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21st May 2022

EU commission tries to win Greek sympathy

With less than a month to general elections in Greece where radical parties are expected to score well, the European Commission is trying change the impression among Greeks that the EU is only about imposing austerity measure.

"What the commission is saying today to the Greek people is very clear: You are not alone," EU commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso said in a video message published on Wednesday (18 April) together with a 40-page long paper on where Greece stands and what it still has to do.

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  • 'You are not alone,' Barroso tells Greek people (Photo: John D. Carnessiotis, Athens, Greece)

Speaking later that day in the European Parliament in Strasbourg, Barroso likened the two bail-outs and the EU funds put at Greece's disposal with the US Marshall plan that funded the reconstruction of Europe after the Second World War.

"Let us recall that the assistance provided under the Marshall Plan amounted to around 2.1 percent of GDP of the recipients,” he said.

The total package of assistance to Greece ... is equivalent to 177 percent of Greek GDP! Yes: almost the double of the growth Greece can generate in one year. This is a very visible symbol of the solidarity which lies at the heart of the Union.”

Barroso floated the figure of €380 billion in assistance given to Greece, compared to the $13 billion-strong Marshall Plan.

But the commission paper notes that 83 percent of the $13 billion-strong Marshall Plan were "grants". Both Greek bailouts - €110 billion in 2010 and €130 billion this year - are loans which are contributing to the country’s debt.

The EU commission also adds €40 billion in EU funding for Greece between 2007-2013 to the total assistance.

The timing of Barroso's motivational speech and the paper promising jobs and economic growth once the bitter pill of more austerity is swallowed is no coincidence, says Janis Emmanouilidis from the European Policy Centre, a Brussels think tank.

"It is obviously a political document, most of the proposals are not new, they are already mentioned in the memorandum of understanding (linked to the second bail-out) and in the last taskforce reports," Emmanouilidis told this website.

One exception, he noted, is a new focus on the social cost and the record-high rates of youth unemployment. "It shows the fear of what could happen if things go wrong, political and social unrest not only in Greece, but also outside the country."

Is Brussels’ softer message getting across?

Emmanouilidis however remains sceptical that the "we care" message is coming across in Greece, where last month a pensioner shot himself in front of the parliament.

In his suicide note he blamed austerity measures and the Greek government, which he compared to the Nazi collaborators who ruled occupied Greece during World War II.

"If it's an exercise to cool down tempers in Greece and show that the EU is helping, I don't think it reaches the people, who are angry and frustrated," he concluded.

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