished from the political landscape. Most middle class Greeks perceive Germany as the locomotive of Europe and of course the EU superpower but because of its more liberal government compared to other EU countries they can relate to the decisions made by the German Chancellor more nowadays.

Did Tsipras have any chance to push through the policy he announced in the former election campaign against the EU and particularly Germany? (Frank B.)

Alexis Tsipras was elected in 2015 also upon the promise to clash with our international creditors. During the Greek referendum, he tried to make this happen but he wasn’t able to present a realistic solution so he had to comply with the rules. Since his notorious 2014 “Go Back Madame Merkel” until now he has pivoted to being one of the closest allies of Angela Merkel because of the human rights agenda.

Do you regret joining the EU? As far as I know, Greece has only been off so badly since it joined the EU. The only goal of the EU is to have price stability everywhere — at the people’s expense. (Volker M.)

Are you kidding us? Greece was a founding member of the EU! We also own the brand name. Greeks were better off before joining the Eurozone in terms of financial status, but generally, Europeans became poorer living with the euro. Greeks can not imagine a country out of the European Union and when they just thought of a Greece out of the Eurozone it proved catastrophic because both parties were not ready for this.

Which topics dominated the electoral campaign and are these actually the issues that are relevant for the Greeks? The background to my question is that I keep observing that issues that dominate the election campaign are often launched by party strategists and have little to do with the issues that are of importance to the people called to the ballot box. (Anonymous)

Three topics dominated the electoral campaigns from each party.

For SYRIZA it was growth and how we exited the memoranda, human rights and how their foreign policy helped Greece become a pillar of stability in the wider region.

For New Democracy it was about attracting investments and creating jobs so we can reach a 4% growth rate, security and public order, and less bureaucracy with a more effective state. You can find our interviews with two spokesmen from both parties to have an idea of your own!

Ten years since the beginning of the crisis

Is the crisis really over in Greece, as it is often claimed in Germany? I think Germans often have a very distorted picture of Greece. One example is the misconception that the growth in tourism exclusively benefits the country and helps Greek people. In my opinion, this is not the case. (Thomas)

We totally agree with you that there is a “misconception that the growth in tourism exclusively benefits the country and helps Greek people.” We can see why this isn’t the case because of the ultimate domination of the Airbnb in Greece that creates many problems for the locals. They can not find proper housing, there is tax evasion, apartments look the same and lose their Athenian touch. The crisis isn’t really over in Greece; apart from a financial crisis the country experienced an ethical and cultural crisis. So even though we are exiting the memoranda and the austerity measures, there’s still work that needs to be done in order to revitalize the public dialogue, create more jobs and of cultural expansion, as well as find a sustainable way to make things work for our country. One of the good signs that the cultural crisis might be over is that Golden Dawn, a neo-fascist party was crashed out of Greek parliament.

What is the current state of the economy in Greece? (Anonymous)

The Greek economy is growing, but slowly. If you ask whether all is now well, the answer is still “no”.The challenges ahead remain huge, but there is room for some optimism. On July 5, 2015, when 61% of Greek voters rejected the terms of the bailout proposed by the ‘Troika’ in a referendum, few expected the current situation to eventuate. Since July 13 that year, however, when the Greek government made a u-turn and accepted even harsher terms from its creditors, there have been some signs of economic growth. According to the IMF, the primary fiscal surplus was 3.8% of GDP in 2016 (up from 0.8% in 2015), 4.1% in 2017 and again 3.8% in 2018. These surpluses are far larger than those of other crisis-hit eurozone countries. Above all, Greece exited from eight years of bailout programmes in August 2018 in a better shape than we could have expected when the financial crisis started.

Skaters at a bowl in central Athens. Photo: Gerasimos Domenikos / FOS PHOTOS

Why is there still such a huge scale of youth unemployment? And why don‘t those who have work earn enough money to make a living? (Ingrid R.)

According to official data, unemployment decreased for almost all age groups, but among young people aged 15–24 years, it is still around 40 percent, and in the 25–34 age group, it is around 24.5 percent. These continue be the highest rates recorded. The basic monthly salary is around 570 euro which is barely enough for an individual to make a living. There is a massive rate of youth unemployment for two main reasons. Firstly, young Greeks are highly skilled especially, engineers, doctors and teachers but salaries have been lowered so much that they won’t compete for such jobs and they will depend on family resources like either pensions or property income. Secondly, there hasn’t been a systematic attempt by Greece so far to create aged focused growth or assist entrepreneurship. Low income, high taxes and a few opportunities have lead to a massive migratory wave during the past ten years with almost half a million Greeks searching for a better future abroad.

