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Greece heads to the election polls on June 17 and in the midst of deep financial chaos within the Euro zone, anyone with a stake in the future economic health of Europe will be holding their breath.
The reason? Should a newly elected Greek government choose not to abide by the fiscal demands of the EU and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), it means removing Greece from the monetary union. By refusing the rescue package, Greece will thus be unable to pay its debts, and a debt of 300 billion Euros, according to the Japanese conglomerate Nomura, is bound to cause serious ripples in the water.
Yes, some would say the future of Europe could rest on the outcome of the Greek ballots. And it is not just about financial stability and growth; the whole reason why the bailout is being questioned is the social unrest that follows when a national economy fails, something which the streets of Athens have had plenty of face time with.
The Greeks are angry and with good reason — their economy has been destroyed by a financial policy which was bold and irresponsible in an extremely volatile global financial situation. And the cure was increasingly harsh austerity measures which the everyman had to submit to, deservingly or not.
One woman told RT: “The thing with the situation right now in Greece is that we don’t feel very secure about anything — about our jobs, about our salaries. And at my age thinking about the children I’m going to make, and the decisions I have to do, it’s really sad. Everybody here thinks that things could be better.”
Another man expressed the powerlessness of many Greek people. “If all the Europeans know that all this debt cannot be paid back, why do they lend all this money to us? Don’t they want their money back?” He continues “Greece is a European country and Europe is a Greek word. A Greek word.”
His words resonate with the predicted dramatic situation in the wake of June 17; many believe that the Greek government’s irresponsibility was amplified by greed in the Euro zone and feel the austerity measures required by the bailout are weighing too heavily on their shoulders.
But if Greece opts out of the Euro, it is not just the Euro zone which will suffer. The European Union is tightly knit together by import and export across currencies. This means that if for example Germany, which has 84.5 billion stuck in the ailing Greek economy, is forced to adjust spending, a nation such as Denmark, which has a separate currency, the Crown, will feel the squeeze as Germany is currently its biggest export market.
And it doesn’t stop there. The implosion of the Greek economy is equivalent to 3.2% of the sum of economic activity by all EU countries. If this much owed capital is lost, it won’t just hit within Europe; it will possibly be felt worldwide, spreading with no control or inhibition.
Still, when the Irish property bubble burst, or the Icelandic banking scandal ravaged for that matter, people were also placed in unimaginable financial distress, like what Greece, or Spain, is facing. Ireland is still struggling from the ground swells of the bailout but despite cuts and tax rises, the European Committee has predicted a small growth of 0.5 percentage points this year.
Also, while the people are still struggling to believe things will ever improve, you do not see the Irish rallying the streets or lighting themselves on fire to prove a point. Recent Eurobarometers even indicate and the Irish show continuous, above-average support for the monetary union – despite everything.
Academics have pondered this striking difference and some of the evidence points to traditional social and political ties as well as historical endurance. Professor David Farrell of University College Dublin told the Danish newspaper Jyllands-posten that one of his rationalizations pointed to the Irish labour unions having stronger traditions for collaboration with the government, in contrast to their Greek counterparts.
Dr. Mary Murphy of the University of Maynooth added in the same coverage that Ireland also lacks an ideologically strong left wing such as is present in both Spain and Greece. Finally, it has also been argued that the Irish are pragmatic after centuries under the boot of the English, and then the Catholic church, typically refraining from challenging higher powers.
A final reasoning? While the Irish have endured and prevailed so far, Greece has managed to live up to the premises of a ‘Greek Tragedy’, consumed by their misery, their struggle and desire for change, but unlike a play, not for the viewing pleasure of an audience.