There’s an anti-austerity general strike today that could shut down most of the government, Mario Monti paid a visit and made meaningless pronouncements, the German finance minister is calling for patience, the eurobank says it can’t help in a bailout, the finance minister threatens to quit over cuts, doctors reveal a bloody truth, expats protest language class cuts, the suicide epidemic continues, and racism becomes a target.
Wednesday general strike challenges austerity
Government offices across the country are closed as the latest anti-austerity action challenges the government’s latest round of proposed Troika-mandated cuts.
A banner with the word ‘SOS’ announces Wednesday’s general strike as pedestrians wait to cross the road in Athens, Tuesday.
As government officials resumed talks on a tough austerity package ahead of the anticipated return of troika officials in coming days, Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras clarified Tuesday that a two-year extension that Greece is seeking for its fiscal adjustment period would cost between 13 and 15 billion euros.
In comments made to Reuters, Stournaras sought to curb wild speculation in the foreign press about the cost of an extension for Greece — which Germany’s Suddeutsche Zeitung set at 30 billion euros in its report Tuesday — and about the size of Greece’s fiscal deficit. “We estimate the funding gap that would be created if we get the two-year extension at 13 to 15 billion euros,” Stournaras said, adding that the size of Greece’s fiscal deficit was 13.5 billion euros, hence the need for 11.5 billion euros in spending cutbacks and 2 billion euros in new revenues.
More from Athens News:
The country will come to a standstill Wednesday as the two main labour unions, GSEE and ADEDY, have declared a 24-hour nationwide strike. The strike includes workers such as civil servants, teachers, doctors, hospital staff, merchants, lawyers, civil engineers, and bank employees.
Public transportation including ilektriko, trolleys and busses will run from 9am to 9pm, while the metro run 8am to 9pm, and the tram will work from 6am to 10pm. Proastiakos and OSE will not run. Airlines and ferries will also be striking, and the metro branch that goes to the Athens International Airport (stops Pallini, Peania, Kantza, Koropi, Airport) will not run.
The two unions are protesting finalisation of the 11.5 euro austerity package. A joint statement issued by ADEDY and GSEE reads, “During the past 2.5 years wages, pensions and benefits have been slashed repeatedly, yet the ‘monstrous debt’ remains intact and continually calls for new sacrifices and austerity measures.”
And this, from More from Agence France-Presse:
“S0S – save the country, but above all its people,” the leading union confederations the GSEE and ADEDY said in posters strung from lamp-posts across the capital.
“Salaries, pensions and benefits have been cut again and again for 2.5 years and the ‘monster’ of the debt and deficits remains invincible, constantly demanding new sacrifices,” the unions said in a statement.
Two general strikes were held against a previous austerity package in February, but this is the first walkout to test the three-party coalition government headed by conservative Prime Minister Antonis Samaras that came to power in June.
Mario Monti declines to offer advice to Greece
While the Italian rime Minister’s never at a loss for words, he was strangely reluctant to offer Greece the advice in public he’s so free to press behind closed doors.
Here’s the money question and his answer from an Ekathemerini interview:
What is your advice to the Greek prime minister and the Greek people at this point, when frustration with the results of the fiscal adjustment is clearly on the rise? Do you think it is possible to obtain better terms and more time for the implementation of its program?
It would be presumptuous for me to provide advice on specific policies for Greece as I don’t follow the situation closely enough. Nevertheless, experience shows that the sacrifices are worth the effort. And the Greek people are not alone. Italy is providing nearly a fifth of the financial support to Greece as well as to the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) and European Stability Mechanism (ESM), despite having a high level of debt and seeing its servicing costs increasing dramatically because of the crisis in the euro area and investors’ doubts about our collective resolve to solve it. Without its contribution to the financial assistance, Italy’s debt would be a full three percentage points of GDP lower.
I welcome the economic measures recently decided by the Greek government as a clear sign of its will to reform the economy. We are convinced that Greece will respect its commitments, pursue the structural reforms it needs in order to boost growth and employment, and continue the painful but necessary process of fiscal discipline that it has embarked upon. Italy is aware of the ongoing efforts that Greece is making to overcome the crisis and it will continue to support the strong commitment of the Greek authorities at the bilateral level as well as in the European context.
German money minister calls for patience
And avoid that speculation, he says. Indeed, it was that flood of speculative investments by various and sundry banksters that brought the country down, when added to a weak and often corrupt social structure.
But that’s not what Wolfie meant.
