Sunday, 20 December 2015

Greece should embrace the European border agency

The European Commission last week unveiled its proposal for a European Border and Coast Guard to replace Frontex, the existing external borders agency, which operates on a voluntary basis. Incredible as it may seem, the 500 million-strong European Union does not have a single, federal authority managing its borders. Frontex depends on EU members volunteering staff and equipment, and EU states at external borders requesting them. The new agency would be the first significant expansion of federalism since the introduction of the euro.

Lesvos' memorial to the war dead for the period of the Balkan Wars, World War One and the Asia Minor Catastrophe (1912-1922) faces Turkey's shores, a reminder that it was the last of these three conflicts that hurt Greece. The memorial, possibly modeled on the Statue of Liberty, strengthens Lesvos' impression as the new Ellis Island. 

The new Agency is largely a response to the problems Greece and the EU encountered policing the waters of the eastern Aegean. The Greeks resisted invoking Rapid Interventions, which would have forced their EU partners to cough up more staff and equipment than they had volunteered, because they wanted to prove their ability to police sovereign borders. 

If adopted, the new Agency would be empowered in several ways: It could unilaterally intervene at the EU’s external borders if national authorities could not or would not. To do this, it would have a standing pool of 1,500 border guards and an equipment pool. (In contrast, Frontex requested 743 guest officers to work on the Greek border this year; it received 447). The Agency would be able to launch border operations jointly with third countries and would be empowered to deport irregular migrants.

Greek objections are understandable. The Greeks have lost sovereignty over financial and fiscal policy through the economic crisis. They do not wish to lose responsibility for border security as well – especially on so sensitive a border as that with Turkey, which has periodically been the focus of territorial disputes. Particularly galling is the idea of joint EU patrols with Turks and Makedonski, over which Greece will have no jurisdiction.

Artists painted this face on a disused storage facility overlooking the harbour of Lesvos in the summer of 2015 - a dewy-eyed Greece looking upon the newly exiled. 

Running against this concern is the greater concern that Europe has to act if it is to preserve its internal open borders regime under the Schengen Treaty. France, Germany, Austria, Croatia, Slovenia, Hungary and former Yugoslav Macedonia have all temporarily re-instated national borders.

The Greeks should see this as an opportunity for three reasons. First, it marks an abandonment of European hypocrisy on migration, by signalling that EU states are in this together. For years, the countries of central and northern Europe have allowed Greece and Italy to be the breakwaters for waves of refugees from the unstable, unfree or war-torn countries that surround the continent. Their voters have steadfastly refused an EU migration policy, fearing that it will involve annual immigration quotas. Eastern states rebuffed an attempt by Brussels to impose mandatory refugee quotas last May, and after the Paris attacks last month withdrew even from their voluntary quotas for refugee resettlement.

Three Eastern states’ position is doubly hypocritical. Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic were among the Soviet satellites which, after the fall of communism, produced the second-largest wave of economic migration to Europe in the last 20 years. In 2003, then still candidate countries whose EU membership was all but assured, they broke ranks with the majority European view against a second Gulf war, undermining both the basis for a common foreign and defence policy and destabilising Iraq – now one of the ten top refugee-producing countries.

The Greeks have never been exemplary Europeans, but they have traditionally been pro-Europe, and this is the second reason to embrace the Agency. Eurobarometer polls going back almost two decades show that they and the Cypriots are the strongest supporters of a European foreign and defence policy (precisely because of their concerns about Turkey, now the migration gateway into Europe). They elected to remain in the Eurozone despite seven years of austerity and an on-going recession. They could now put themselves at the forefront of this expansion of Brussels’ powers by demanding that the new Agency be headquartered in Athens.

The third and most important reason to embrace the new agency is that migration pressure on Europe is unlikely to stop anytime soon. This year has seen a twentyfold increase over last year of migrants and refugees crossing the Aegean – 800,000 and counting.

The reasons are both political and environmental. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees says 13.9mn people were newly displaced due to conflict or persecution in 2014, bringing the global total to 59.5mn – the highest ever number. Three million of these became refugees – displaced outside their own country.

