3rd Mar 2024


Yes or No: The consequences will be dire

  • A No campaigner - the placard reads in German: 'No to austerity, Yes to resistance' (Photo: Eric Maurice)

Yes or No: The consequences of Greece's referendum are going to be dire.

The problem with the referendum question is nobody knows exactly what either result will mean which is why it has been so divisive for Greek society.

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The Yes voters are answering a question that has to do with the euro and the EU. Do you want to remain in the club? Yes or no? Within the eurozone or not?

They are also distrustful of the current government and hope to usher in a new one, given that both the prime minister and the finance mnister have indicated they will step down in the event of a Yes

The No voters are answering on whether they agree with the latest proposal and austerity terms that the EU had proposed.

The sad fact is that a majority of Greeks don't like the creditors' proposal and don't want more austerity. This same majority also wants to remain in the EU.

The referendum question therefore has created a split down the middle in Greek opinion despite the fact that they are mostly unified in how they believe the country should move forward.

Avoiding snap elections

Euclid Tsakalotos, government negotiator, admitted during a televised interview the proposal that the government had almost agreed with the EU “would never have been ratified by parliament and would have brought down the government." He went on to explain that the referendum was called in order to avoid snap elections.

Referring to the details of the creditors' demands, Tsakalotos admitted that his government had failed in its negotiations.

The demands consist of over 95 percent tax hikes on small businesses - already on their knees - which have sustained the country through the crisis, and very little in the way of cutting expenditures.

The EU’s insistence on austerity and no debt restructuring is puzzingly tyrannical.

As growth comes to a grinding halt and fear grows, society appears increasingly divided.

The Syriza party is keen on Keynesian policies of government spending to boost growth. This is fine when it is possible to borrow money, but a disaster when a country is shut out of the markets as it has no means to sustain its expenditure.

There has been a huge loss of output, meaning tax earnings are down and the welfare state suffers. Athens alone has seen a sudden jump in homeless people who now number around 17,000. This number is set to rise no matter the outcome of the vote.

Is this democracy?

Two days ago the right-wing defence minister Kamenos announced during PM Alexis Tsipras' first visit to the defence ministry that the army was there to “guarantee the country’s internal stability”.

Neither the timing of Tsipras' visit nor the statement was made by chance. It added to an atmosphere of fear. The queues for new passports at police stations have shot up.

Is this democracy?

Some say the media, the EU and the banking system is promoting fear. And indeed the EU has avoided spelling out what the referendum outcome will mean.

There are no legal provisions for a country leaving the eurozone. Can Greece be forced out nevertheless? Will a No vote mean the EU will not negotiate with Greece and therefore cut off access to finance?

Is that forced exit legal? Must the EU support the euro in any way possible? Why has the EU not answered these questions? Does it not represent every member of the Union even if it might be exasperated by its negotiating counterparts?

Greek media is dominated by government-sponsored and privately-owned interests and there has been little honest debate.

The country has been called to decide on its future with very little time to understand the full consequences of its vote. Many will be casting their ballot in anger at EU- and IMF-imposed austerity while others will be hoping to maintain their weakened foothold in the security of the European Union.

For perhaps the first time in its history Greece should be moving forward as a unified country. That it is not is due to this Syriza government.

But 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 on Sunday.

Paul Kidner leads the PRAKSIS Business Coaching Centre - an NGO programme dedicated to supporting the creation of new businesses in Greece.


The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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