The austerity blame game
By Klaus Heeger
The closure of the Greek public broadcaster was met with shock and outrage at both the national and the European level.
The speed with which events unfolded made the situation all the more dramatic. Just as quickly as ERT stopped broadcasting, people were out in full protest.
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Public broadcasting is a crucial public service. The public at large pay for this vital media outlet as a fundamental source of its daily information, as a central means of embracing participatory democracy through well-informed citizens. Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras has described these measures as a temporary move, stating that the government is “protecting the public interest.”
Where is the public interest in cutting off public broadcasting, in taking away a key source of public news and current affairs?
What the immediate reaction in Greece shows is that people understand exactly what these latest measures mean. They are symbolic. More unemployment, less public interest, less democracy.
We know where the cuts are falling. We know who the unemployed are. However, do we know who is to ‘blame’?
A fundamental principle behind democracy is knowing who is accountable for decisions. What we have witnessed today, in public, is the austerity blame game.
The Greek government pointed its finger in the direction of the Troika. For Greece to qualify for the next bailout tranche, it promised its creditors, the so-called Troika composed of the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund, that yet another 2,000 public sector jobs would be cut. So clearly the Greek government is not to blame.
The European Commission, one third of the creditor cohort, has for its part refused any responsibility for the cuts. Economic affairs commissioner Olli Rehn said his institution has "not sought the closure of the ERT.” Well then, of course the commission is not blame.
The blame is being passed from institution to the next.
The so-called Troika is simply a team of representatives from each of the creditor institutions, a group of people who have been thrown together for one specific purpose - turning economies around by cutting debts and deficits and restructuring. The Troika does not set the agenda or set out the grand economic vision. Instead, it deals with the dirty work, the detail. So we’re not blaming the Troika either then.
This is what leads to real frustration among the public.
The measures being imposed need to be far more accountable and responsibility should be taken. Otherwise, people will never accept so-called ‘structural changes’ or ‘necessary reforms’.
Communication with the public at large is fundamental. This means explaining and consulting with people on any measures being introduced. For this there needs to be a figure or a face to engage with. Without consultation of staff for example, governments cannot expect reforms to be accepted or implemented.
Until this occurs, the facelessness of austerity will continue. Just as the commission did not ask for the ERT to be closed, I am sure the commission did not actively seek to increase unemployment rates either. Nonetheless the number of jobless people in the EU is at record levels.
When people look at Europe, they need a more accountable figure to turn to, for both the mistakes and the merits. For when things are going well. And for when they are not.
Europe must face its facelessness.
The writer is Secretary General of the Confédération Européenne des Syndicats Indépendants