The UNHCR’s updated Mid-Year Trends report foresees that 2015 is “likely to exceed all previous years for global forced displacement.”

UNHCR chief Antonio Guterres has struck a note of warning: “We are witnessing a paradigm change, an unchecked slide into an era in which the scale of global forced displacement, as well as the response required, is now clearly dwarfing anything seen before.”

Fuelling many of the conflicts that produce refugees is global warming. The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has published findings concluding “that human influences on the climate system are implicated in the current Syrian conflict.”

In a paper published last year, five climate experts found that “anthropogenic forcing has increased the probability of severe and persistent droughts in this region, and made the occurrence of a 3-year drought as severe as that of 2007−2010 two to three times more likely than by natural variability alone.”

Contrary to America’s image as the nurturer of the dispossessed and persecuted, the EU has long been the destination for about two thirds of asylum seekers entering the developed world. Over the past two decades, over six million people have applied for asylum in the EU. But this trend is increasing.

In 1992 the EU faced its then-highest number of asylum applicants – 672,000 – after the fall of the communist east. Applications peaked again in 2001 at 424,000 after the end of the Yugoslav war. Last year, Europe (including the EU) received 714,000 applications, according to the UNHCR. In the first nine months of this year, EU states alone had received 892,000 and the number is expected to top a million by the end of the year, according to the European Asylum Support Office.

In contrast, US asylum applications last year were 134,000, and the Obama administration has pledged itself to taking in 20,000 refugees this year.

Europe is slowly awakening to the reality that it is The New Colossus. Failing states, failing environments and sectarian conflicts on its periphery will fuel migration flows for years to come. Greece, with its archipelago of islands virtually touching the Turkish coast, will remain the most attractive route for smugglers enabling their passage. For all these reasons, a European border agency is inevitable. The Greeks can embrace it, and use it to bury once and for all their image as the EU’s enfant terrible.

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Greek immigration policy: A lesson for Eastern Europe?

This article was published by Al Jazeera International. 

When Jessica Ben Anosike was 12, her sense of belonging in Greece as a second-generation migrant was demolished.

The Nigerian-born student had come top of her class in track and field, and looked forward to representing Greece in a European junior championship. Anosike still fights back tears of anger as she tells the story.

Jessica Ben Anosike, sporting a selection of her medals in track and field in her bedroom at her home in Athens (Photo by Anna Psaroudakis)
“I remember that I was first and I asked my coach if I’m qualified to go, and she said, ‘well, because you don’t have the Greek passport I don’t think it’s possible to go.’ And I said, ‘can’t we do something about it?’ And she said, ‘we’ll see.’ And the next thing I heard was that the Greek girl who came in second place, she took my place as the first.

Anosike, who was raised in Greece since the age of four, is now 19 and finally eligible for that Greek passport. A law passed this year naturalises people of non-Greek origin if they have attended nine years of Greek school.

Anosike is among 12,000 applicants, but her relationship with Greece is broken. Aside from her loyal Greek friends, she says, “I don’t feel it’s my home or I have something here that belongs to me.” In fact, the main reason she wants her passport is to leave. “I’m in a shell trying to come out,” she says, as we sit at Melissa, a migrant women’s organisation recently visited by US Secretary of State John Kerry.

To some extent, Anosike’s problems are those spurring much of Greek youth to leave the country; a jobless rate of over 50 percent, and a sense that despite European Union membership, decades of poor leadership have deprived this society of a future.

Yet despite its shortcomings, Greece serves as an example of a homogenous European society implementing the rule of law and adapting to population shifts. The citizenship law is the pinnacle of that process.

“Those who have finished school here are thought to be integrated,” says Vasilis Papadopoulos, the General Secretary for Migration at the interior ministry, whose job it is to implement the law. “We consider it self-evident that they participate in society sufficiently to be considered Greek citizens.”

Even so, the bill encountered opposition. MP Adonis Georgiadis, now running for the conservative leadership, cited an ancient Athenian law in parliament, which tightened the requirements for citizenship in 451BC.

