Greece Closer to Brink as President Karolos Papoulias Quits Attempts to Form Coalition Government
ATHENS, Greece - The miracle did not happen. Ten days after the general election held on May 6, the Greek President has decided to quit trying to cobble together a coalition government as no combination of parties with the required minimum of 151 MPs in the 300-seat Greek Parliament could be found. President Karolos Papoulias has announced that another general election should take place Sunday, June 10 or June 17.
This is bad news for the European Union and United States, since Greece will be without political leadership for a month, and private markets have long lost patience with the unending crisis. Greece, a NATO member and long-time U.S. ally, could even be pushed out of the European Union and its financial Eurozone. That could trigger a crash the markets in Spain, and the Spanish economy is five times bigger than Greece's. The economic recovery of all of Europe is jeopardized, and, as President Obama has repeated on numerous occasions, the U.S. economy needs a strong Europe - the number one buyer of American exports.
At 2 p.m., the Greek President had organized a meeting in the presidential palace in Athens, with leaders of almost all the major Greek political parties. Only the leaders of the Communist and Neo-Fascist parties were left out. Two hours later, the politicians came out, without a word for journalists.
Fifteen minutes later came a communique from the Presidency, announcing the calling of new elections. From this point, the constitution explicitly sets the course. The senior judge in the highest rank temporarily assumes the office of prime minister. The meeting called for May 16 at the presidency is intended solely for the appointment of three ministers to handle the transitional electoral process.
The bone of contention remains the famous "memorandum" of fiscal and structural reforms that the IMF, ECB, EU have imposed on Greece in exchange for some 240 billion euros worth of subsidized loans, to be released in installments, depending on progress made. The socialist PASOK and conservative ND parties, who had accepted the terms of this Memorandum at the beginning of the year, reiterated that the country should stick to them, all other parties campaigned to reject it, and they still refuse the terms. The problem is that the last election dealt huge losses to both PASOK and ND, leaving them with only 149 seats in total. The two parties alternately ruled Greece since the fall of a military regime in 1974.
Saying that Greece must honor its signature to avoid exclusion from the euro area, PASOK and ND have already begun negotiations to form a front that can win the required majority in Parliament. The various small liberal parties, who accept global capitalism and who believe that no country can live beyond the wealth it produces are being targeted. But none of them won seats in Parliament in the recent election.
This political circus - and the paralysis it causes in the civil service is hitting Greece at the worst time. Demands for payment of property taxes - to be included on utility bills - have not been mailed. The government no longer has enough money to pay the salaries and pensions of the public sector for the month of June. Privatizations are stopped; bank recapitalization also; and the recession being stoked by all the enforced austerity cutbacks is deepening - the Greek GDP fell by 6.5 percent in the first quarter alone. Banks are not lending and big savers are withdrawing their deposits. Foreign investors are long gone. 50 percent of youth are unemployed. The economy is collapsing.
"Ultimately, it is perhaps a good thing," said a 50-year-old businessman sitting in a café next to the presidency. "We run to the drachma and a purge that will last twenty years. Greece has behaved like a spoiled child, thief, megalomaniac. The solution [s] a strict diet!
"Our political demagogy, our mafia economy, all this could not last forever," he adds with a resigned smile, sounding almost relieved, "It is time for the Greeks to return to zero, to bounce back on a sound basis!"