What do young people do after school? Did that change compared to before (the crisis)? Do more people go abroad? What about work: Are there free slots for apprenticeships? Does studying at a university cost money? How high are the living expenses? (Martin H.)

Family and friends react much more positively than in the past to decisions of friends and relatives to leave Greece. According to statistics on returns many Greeks who work abroad do not appear to be in a hurry to get back either. Since 2010, around 400,000 Greeks, mostly in their 20s and 30s, have migrated to other EU countries. According to an EU survey carried out last year in London and the Netherlands, fewer than 10% of Greek migrants plan to return in the next three years. Although, in Greece the apprenticeship system is at a very early stage, a similar institution has been implemented for many years from Technical Universities, where internship programs are mainly applied to technical education graduate-candidates. Greeks and students from EU countries do not pay tuition fees for Bachelor programs, but more and more Master programs are now requiring a tuition fee of about 1500€ every year. The basic monthly salary is around 570€ which is barely enough for an individual to pay rent and basic utilities, such as electricity and water.

At the old airport of Athens. Remnants of old Olympic Air aircrafts. Photo: Gerasimos Domenikos / FOS PHOTOS

Which classes of society are most affected by the cuts? I‘m talking about the cuts in the Tsipras era. (Michael S.)

It’s definitely the middle class. You can read this very interesting article that is tracing the decline of the middle class as parties vie for its votes.

Are the corrupt people still in office? Is there such a thing as a start-up culture or other signs for a growing economy? (Anonymous)

These are two different questions and do not relate to each other, and given the fact that the Greek gov has just changed let’s focus on the second one. Yes, there is a growing startup culture in Greece with more accelerators popping up in Athens and more entrepreneurship initiatives but there is a lot of work to be done and progress to be made in this area. The SYRIZA government tried to boost entrepreneurship but they didn’t manage because they relied heavily on state-funded projects and neglected private initiatives. The new government has promised to focus a lot to this now.

Is Greece looking optimistically into the future? And to what extent is the country interested in being a part of Europe? (Daniel)

Greeks are looking skeptically into the future, they are exhausted by austerity, heavy taxation and economic instability. This is possibly why New Democracy with its heavy neo-liberal agenda was elected with an absolute majority. Greece is a vital part of Europe and Greeks never thought of leaving Europe despite their frustration with the Eurozone.

What does medical care for lower-income groups look like? How many people are dependent on things like soup kitchens? (Konstantin D.)

Greece faces significant problems in planning and national distribution of physical resources, including medical personnel, between urban centres and rural areas, as well as between the public and private sectors. Despite the difficult economic context, in 2016, the Greek government voted to extend health coverage to uninsured people who are registered as unemployed as well as to refugees. From June 1st 2016 and on, with those earning less than 2,400 euro a year entitled to free healthcare, with the threshold rising for families according to how many children they have. Overall, the health status of the Greek population has generally improved over time, but key health challenges, such as the adequacy of health system financing, remain. Unfortunately, there is no data showing how many people are dependent on charity, such as soup kitchens or other non-government organizations dedicated to serving people who experience homelessness or precarious living conditions.

Left: Kyriakos Mitsotakis, Greek Prime Minister, Right: Alexis Tsipras, Former Prime Minister. Photos: Panayiotis Tzamaros from the FOS PHOTOS Archive.

The new Government and the Tsipras Era

Why is there no real alternative in Greece? The New Democracy Party (with some ultra-right tendencies) is not a solution, but a step back. (Anonymous)

There is always an alternative and Greeks have decided to elect Kyriakos Mitsotakis and New Democracy to lead the country after four years of the so-called left being in office. Kyriakos Mitsotakis appears initially, to be a reformist that despite his heavy family legacy is leading a party without any nepotism. Yes, there are a few far-right voices within the party but when it comes to the new Greek government, most of the MPs are technocrats and parliamentarians that have promised to work hard. Greeks did not take a step back, SYRIZA remained at the same percentages it is only that leadership changed and it just remains to see if New Democracy will meet the expectations of the people.

What happened to all the privatization plans? And to the planned intensified tax investigation? (Anonymous)

During the governance of the country by Alexis Tsipras, a total of 27 privatizations were completed, among which some emblematic and high-value transactions for, such as the sale of the Piraeus and Thessaloniki port companies, and TRAINOSE Greece’s railway system. After several adventures, SYRIZA achieved and the most important privatization this of a sub-urban area in the south of Athens, the “Helleniko” park. The SYRIZA led government was a frontrunner in privatizations with 27 in total when the typical number for the previous ones was around 17–18. You can find more details on the Hellenic Republic Asset Development Fund’s website.