“[Perikles said], ‘Does everyone want to come and live in Athens because they like our state? They are very welcome. But we are in charge. Why are we in charge? Because we didn’t go to their city. They came to ours. Why did they come? Because we were wiser, cleverer and better, and built a better state, which they envy, and want to live in with us. Since they freely choose to live with us,’ said Perikles, ‘they have entrusted their government to us’.”

The Supreme Court struck down a similar law the socialists passed in 2010, because it awarded citizenship on the basis of birth on Greek soil.

Tasia Christodoulopoulou, the migration minister who passed the new law, ultimately prevailed: “We need to accept their will to be Greek citizens, which means that they will have rights as well as obligations,” she said. 

Shifting populations, desperate responses 

Greece’s experience of migration reflects Europe’s - but with extraordinary intensity. When the Iron Curtain collapsed in 1990, eastern Europeans flooded west. 

Greece became home to an estimated one million Albanians, Bulgarians, Romanians and other minorities. (A 2001 census put the figure at 762,000, or 7.3 percent of the population – certainly an underestimation, because irregular migrants tended to avoid interviews).

Greece tried to develop a policy in an area where it had never had to have one. Between 1998 and 2005, three amnesties legalized an estimated half million people. The logic was that if the economy had absorbed them, the state should receive taxes and social security contributions.

After the second Gulf War, however, migration from newly destabilised countries in the Middle East and Central Asia swelled; and Greece’s economic collapse following the 2008 financial crisis put both Greeks and immigrants out of work, creating a perfect social and economic storm.  

A police officer on the Greece/F.Y.R.O.M. borders checks identification documents of newly arrived refugees from Athens, early in the morning (Photo by Anna Psaroudakis)
The right wing Golden Dawn party was suspected of being behind nocturnal attacks on migrants, which began in 2011, but this wasn’t proven at the time.

“All racist attackers enjoyed a kind of immunity from prosecution,” says Dimitris Zotos, one of the lawyers now prosecuting Golden Dawn. “The then [conservative] government had invested in targeting migrants as one of the causes of the economic crisis and therefore wanted to turn people’s attention towards seeing migrants as one of the sources of unhappiness.”

The official crackdown, too, came in August 2012. The conservatives unleashed police patrols, arresting anyone without residence papers. Holding cells were filled to bursting. Detention camps held the spillover.

Migrants held there spoke of unsanitary conditions, exemplary beatings, poor nutrition and little or no access to healthcare or legal aid. Most troubling was the practice of detention beyond an 18-month pre-trial limit, for which the European Council on Refugees and Exiles, an NGO coalition, threatened to have Greece indicted at the European Court of Human Rights.

Police had for years demonstrated similar behaviour in their handling of asylum applications. Lacking trained staff, they issued only token approvals. In 2007, for instance, Greece received 20,684 applications. Police approved 140. The following year Greece transposed EU asylum directives into national law, but even then police only approved 358 applications out of 29,573.

Processing took years. Many migrants filed for asylum as a way of gaining temporary residence.

Greece became so notorious that in January 2011, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Belgium had violated the rights of an Afghan asylum seeker by deporting him back to Greece. Under EU rules, the Afghan man’s asylum application should indeed have been processed in the EU member state where he first alighted, which was Greece; but the ECHR ruled that poor living conditions and the defective asylum procedure there put both the applicant and his application in jeopardy. Soon after, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees recommended that EU states refrain from returning supplicants to Greece.

Newly arrived refugees sleep in a secluded spot while tourists make their way through a residential area on the island of Lesbos (Photo by Anna Psaroudakis) 

Course correction

Under EU and UN tutelage, Greece again adapted. In July 2013 it set up a First Reception Service to greet migrants at the border, identify them, check their health and inform them of their legal rights. It also set up a dedicated Asylum Service staffed by lawyers. Last year the service received over 13,000 applications and approved almost 4,000.

When Syriza toppled the conservatives in January, it also put an end to the illegal practice of prolonged detention.

The killing of a Greek leftist rap singer in September 2013 by a Golden Dawn member led to the indictment of all 18 Golden Dawn members of parliament who had been elected in 2012 – including the party leader.

