The arrest of the leader and deputy leader of Golden Dawn – alongside other Golden Dawn MPs and party members – has been greeted with applause by liberals inside and outside Greece.
There is little doubt that Golden Dawn is a genuinely nasty party whose members are guilty of rhetorical and actual violence against immigrants and whose leadership revels in paramilitary and fascist imagery. All those who fear that economic turmoil will undermine Greek democracy have been able to point to the gains made by Golden Dawn.
And yet, while the party is undoubtedly authentically horrible, I wonder whether the crackdown is really such a great idea. Mass arrests of legitimately elected politicians should always spark unease. As several commentators have pointed out, the last time this kind of thing happened in Greece was after the fall of a military junta, in 1974. Read more
A protestor outside the Greek parliament (Milos Bicanski/Getty Images)
It’s no secret in Athens that austerity-weary Greeks would like to see a grand coalition emerge from Sunday’s elections in Germany. The participation in government of Peer Steinbrück and his Social Democrats, say café pundits, could bring a softening of the “keep-them-on-the-reform-treadmill” approach associated with Angela Merkel’s previous term as chancellor. Read more
♦The US National Security Agency and the FBI are tapping directly into the central servers of nine leading internet companies. Glenn Greenwald, who broke the story for the Guardian, has been focused on government surveillance for years and the article is expected to attract an investigation from the justice department.
♦ Turkey is having its 1969, writes Ben Judah, and now it needs its Charles de Gaulle.
♦ Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s absence in Turkey this week has highlighted the difference in style between him and Abdullah Gul, the president.
♦ Ollie Rehn, the European Commission’s economic chief, has lashed out at the IMF’s criticism of the first Greek bailout, accusing the fund of revisionist history.
♦ What are the choices for Syrian citizens now? They are all grim and make the Geneva talks more urgent than ever, says Charles Glass.
♦ The humanities division at Harvard University is attracting fewer undergraduates amid concerns about the degree’s value in a rapidly changing job market. Read more
In the week of Margaret Thatcher’s funeral – and with the euro-crisis bubbling along – it is interesting to take a look back at what Thatcher had to say about the single currency. Much of the commentary since her death has portrayed Thatcher’s views on Europe as irrational and backward-looking. For example, Anne-Marie Slaughter in the FT, wrote that “her attitude to Europe was a throwback to the 19th century”. For good measure, Prof Slaughter adds that Thatcher’s views were “deeply anachronistic and dangerous”. Of course, there was a strong element of emotion in Thatcher’s views of Europe. So what? It is more interesting to note that she also made some quite precise criticisms of the European single currency that look increasingly prescient, as time wears on. Read more
(AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis, Pool)
Listening to François Hollande’s comments on his flying visit to Greece earlier this week was like hearing a reprise of his electoral campaign, in which he promised to lead a European-wide fight against austerity.
In Athens, Hollande praised the Greek government and said that, for Greece – “The next phase is one of growth and creating jobs, not more sacrifices.” Sadly, although there are signs that private-sector investment in Greece is picking up, there is also certainly more austerity and more job cuts to come, in the public sector.
President Hollande was only in Athens briefly, and so is hardly likely to be held to account for his remarks in Greece. What is more problematic is that the latest figures suggest that he will be unable to hold off the drive for more austerity back home in France. Economic growth is down and the French economy may even shrink in 2013 – compared to the Hollande administration’s initial projection of growth of 0.8%. Partly as a result, France is going to miss its target of getting the country’s deficit below the EU-mandated 3%. Read more
There was a big kerfuffle in October when the IMF made a point of saying that it (along with a bunch of other forecasters) had underestimated the effect of fiscal tightening on European economic growth over the past couple of years, with obvious implications for the troika’s austerity programmes for the likes of Ireland, Greece and Spain.
The admission got some predictable pushback from troika members who have drunk deep from the austerian well. It was also questioned by my colleague Chris Giles, who pointed out that the results were highly sensitive to the inclusion in the sample of outlier countries – especially Germany (which, despite its frugal prescription for others, has itself followed expansionary fiscal policy and enjoyed good growth) and Greece (the opposite) – and possibly the exclusion of the Baltic states, which followed aggressive fiscal tightening to better effect than Greece. Read more
With friends like these…. Jean-Claude Juncker and Christine Lagarde. (AFP)
It’s not as if the troika of eurozone rescue lenders never falls out, but usually it takes a not-in-front-of-the-children attitude to airing its rows. A refreshing change on Monday night, as my colleagues Peter Spiegel and Josh Chaffin report, when the eurogroup summit, while not actually deciding anything substantive, made sure it would stand out from the dozens of other such gatherings by hosting a very public argument between the eurogroup’s Jean-Claude “We all know what to do, we just don’t know how to get re-elected after we’ve done it” Juncker and the IMF’s Christine Lagarde.
The actual substance of the spat looks laughably trivial. It’s about whether Greece hits its 120 per cent of GDP debt target in 2020 or in 2022, which, given the huge uncertainties in forecasting debt dynamics, is about as precise as a Florida election count. The 120 per cent target is itself pretty arbitrary, apparently based on what seems to be sustainable in Italy, which is a very different country with a more flexible economy and captive domestic investor base for government bonds. Read more
Gideon Rachman blogs on how damaging the trial of Costas Vaxevanis will be for Greece. Read more
German chancellor Angela Merkel with Greek prime minister Antonis Samaras on October 9 in Athens (Thanassis Stavrakis/AFP/GettyImages)
The last time Angela Merkel visited Greece was in 2007 – which, incidentally, was also the last year the country recorded positive economic growth. Greece has seen its annual output shrink ever since; its economy rocked by a debt crisis, its political leaders repeatedly forced to go cap in hand to its richer eurozone cousins. Of these, Germany is the most important, but opinion polls suggest its public has long grown impatient with Athens’ failure to keep its promises. Locked in an embrace that neither would have chosen – Germany attempting to pull Greece out of its fiscal crisis; Greece, ever more dependent on Berlin’s support, but resenting its interference – the question is whether the two countries will hug tighter, or finally break apart. Could Merkel’s meeting with Antonis Samaras on Tuesday herald a friendlier era? Read more
If Greek citizens aren’t angry enough at the condescending and ignorant manner in which northern Europeans discuss their plight, I invite them to inspect the opinions of Jürgen Ligi, Estonia’s finance minister.
An interview with Mr Ligi appeared on Monday on the extremely handy European affairs blog that is published by the London School of Economics.
In answer to the question “Do you think that austerity measures in countries like Greece have gone far enough?”, here’s what the Estonian minister said:
“I honestly haven’t seen any austerity in Greece. It’s a rich country with a high level of consumption, and the present situation in Greece is far better than what we experienced in Estonia in the early 1990s. They are spending a lot – much more than they earn – so it can’t be called austerity.”
Let’s think about that.
Greece is projected next year to endure its sixth consecutive year of deep recession. By then, economic output will be 25 per cent below the peak of the boom years that marked Greece’s initial experience of eurozone membership. Read more