From Agence France-Presse:
German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble on Tuesday called for patience rather than engaging in “speculation” ahead of a report by Greece’s troika of international creditors.
“We all agree that we are totally patient in waiting for the next report of the troika,” he told reporters in Vaanta, Finland, after meeting with Finnish counterpart Jutta Urpilainen and Dutch Finance Minister Jan Kees de Jager.
“Any speculation before that doesn’t make sense,” he added when asked about the possibility of restructuring Athens’ debt again.
Representatives of the troika — the International Monetary Fund, the European Commission and the European Central Bank — called time out on Friday on lengthy bailout negotiations with Athens.
The talks are expected to resume this week.
Eurobank executive says it won’t bailout Greece
All the cash has got to come from national treasuries, not the bank’s, he says.
And that would mean the biggest chunk would have to come from Germany.
From Alexandra Hudson of Reuters:
Greece’s possible financing gap can only be filled by euro zone states and the European Central Bank would not participate in any potential debt restructuring, ECB executive board member Joerg Asmussen told German newspaper Die Welt.
In an advance copy of an interview to be published on Wednesday Asmussen told the paper: “The ECB would not be able to take part in any such restructuring, because this would constitute state financing, which is forbidden.”
Greece would need 13-15 billion euros more in funding if it were given a two-year extension to its bailout plan, its finance minister said on Tuesday, the first time Athens has put a price tag on its plea for more time to get its finances in order.
More from Lefteris Papadimas of Reuters:
Greece would need 13-15 billion euros more in funding if it were given a two-year extension to its bailout plan, its finance minister said on Tuesday, he first time Athens has put a price tag on its plea for more time to get its finances in order.
“We estimate the funding gap that would be created if we get the two-year extension at 13-15 billion euros,” Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras told Reuters at his office in central Athens, adding that the gap could be bridged without seeking more aid.
Greek officials have previously said such a gap could be covered through issuing short-term debt or seeking lower interest rates – avoiding forcing euro zone governments to stump up more money for Greece.
Athens could also ask the ECB to roll over its Greek bonds to help Athens plug any financing gaps from a budget shortfall or lower than expected privatisation revenue, Deputy Finance Minister Christos Staikouras said in a Sept. 19 document released on Tuesday.
Greek finance minister threatens to quit
All those demands to cut, cut, cut are getting on his nerves.
Well, imagine that.
From Greek Reporter:
Frustrated by relentless demands from international lenders that Greece make even deeper pay cuts, tax hikes and slashed pensions, Finance Minister Yiannis Stournaras threatened to resign during an intense meeting, the New York Times reported.
Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, under pressure to make another $14.6 billion in cuts, has put Stournaras, a highly-regarded thank tank economist lured into government services, as the point man in negotiations with the Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank (EU-IMF-ECB.)
The Times reported that Stournaras lost his temper when Thomsen demanded more cuts, and pointed to a hole in one of the windows of the Finance Ministry.
“You see this — this came from a bullet,” Stournaras said. “Do you want to overthrow the government?” referring to past social unrest and a massive general strike set for Sept. 26 with anger rising among the population over more austerity measures aimed at workers, pensioners and the poor.
Stournaras then threatened to resign rather than approve cuts to public employee pensions and salaries beyond the 5 billion euros ($6.5 billion) to which the government had agreed. When the incident was reported to Samaras a few minutes later, The Times said he called Thomsen to say that negotiations could not be conducted this way. Soon after, Thomsen left the meeting to let tensions cool and soon after the Troika left town with plans to return at the end of this week to resume talks.
Doctors reveal the bloody truth
Given that Greek hospital doctors make less than the California minimum wage, you have to admire their dediciation.
And their latest theatrical protests made sine critical points about the collapse of the country’s health system.
From Keep Talking Greece:
Trainee doctors in Attica state hospitals had an original idea to draw attention at the shortages and shortfalls in the Greek health care sector that is falling apart. During a protest on Tuesday morning, they doused artificial blood at the front of Evangelismos, the biggest state hospital in Athens.
With the slogan “The Health is bleeding” they wanted to symbolically emphasize how dangerous are the austerity measures and the cuts for patients and health sector workers alike.
Representatives of the Association of Trainee Doctors at Evangelismos stated that they were not allowed anymore to freely exercise the medical profession and treat patients according to patients’ needs but according to patients’ insurance status.
Other doctors’ associations gathered outside the health Ministry and demanded to be paid claiming payments for at lest two months.
According to medical news portal iatropedia.gr there has been hiring stop in the state hospitals of the country and thus for the last two years.