They now face the charge of belonging to a criminal organisation with trained attack battalions, which masqueraded as a political party. The party still polls six percent of the national vote, but it remains marginal.

Both Greece’s mistakes and its progress since 1990 stand as an example to Eastern European states, says Panteion University’s Dimitris Christopoulos, who wrote the citizenship law and chairs Greece’s Human Rights Committee.

But, he warns, Greece’s is an “embryonic transition”, which “cannot be taken for granted.” The countries of Eastern Europe, which have only been democracies for a quarter century and EU members for a decade, and who themselves generated Europe’s last surge in immigration in the 1990s, now threaten that progress. Former Yugoslav Macedonia has built a fence along its border with Greece. Several eastern states have stepped back from their pledges to relocate refugees.

European Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos recently called this unravelling of open borders “the beginning of the end of the European Union”. 

“They are still where Greece was during the Cold War,” says Christopoulos. “The worst case scenario [for 2016] is introspection – trying to build new waiting zones in the European periphery as is happening now with Greece. In this case the fence mentality will prevail, and the domino effect that started with the [political] right in Hungary and has caught on in the Czech Republic, Slovakia etc. will continue. In such a case the European political project is in danger.”

Migrants themselves may alter Europe’s debate about migration unpredictably. Beata Pastor, who was born in Greece to Filipino parents, is also a member of Melissa. The 19 year-old believes that citizenship she has applied for will change things.

“Whatever bad happens here in Greece they blame us. We don’t have the right to vote… Shouldn’t the blame go to the Greek people who vote?” she asks rhetorically.

“The Greek people they think about their own selves. Us, we believe in voting for the future of everyone, not just the Greeks, but everyone who lives here, and for the future of the country.”

Thursday, 17 September 2015

An election without aspirations in Greece

This article was published by Al Jazeera International.

Ahead of Sunday's snap vote, both front-runners are vowing to stay in the Eurozone - and that means continued austerity.

Athens, Greece - Former prime minister Alexis Tsipras is attempting to turn adversity to advantage.

His capitulation to European Union-imposed austerity policies, which he had vowed to abolish before being elected, split his Syriza party like an iceberg adrift in the tropics. Tsipras lost the support of 39 of his 149 parliamentarians when he brought Greece's third bailout agreement home on July 16.

When he presented the first implementation bill to parliament on August 14, the defections rose to 44. Six days later, he resigned and called for a snap election.

In both votes, Syriza failed to muster the 120 MP threshold considered necessary for a major piece of legislation to be constitutionally sound. That's because ruling parties must have the support of at least 120 of their own MPs in votes of confidence. Failure to reach this threshold in a major bill is an indirect censure from one's own side.

As Tsipras laid bare in a televised debate on Monday, however, the decision to resign seven months after coming to power was also the result of opportunism. 

"In the previous election we got 149 [seats in parliament], when there was a danger of leaving the euro. Now that that danger is gone … we can get the two extra MPs we need," he said, referring to the 151 absolute majority a party needs to rule in Greece's 300-seat legislature. 

Syriza leapfrogged to power by triggering early elections, as the austerity crisis wore down Greece's traditional power-brokers - the socialists and conservatives.

It jumped from 16 to 26 percent of the vote in 2012 by refusing to join a conservative-led coalition, leading to a hung parliament and repeat polls. It came to power with 36 percent of the vote by refusing to support the conservatives' choice of president this year, triggering another premature election.

Still in favour

When Tsipras resigned on August 20, Syriza was still riding above its January performance in some polls, though its support was dropping fast. The party's hopes of retaining power are now pinned on Tsipras' modest and telegenic personality.

"He's young. He's honest. He hasn't been in power long enough to be corrupt," says Katerina, an out-of-work hairdresser from the western Athens suburb of Aigaleo. "It's the other parties brought Greece to this pass over 40 years. I shall never vote for them again."

She forgives him his negotiating stumble with Europe's debt-collectors, saying "it was clear that he wasn't ready, but there were interests in Greece and abroad that wanted him to fail".

"There was never an alternative [to austerity]," says Nikos Divis, a pensioner, who believes Germany's Christian Democrats led a pan-European crusade to eradicate the emergence of the left in southern Europe.

