Tuesday

19th Feb 2019

Greek voters resent EU pressure

  • Poster using German finance minister Schaeuble as a mascot for the No vote (Photo: Eric Maurice)

The Greek people's relationship with Europe is the crux of Sunday's (5 July) referendum. Voters have mixed feelings and the EU, on occasion, is doing little to help

The Greek PM has said that Greeks "are not deciding about staying in Europe”.

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But many EU leaders, such as European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, have said that a "No would mean that Greece is saying No to Europe".

For some voters, this kind of narrative fuels No-feeling.

"Merkel, Juncker and Schaeuble tell us their opinion about who has to rule [in Greece], and we refuse that”, said Maria, a 42-year old bank employee.

"We have economic relations and a relation of friendship with the EU, but we must be able to decide”.

A man in his 30s, who did not want to be named, said: “I am a European federalist, but I will vote No”.

"The Eurogroup refused to extend the bailout programme until the referendum and the European Central Bank's [ECB] cut the financing of our banks. For me it's a kind of blackmail," he added, referring to the ECB's decision not to raise the level of liquidity available to Greek banks.

Even on the Yes side, the EU's interventions can be seen as problematic.

"I am from the left and I will vote Yes, but I don't want the EU and the bankers to tell me how I have to vote”, said Alexia, who works in the communication sector.

Omiros Tsapalos, a communication strategist, said the No and the Yes camps have waged a high-pressure campaign.

"EU pressure will probably function in exactly the opposite way. Many people are ready to vote No because they do not like this kind of telegraph”.

Heated campaign

Tsapalos, who indicated he will vote Yes, said the heated, and just eight-day long, campaign was "not good because there was no real political debate about the real issues”.

After five years of crisis, two bailouts, five months of hard negotiations, and increasingly nasty rhetoric from both the EU and the Greek sides, the rift between Greek society and the European mainstream is deepening.

"Tsipras was elected with 36 percent in January and now he could get over 50 percent support," Nick Malkoutsis, a Greek journalist, told EUobserver.

"This is because of the strong feeling here that lenders are abusing us. You can't feed people with populism, but you can't feed them on a diet of spending cuts and increased taxes either”.

EU leaders made a mistake by "responding to Syriza's aggressive rhetoric" and, given the ECB’s liquidity freeze, by engineering a referendum amid bank closures, he added.

The Greek government's campaign has also fired up anti-EU sentiment.

"Tsipras did very well in terms of communication. And the fact that the Yes campaign had no leader helped him”, said Tsapalos, the communications expert.

The situation was clear to see at Tsipras' rally on Syntagma Square on Friday, where a massive crowd reacted emotionally to his speech.

"Today we are celebrating and singing, overcoming fear, overcoming blackmail”, Tsipras said.

"The Europe that we knew, the Europe that stands for its founding values, doesn’t involve blackmail and ultimatums”.

"Greece, our country, was, is and will remain the cradle of European civilization”.

He added: “According to mythology, it was from this very place that Zeus abducted Europa. It is from this very place that the austerity technocrats want to abduct Europe again. No. We tell them No on Sunday. We will not leave Europe in the hands of those who want to abduct it from its democratic tradition”.

Finance minister Yannis Varoufakis told Spain's El Mundo: "Brussels and the troika want to humiliate the Greeks."

"Why did they force us to close the banks? To instil fear in people. And spreading fear is called terrorism”.

Tsapalos observed that: "Day by day, Tsipras is becoming more radical and the Greek people becoming more radical”.

Young Greeks

Young Greek people appear to be the most receptive.

"We are here to stop the EU austerity programme, we want equality and a quality of life," said Spiros, a student, on Syntagma Square, while adding that he wants "Greece to stay in the eurozone and the EU".

Tsapalos predicted that while the polls foresee a close result, last-minute swings are likely to see the Yes or the No win by a large margin.

"We"ll see a big Yes or a big No, because many people will decide in the 30 minutes before they vote”, he said.

For Malkoutsis, the journalist, a very close outcome would be “the worst” possible result in terms of Greek unity.

"With both sides living on fear, each side would say it won and would blame the other”.

'It's Greeks against Greeks'

It was a tale of two Greeces on Friday night, as tens of thousands took to the streets of Athens for the last evening of campaigning.

Opinion

Yes or No: The consequences will be dire

The EU shares the blame for this sad and avoidable situation. It should do some soul-searching while it watches up to 10 million Greek voters make their fateful decision.

Feature

Athens on edge as referendum looms

Three days before the referendum, closed banks, frequent demos, and streams of leaflets are a reminder that the future of Greece is at stake.

Greece says No to creditors

In a result that sent shockwaves across the EU, around 60 percent of Greek voters Sunday rejected the bailout reforms proposed by creditors.

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