There was talk of non-functioning residents’ registration offices. Does that work better now? Examples that were mentioned: Pensions were paid on to the dead, that rich person were hardly taxed and that the owners of luxury villas couldn‘t be detected at all. (anonymous)

This is not accurate!

What happened to all the privatization plans? And to the planned intensified tax investigation? (Andre)

During the governance of the country by Alexis Tsipras, a total of 27 privatizations were completed, among which some emblematic and high-value transactions for, such as the sale of the Piraeus and Thessaloniki port companies, and TRAINOSE Greece’s railway system. After several adventures, SYRIZA achieved and the most important privatization this of a sub-urban area in the south of Athens, the “Helleniko” park. The SYRIZA led government was a frontrunner in privatizations with 27 in total when the typical number for the previous ones was around 17–18. You can find more details on the Hellenic Republic Asset Development Fund’s website.

Hi! I heard in podcasts that Tsipras created 70.000 (?) jobs in the public sector. In what sectors exactly and what kind of job was that? Why were they created? (Bettine) The 70,000 refers to a Deutschlandfunk podcast (German public radio station, note from translator).

The number of public servants (contractual and permanent) was 704,234 in December 2014. In April 2018 it was 733.091 (source: Ministry of Administrative Reform). This is a net growth of 28.857 in 3.5 years. This is conform to the 3rd memorandum of understanding between Greece and its creditors, under which the rate of entries in the public sector is tied to the number of retirements. In 2017, the rate was 1 entry for 4 retirements, in 2018 it was 1 for 3. After a negotiation with the creditors, Tsipras’ government secured a 1:1 rate starting in mid-2018. The number 70.000 refers to — more or less — the total number of public servants hired between the beginning of 2015 and the end of the bailout programme in August 2018, without considering the number of retired public servants. These newly hired public servants work in all state-run sectors: health, education, public administration (state, regional and municipal levels), hygiene services and others.

What kind of investments have been made in the Greek economy since 2015? Is there an overview of foreign direct investments (FDI)? How big are the shares of the EU and China in the FDI’s? (Sarah)

According to the latest Bank of Greece data, net Foreign Direct Investment inflows during 2018 reached € 3,606 million versus € 3.204 million during 2017, an increase of 12.5%. The year 2018 is the third consecutive year of increased foreign investment flows in Greece after an annual increase of 28.3% from 2016 to 2017 and of 118.5% from 2015 to 2016.

Foreign investment activity in the country during the last decade originates mainly from companies of significant markets, such as the EU, with Germany (by far) and France being the top source countries of investment capital in the past decade, followed by Cyprus, as well as non-EU countries such as Switzerland, Canada and USA. China (incl. Hong Kong), which has significantly strengthened its position in recent years, Luxembourg, Spain and Italy complete the top-ten countries.

Some key facts: Investment activity in Greece originates primarily from companies in major markets such as the EU. Germany (primarily) and France are the top source countries of investment capital during this period (2008–2018), by a large margin, mainly due to the investment of Deutsche Telecom in OTE and the acquisition of Greek banks by French ones, during prior to the beginning of the crisis. Switzerland, USA, Canada, and China (including Hong Kong) also belong to the top ten source countries of foreign investment in Greece during the last decade, increasing significantly their investment presence during the last few years. You can read more on the Greek investment Agency’s portal.

Posidonia Internations Shipping Exhibition. Photo: Panayiotis Tzamaros from the FOS PHOTOS Archive.

WW2 Reparations, Climate Change, Community, Refugee Crisis, Tourism, Health Care

As a German, I was ashamed of the discussion about Greek demands to be repaid for the forced Nazi loan (reparations). Is this still a topic? (Anonymous)

For me, the way German public and politicians dealt with the demand showed a tremendous arrogance. First towards Greece, to give a more concrete example, towards the victims of the Nazi tyranny in Distomo, but also towards our own history. The “legal situation” seems obvious to me. But the debate was terrible for me to follow. To what extent does this debate still play a role in your daily discussions?

Yes, WW2 reparations is still a topic but it doesn’t surface a lot in national debates in Greece. It only comes up when a politician wants to serve a certain agenda and it has mostly to do with cash and not with the ethical side of things.

On April 17, the Greek Parliament approved a proposal by a parliamentary committee to formally seek reparations from Germany for war crimes even as Berlin rejected the demands, claiming that there was no basis for reparations. In June, Greece sent a so-called note verbale to Germany, repeating a long-held demand for war reparations for the crimes committed by Nazi Germany in World War II. The newly elected prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said a few weeks before the EU elections that the occupation loan Greece was forced to pay out to Nazi Germany during World War Two is “legally open and politically feasible,” and its repayment should be made a priority.