"The Europe of solidarity and partnership doesn't want solidarity… It's all about who will strangle whom."

Despite the unpopularity of austerity, four-fifths of Greeks still favour remaining in the Eurozone. Both frontrunners - Syriza and the conservative New Democracy - are now pro-Euro parties vowing to do what it takes to keep Greece there, and that makes them pro-austerity.

"The Greek people are humbled, exhausted and deeply disappointed. They just want a bit of peace," says Petros Raptis, a film-maker and lifelong leftist, who believes the fighting spirit that elected Syriza to overturn austerity last January has evaporated.

"[Greeks] will no longer elect Tsipras in the ordinary sense. They will give him not so much a mandate as a vote of tolerance." 

'Logic of no growth'

There is a true alternative to austerity propagated by Popular Unity, a party made up of former Syriza backbenchers. It says prosperity is not possible within the Eurozone, because creditors will not allow Greece to do what it must to properly restructure its economy.

"The debt ends up shaping the entire economic policy of Greece, and that policy means austerity and liberalisation, privatisation and so on," says economist and Popular Unity candidate Kostas Lapavitsas. "That's a dead end for Greece... That's the logic of no growth."

Lapavitsas says a mere extension of its repayment schedule is no longer enough for Greece to prosper. The debt must simply be forgiven - or unilaterally defaulted on if necessary - and cease to loom over the country.

Popular Unity also says private enterprise cannot rebuild the economy with banks in private hands. It would nationalise the banking system and pump liquidity into small and medium-sized businesses.

"Greece has become already a marginal and insignificant country in the monetary union and the EU," says Lapavitsas. "Why? Because it's going nowhere economically. It's a beggar, fundamentally, and it has terms dictated to it. We want to reverse that."

Lapavitsas says Tsipras was simply naive. "The leadership had the wrong strategy," he says, "and the strategy was, 'we've got a good programme, a sensible programme… If we go there and argue coherently, our friends and allies and partners will understand the error of their ways… In the end they will back down.'

"Syriza went there… It came up against a brick wall, basically. In the end it was subjected to blackmail because that's the nature of the monetary union, the power relations there, and it surrendered completely."

In sentimental terms, many Greeks agree. "There was an alternative to austerity, but they didn't negotiate right - nobody did," says Roula Ifanti, a disgruntled civil servant. "We answered to the Germans before and we are still answering to them."

Ignoring the alternative

But it is doubtful that Ifanti or many other Greeks will vote for Popular Unity. Polls suggest it will win only single digits.

While many people say the current austerity plan won't work, a poll by Rass published by the non-partisan newspaper To Paron last month had 81.2 percent of respondents saying Popular Unity's alternative proposal would be impossible to implement.

"There wasn't overwhelming support from people for a period of hardship," says Raptis, who spent years in exile under the seven-year Greek dictatorship in the 1960s and '70s.

"In other times, Greece might have relied upon domestic products. Now we have no manufacturing, or it is bought out by multinationals. We can no longer subsist, and starting the economy from scratch requires a long, long primary period to yield results."

Constitutional lawyer Yiorgos Sotirelis says the election is about a cynical political calculation.

Greek electoral law awards the top party a 50-seat bonus in the legislature, equivalent to 17 percent of the vote. By virtue of that bonus, whoever pips the other at the post, even by a single vote, wins the premiership and command of a coalition. For Syriza and New Democracy, that primacy could prove existential.

"The electoral system falsifies the election result," says Sotirelis, who supports more proportional representation. He puts parties' failure to alter what he describes as "one of the worst election laws this country has ever known" down to "political Machiavellianism".

However, both front-runners are stuck in the high 20s in opinion polls. It is conceivable that whichever wins will only be able to govern through a marriage of convenience with the other.

Such a grand coalition took place once before, between socialists and conservatives. It lasted five months and is remembered by Greeks as a vehicle hijacked by the country's creditors.

Even in the plodding, non-aspirational atmosphere of this election, such a marriage of convenience is unlikely to last long.

