sexta-feira, 12 de dezembro de 2014

Modernisation remains the big challenge for Greece

Whatever was on the minds of investors who dumped Greek stocks and bonds this week, reigniting fears about the eurozone’s stability, it was almost certainly not the hunger strike of a 21-year-old self-styled anarchist imprisoned for armed robbery.

Yet what dominated the nation’s television news was not the market rout and its immediate cause — anxiety that the radical left might come to power thanks to the surprise decision of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, to call a snap presidential election. Rather, the top news item was the deal cooked up by politicians to end the hunger strike of Nikos Romanos by letting him attend university lectures, albeit tagged with an electronic bracelet.

Beyond the intriguing fact that Romanos is a convicted bank robber who wants to study business administration, there is a closer connection than meets the eye between his prison protest and the market turmoil. The aspiring student, who still faces charges of belonging to a terrorist organisation, serves for many Greeks as a symbol of their suffering country, hungry and desperate after almost five years of what they see as increasingly pointless servitude to cruel foreign creditors.

Others take a more jaundiced view of Romanos. They regard him as a privileged middle-class radical, a young man whose comfortable upbringing, anti-establishment politics and handsome features make him curiously similar to Alexis Tsipras, the 40-year-old leader of Syriza, the leftwing party that is the bête noire of foreign investors and European governments.

A political career may yet await Romanos after his prison term and business studies. But what bothers Greece’s eurozone partners is whether Mr Tsipras will replace Mr Samaras as prime minister — and, if so, whether he will outrage them by behaving like Leon Trotsky, the Bolshevik who insisted on repudiating tsarist Russia’s foreign debt; or mollify them by emulating François Hollande, the French president whose government is shedding its socialist shibboleths like autumn leaves.

The presidential election gives Mr Tsipras a sniff at power. Mr Samaras’s coalition government will struggle to cobble together the three-fifths parliamentary majority required to elect the prime minister’s candidate, Stavros Dimas, a former EU commissioner. If the gamble fails, Greece will hold a general election — and Syriza holds a consistent lead of 4 to 7 percentage points in opinion polls over New Democracy, Mr Samaras’s Conservative party.

Superficially, this seems a scenario rife with danger — and that is why the Athens stock market on Tuesday suffered its biggest one-day fall since 1987. After all, Mr Tsipras stands for a drastic rescheduling of foreign debt, a politically explosive step for the nation’s European creditors. It would expose as nonsense the solemn reassurances given to German and other voters that Greece will one day fully repay its multibillion-euro loans. Solidarity in the eurozone might be strained to the limit.

Yet in certain respects Mr Tsipras is advocating only what a number of perfectly level-headed foreign economists advocate, too. It beggars belief that Athens will ever repay all its debts. In any case, its creditors have already stretched the maturity of their loans far into the future and have significantly lowered the interest payable. A partial debt write-off might help attract foreign investment, by enabling Greece to borrow on more favourable terms, and might breathe life into private sector businesses.

Arguably, the truly foolish element of Syriza’s programme is its determination to ramp up public expenditure and dilute the creditors’ attempts to make the state efficient for the first time in 182 years of independence. These policies make Mr Tsipras look less like a wild-eyed extremist — though he was a communist in his youth — than a 21st-century version of Andreas Papandreou, the late socialist premier who built the patronage political system that put Greece on the path to perdition.

The chances are slim that Syriza, even in office, will ever be strong enough to implement its policies in full. In the first place, its electoral support seems too limited to win it an outright parliamentary majority. In a coalition, it would have to make compromises.

More to the point, Greece’s international standing is weak and any future government would have to negotiate with its creditors. The US, though critical of Germany’s handling of the eurozone crisis, would never align itself with a dysfunctional minnow such as Greece at the expense of Berlin, Europe’s weightiest power. Russia, though close to Greece in its Orthodox religion, is in the west’s bad books because of its intervention in Ukraine, and it would be rash for Athens to place its bets on Moscow.

China is ever alert to investment opportunities in Greece, but it appreciates the need for a stable, united eurozone. As for Ireland, Portugal and others which, like Greece, needed emergency financial rescues, none — even Cyprus — has any desire to be bracketed with Athens as a feckless debtor.

What should preoccupy Europe’s leaders and investors is not the parliamentary arithmetic in Athens, or the cuts that the creditors want in the 2015 budget. It is whether Greece has the desire and capacity to continue the arduous modernisation effort begun in 2010 — or whether it will maintain old structures of clientelism, corruption and oligarchy under a façade of obedience to foreign overlords.

Fonte: FT