What about climate policy in Greece? Everyone is talking about it here — and the crisis will hit the southern European countries even harder than Germany. Is this a topic at the elections? (Anonymous)

Greek policy on climate is inconsistent with the recommendations of scientific research. Climate change at this level poses threats to Greek society and its sustainable development. As the younger generation in Greece we must put pressure on society and government to address challenges and to work on solutions, shifting to a low-carbon economy, managing the risks and adapting to the changing climate. Studies on Greece’s climate highlight the wealth of its natural resources such as solar and wind energy, but also the risks to the country’s natural and human environment. Climate change appears to be a major threat, as the impact on almost all sectors of the national economy is expected to be adverse. Nevertheless, climate change was missing in the electoral agenda of the Greek parties.

Why is there no sense of community in Greece? Garbage gets just thrown away and destroys many beautiful landscapes, taxes are getting avoided? I have lived in Athens for 6 years and enjoyed the time very much, the people are fantastic. But the complete rejection of the state was strange to me, as well as the indifference towards the common good. Friends and families stick together, but beyond that… the country functions through contacts, somebody knows somebody who can help me…and nobody wants to pay taxes, which is understandable looking at the completely absurd tax burdens that were put on the population in the last years.. (Nicole H.)

This is a very good question and in fact, it is very true that despite Greek values rely a lot on the community and solidarity among each other, Greeks do not have this collective sense of community achieving targets together and working together for a better future. This is because of the radical social changes that happened in the 80s and the 90s with the rapid growth of the middle class that was infused with the beaurgois ideals because of the cash overflow. This is changing though because of the younger generations that are more progressive and open to change. For example, young Greeks are more eager to organize around environmental issues and protest their demands for a more eco-friendly Greece and we saw this happening with the latest protest rallies in April.

Why does Greece accept to be left alone with the refugee crisis? The situation in Lesbos is supposed to be terrible. Why doesn’t Greece do something about this? And why doesn‘t Greece involve the other EU countries more? (Aline)

Greece was expected to implement the agreement made between the EU and Turkey in 2016, known as the EU-Turkey ‘deal’. It was, in fact, a press statement but has had binding effects on Greece and entails various measures, including restricting the movement of asylum seekers who arrive on the Aegean Islands. Lesvos is the biggest and most renowned island for arrivals of asylum seekers from Turkey. This, among other legal and policy developments implemented by both the EU and Greece have reduced the rights of refugees arriving and staying in Greece, according to many human rights observers.

Lifejackets on the island of Lesbos. Photo: Panayiotis Tzamaros from the FOS PHOTOS Archive.

While traveling I noticed big differences between the infrastructures for transportation and for tourism. But as far as I know, both are national tasks. Why are there such big differences? I would also be interested in knowing whether there are national strategies for both topics? (Bettine)

As for infrastructures for tourism and transportation, things are rather complicated. In transportation, the state does play a role but transportation is privately-run. The KTEL buses have the monopoly over intercity public transportation by road, but they are privately owned. Still, the state is actively regulating their activities, such as the ticket price and other aspects. The trains have also been privately operated since 2017. As for tourism services, they are mostly private held, apart from tourism offices. For both sectors, the state has a say in defining long-term strategy, imposing taxation and regulating prices. Concerning tourism, there is a central strategy to extend the tourist season to cover the whole year and not just the summer months, when Greece is drowning in tourists. There is also a desire (especially from the right of the political spectrum) to bring in wealthy tourists who have the ability to spend a lot of money in Greece during their vacation.

What about the health care sector? Does every sick Greek person get the care necessary? What about salaries/pensions? (Anonymous)

Greeks have free access to the health system and one of the things that SYRIZA did was to secure access to those who don’t have any insurance and cancel any fees that were imposed by previous governments. Due to the nature of New Democracy’s agenda, many fear of private companies entering this sector with unknown results to the quality of healthcare.

How’s the population doing? Is there a high level of poverty / unemployment? What occupies people‘s minds?

The latest data from the Hellenic Statistical Authority (ELSTAT) shows that more people in Greece are at risk of poverty or social exclusion today (31.8%) than when the bailouts began in 2010 (27.7%), with a peak of 36% in 2014. Cuts to government spending and strict austerity measures have played a part here. When it comes to unemployment, in May 2010, when Greece signed its first bailout agreement, the rate in the country was 10%. In 2018, it was double that. In the 1st quarter of 2019, it was 18.1% and has come down from a peak of nearly 28% in mid-2013. It still remains, by far, the highest jobless rate in the eurozone, though. With youth unemployment still above 40%, it’s difficult to attract talent needed to rebuild the economy.

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