Friday, 11 September 2015

A tragedy of errors

This review of The Full Catastrophe by James Angelos was published in The Weekly Standard under the title, "Greece on the Edge". 

When journalist James Angelos embarks on a series of trips to report on the Greek debt crisis, he finds that no-one is to blame for it.

On Zakynthos, for example, three quarters of blindness disability beneficiaries were exposed as frauds. The island’s ophthalmologist had liberally handed out certificates of blindness, countersigned by the prefect.

Angelos approaches the prefect first: “The doctor!” he says. “Only he has responsibility. The doctor puts you down as blind. Not the prefect.” Angelos duly interviews the ophthalmologist: “One of the people who put down a signature was me,” he admits. “Even if there are a thousand signatures, if the prefect doesn’t sign it, no-one gets anything.”

More astonishing than these men’s self-defence is their eventual fate. Although the island is buzzing with talk of the scandal, the prefect runs for its parliamentary seat and wins. The ophthalmologist quietly retires from the national health system with full pension.

Anyone left incredulous at this lack of accountability should enjoy Angelos’ telling of how two treasurers at the municipality of Pangaio, in northern Greece, lured their mayor to a rendezvous and shot him dead with an Uzi submachine gun. The treasurers could not account for €700,000 missing from municipal accounts. At their trial, they claimed that the mayor had forced them to embezzle.

The jury convicted, but embezzlement and murder notwithstanding, the treasurers were able to continue to provide for their families at public expense for nearly four more years. Even after they lost an appeal, the disciplinary process “took really long to start functioning properly,” as one government official put it.

The Full Catastrophe is based on stories Angelos originally covered for The Wall Street Journal. Reworked and expanded, they illuminate the nature of the problems that led Greece to its present pass - opacity, unaccountability and lack of meritocracy in a bloated public sector, and among many who have dealings with it.

Angelos’ prose is beautifully light, and capable of large, yet unobtrusive, shipments of information. He has a Herodotean gift for quoting direct speech. What people say and how they say it are his chief means of observing them, since his interviewees are strangers to him. The cumulative effect is that rather than drawing heavy-handed conclusions, Angelos ripens them in the reader’s mind.

Occasionally Angelos leads readers to judgments without cultural context. In a chapter on the vast influx of Europe-bound war refugees Greece has received in recent years, he quotes dreadful racism in the mouths of Greeks: “If you were an old man and saw fifty blacks walking down the street past your house – and I’m talking very black – wouldn’t you be afraid?” and old man asks him in the border town of Tychero (p192).

It is true that many Greeks say such things, but Angelos’ Western readers are sophisticated enough to understand political correctness. His sources are not.

On the few occasions when Angelos expresses an unabashed conclusion, it is well aimed. After listening to rants against Jews, Muslims and Turks, Angelos says: “The monolithic, ossified brand of Greek nationalism that has long concealed evidence of past pluralism has served to denigrate the concept of Hellenism itself, making it trite, insular and fragile.” (p. 187). This is the manifest anguish of a worldly Greek lamenting attitudes that ultimately imperil his ancestral homeland.


The Full Catastrophe requires one important caveat: while it does very well recording primary problems that led Greece to over-borrow, it spends almost no time discussing the secondary problems created by creditors’ prescribed therapy.

In 2013 one of those creditors, the International Monetary Fund, acknowledged that it had miscalculated the so-called multiplier effect of austerity. Whereas it had estimated that the economy would shrink by 50 cents for every euro cut from public spending, the lack of competitiveness in the Greek economy made it twice as vulnerable. A report by the Bruegel Group, a Brussels think-tank, reached similar conclusions the following year. Miscalculations such as these emboldened Greek parliament speaker Zoi Konstantopoulou to make the absurd claim that Greece’s entire debt is due to austerity, and that Greece should repay none of it.

As early as 2010, the IMF told the European Union that attempting to finance Greece without a generous, up-front debt reduction was unsustainable. The EU did not want to listen, largely because French and German banks held more than €100bn in Greek debt. A haircut to the Greeks meant another bailout of European banks, two years after governments spent €1.3tr refinancing them.