Dimitris Varnavas, chairman of Hospital Doctotrs’ Association (OENGE) recalled that the Papandreou government had claimed that health sector would be exempted from the Troika imposed measure to freeze hiring according to a scheme: one hiring for ten retirements.
“However a rate of 1:5 was implemented that soon turned into 1:10. Unfortunately in practice, the 1:10 scheme turned into 1:89 and this quickly moving towards 0:10?.
Greek expats protest language class cuts
The classes in questions teach the language to children of expatriates.
From Stella Tsolakidou of Greek Reporter:
Greek expatriates are preparing massive protests over the Greek government’s decision to halt Greek language schools from operating abroad from next summer. Diaspora Greeks around the world fear that thousands of young Greeks will lose contact with their mother-tongue and the Greek culture.
Greek communities from around the world and people working to promote Greece abroad have publicly denounced this measure taken by the government of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, who is readying a package of $14.6 billion in spending cuts ordered by international lenders.
The suicide epidemic continues
The utlimate gesture of despair, that taking of one’s own life, has been increasing in Greece since the crash, and one day last week peaked at fice deaths in the Athens region.
From Keep Talking Greece:
Five people reportedly committed suicide in different parts of the Greek capital. On a single day, five people were reportedly transferred to Evangelismos hospital in Athens. Last Thursday evening. One man had shot himself in the head, three women had jumped from their home balconies. A fourth woman had cut her belly with a knife. She was the only one doctors managed to save.
All fice people had a common motvie for their suicides: economic problems… serious economic problems…
Suicides for financial reasons have flared creating a nightmare especially in the big cities of Greece.
Human rights group slams Greek racism
The country’s not doing enough to head off the rise in racist rage, with immigrants and the Roma as its major targets.
The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI), the Council of Europe’s human rights body, reproached Greece on Tuesday for inadequately implementing its guidelines for tackling racist violence and issuing residence permits to immigrants.
The ECRI said it was waiting for a reaction from Greek authorities two years after making the recommendations, which include empowering the Ombudsman to provide aid to victims of racist attacks and running public awareness campaigns.
From When the Crisis hit the Fan, a graphic depiction by Manos Symeonakis of Greek’s neo-Nazi fringe, epitomized by Golden Dan:
Pasok pushes anti-racism law
While the law would ban hate speech, it’s a given that it can’t accomplish what Pasok claims for it.
From Athens News:
Ratification of the draft law on stamping out racism and xenophobia is an “absolute priority” for Pasok, a party announcement said on Tuesday.
Pasok stressed that the importance of fighting racism and xenophobia is timelier than ever, adding that the attacks against immigrants and other population groups were an offense to every democratic citizen of Greece.
It further said that extremely racist public statements, which incited such actions, were beyond the boundaries of the lawful and moral principles of an organised state.
Greco-American educators sound a racism warning
Here’s the statement from the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association:
Supreme President Dr. John Grossomanides has issued the following statement on the reported rise of extremism in Greece in recent months and its established presence in the United States:
“The American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association, founded ninety years ago to protect and guard individuals from the evils of bigotry and discrimination in the United States, is deeply concerned about the rise of extremism in Greece as reported by several prominent Greek media outlets in recent months.
“In fact, the rise of extremism has drawn the attention of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, who stated she was worried about ‘violent xenophobic attacks’ upon migrants, refugees and asylum seekers in Greece. Paramilitary-like tactics perpetrated upon any individuals of a free society is alarming.
“We furthermore strongly denounce and reject resoundingly the establishment of a branch of the Neo-Nazi party, Golden Dawn, in New York City. Fascism has no place in the United States, whose citizens, including many Greek Americans and Ahepans, fought and sacrificed to defeat Fascism in Nazi-occupied Greece during World War Two.
“We understand this is a difficult time for Greece and its people as austere economic measures and severe public sector reforms are implemented. However, extremism and uncivil disobedience are not the solutions. They are not what Greece needs at a time when assistance is required from the global community and when society must come together to overcome what is perhaps its most trying and unprecedented challenge in its modern history.
“Simply stated, such rhetoric and acts conducted by extremists on both the right and left are unacceptable and deeply concern us as a community and as Ahepans. These are similar to the types of incidents experienced by our immigrant forebears a century ago.
“Therefore, Justice Minister Antonis Roupakiotis’ condemnation of expressions of violence or hatred, whether directed against migrants or against Greek citizens, is welcomed by AHEPA.”