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How Would I Vote If I Were Greek?

By: Contributor - Jul 1, 2015, 8:58 am
Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and his Syriza party have only led Greece from bad to worse. (Joanna)
Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and his Syriza party have only led Greece from bad to worse. (Joanna)

By Jan Gajentaan

The wave of tropical temperatures in the Netherlands appear to have set my imagination in motion. What if I were a Greek, with my recruitment agency located somewhere in beautiful Athens and this week considering how to vote on Sunday in the euro referendum?

Would it be “no” (no to the aid package in exchange for reforms and austerity measures, and an endorsement of Tsipras) or “yes”? In the latter case, it would be voting down Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and his Syriza party, who have announced that they will pack their bags and leave if the yes camp win.

Now, the status of this referendum is surrounded by fog anyway. The status of Greece as a member of European Union and euro zone is extremely unclear, since the country has formally defaulted with the International Monetary Fund as of early Wednesday, an “honor” shared by countries such as Somalia and Zimbabwe.

If I were a Greek entrepreneur and responsible for a family — just like the Greek businessman Yannis Panagiotopoulos, whom I saw interviewed recently on Dutch news program Nieuwsuur — I would be just like him, greatly concerned about my family, my company, and my country.

Panagiotopoulos, who does not like at all the socialist populists of Syriza, indicated in the interview that Greece has a tradition of civil war and dictatorship, and tempers are starting to become very hot. He is very worried indeed, and with great regret has let go some of his 60 employees, as the country is declining into financial chaos.

Consider that Syriza took 36.3 percent of the votes at the last Greek elections, but through the complicated electoral system (50 bonus seats for the majority party) Syriza now occupies 149 out of 300 parliamentary seats — so nearly half the total.

Now, if I were a Greek national but otherwise myself, my first priority would be to vote down the amateurish party of Tsipras. In the past six months, they have done everything to make themselves impossible to work with, not only in the eyes of European Union and the International Monetary Fund, but even in they eyes of the Obama administration. In the beginning, US officials were taking a favorable view, but after a few meetings with unprepared Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis, they appear to have changed their minds, leaving Syriza with Putin, of all people, as their only “friend.”

Syriza had been polarizing the country. Other than that, they have not delivered any economic advancement or notable performance. Unemployment is growing fast, while it was falling at the end of 2014.

On the other hand, if I were a Greek, I would likewise be unenthusiastic about the harsh austerity policies of the Troika in recent years. Moreover, I would realize — as a recruitment specialist you follow market developments closely — that the euro currency is simply too expensive for Greece.

The euro is about 30 percent too expensive for Greek businesses, as explained by experts such as German Professor H.W. Sinn. That means that small businesses and industry (which hardly exist anymore) are being destroyed in Greece because of the euro.

The country has become too expensive, through the falsely created and heavily debt-related prosperity of the euro in the 2002-2010 period, and lost competitiveness. As Sinn clarifies, this is the fault of European politicians as much as Greek politicians; they share the burden of guilt together.

The path of internal devaluation (in this case, lower wages), as imposed by the Troika, has had a devastating effect on citizens and businesses. The country now has more than 25 percent unemployment and more than 50 percent unemployment among young people.

I would also realize that reintroducing the drachma — a parallel currency or a model such as the Matheo Solution — would brings back monetary flexibility within the framework of the euro. A currency devaluation would be possible and would almost immediately bring a real impetus to Greek agriculture, tourism, and construction.

Moreover, the Greeks would then buy their own products again: these would be cheaper after a devaluation, while goods from abroad would become more expensive. Greek businesses would then get a boost.

But then again, could I be confident that a Syriza government would manage sensibly the advantages of a national currency? Would the interventionist populists, like their comrades in Venezuela, bring shortsighted policies, corrupting the nation with Chavista everything-is-free policies? Would they line their own pockets and then sell the land for pennies on the dollar to China and Russia?

At that point, I’d drink a few ouzo and make up my mind. My decision would probably be to vote “yes,” in favor of euro and EU membership, and against Tsipras. I would hope that as a result of the yes side winning the national referendum, a national government would be formed quickly, one to save what still can be saved. It would ideally try to reach an updated agreement with the Troika, on conditions as favorable to Greece as possible.

But at the same time, even if Greece remains a EU and euro member, I would fervently hope for finally some serious consideration in the European Union about the return to monetary flexibility. The above-mentioned Matheo Solution, with national currencies alongside the euro, could be the best option we have. If this is not possible, perhaps a parallel currency can be tried just in Greece. A euro-drachma, parallel to the euro, could be used for domestic payments and thus give Greek industry and small business ventures a helping hand.

I am, of course, not a Greek national, but a Dutchman, and no supporter of our own finance minister, Jeroen Dijsselbloem. We’ll wait and see what the Greek people decide on Sunday in their wisdom. The consequences of the referendum, because of the enormous complexity of the financial situation, are very foggy. Let’s hope, above all, for all those benevolent Greeks such as Yannis Panagiotopoulos, his family and his employees, that Greece does not go deeper into a chaos in the coming weeks and months.

P.S. The latest development from this morning is that Tsipras has made another U-turn and sent a letter to Brussels, announcing that he will accept the Troika package after all, with some minor adjustments. It is unclear how this might affect the referendum on Sunday. Most likely, Syriza is now changing its position from a “no” to a “yes-if,” presumably to merely survive in power beyond Monday.

Jan Gajentaan is an independent human-resources consultant based in Rotterdam, Netherlands. Follow @jangajentaan.