Some debt reduction came in 2012, when the IMF threatened to pull out of a second institutional loan to Greece, but this was foisted upon the private sector. This meant that 80 percent of the €103bn discount came from Greek banks, Greek pension funds and Greek educational institutions, whose savings at the Bank of Greece had been converted to bonds. Pension funds, which lost €12.8bn, have remained crippled ever since, and must be subsidised with budget money.

Finally, creditors prescribed a €50bn privatisation plan, through which Greece guaranteed bailing-in public assets. But privatising every shred of public infrastructure taxpayers had built, including the power grid, roads, rail, ports, and airports, would not be enough. Vast amounts of public land would have to be bundled, securitised and dumped on the market, severely devaluing the real estate banks held against non-performing mortgages.

Compounding these grave design flaws were Greek errors of execution. The Greek civil service represents over 15 percent of all people in work. It is Greece’s best-paid and most tightly unionised workforce, capable of swinging elections. Governments opted for across-the-board wage cuts rather than layoffs. These had a knock-on effect on the private sector, reducing minimum wage by a fifth, to €3.33 an hour. Unemployment remains at 25 percent despite the wage cut, but the civil service continues to enjoy tenure. The state is a Holy Cow that continues to lie across Greece’s road to recovery.

Crisis-era governments also kowtowed to pensioners and the nearly retired, together more than a quarter of the population. They have suffered benefit cuts of more than 20 percent, but in a country where only 3.5 million out of 11 million people still work, this isn’t enough. Retirement benefits still haven’t come down as much as health spending over five years (over 50 percent) and funding for higher education (three quarters), nor have they allowed a much-touted corporate tax cut from 26 percent to 15 percent – all of which would arguably have helped the economy more than pensioner-driven consumer spending.

In short, Greek governments never claimed ownership of reforms the country needs. It is easier to take orders resentfully and blame creditors for policy failures. For pensioners and the civil service, who together claim more than half the budget, they contemplated only generational change, as though these groups should never be disabused of their expectations, which have become entitlements writ in stone. So just as people benefited unequally in the good times, they have suffered unequally in the bad.

The Greek failure of leadership and the creditors’ foul-ups now mean that years of austerity have brought a balanced budget but little prospect of growth or jobs. Many Greeks now believe that the bailouts weren’t even meant in good faith, but as a means of economic colonialism. They have a sense of their fight for sovereignty and dignity as the vanguard of a global struggle for the soul of capitalism.

It is this resentment and mistrust that brought the leftwing Syriza party, or Radical Left Coalition, to power in January. Syriza promised to focus on growth and end the vicious cycle of austerity and recession by rescheduling Greece’s debt.

Greece currently has 16 years to repay the €204bn principal to the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund. The level of wealth extraction from the Greek economy required to achieve this is as high as 4.5 percent of GDP a year. Syriza wants this lowered to between 1.2 and 1.5 percent of GDP. In a debt sustainability analysis the IMF recently agreed, suggesting that Greece be given a 30-year grace period followed by a 40-year repayment period – essentially the rest of the century.

After five months of tortuous negotiations, a third, €86bn loan was agreed on July 13. Greece was offered a €35bn investment fund and a promise to discuss debt sustainability in the autumn. But Syriza got this is in return for going back on its promise to end austerity. Apart from further – needed - cuts to pensions, consumer tax and corporate tax will rise.

This has caused a rift within the party. The crisis has halved the life expectancy of elected governments and moved voters towards extremes. More badly implemented austerity will, sooner or later, give further impetus to that trend. 

How does one reconcile Angelos’ diligence with the lack of cultural context and a more balanced view of the multiple causes of the crisis? One believes Angelos when he claims a “fondness for Greece and many of its people”. The answer could be that Angelos’ perspective remains that of a diaspora Greek struggling to understand the complexes of his ancestral home.

Angelos has a good ear for popular wisdom. Greeks’ relationship with authority – both their own government’s and the European Union’s - has been transformed by this crisis, and not for the better. Surely the most fitting Greek saying for The Full Catastrophe is: Good friends don’t strike good bargains. Good bargains make good friends.