November 17, 2014
Four years of harsh economic austerity are certainly not a fundamental factor for a country to dissolve. Austerity can be a major factor for social unrest, political instability, extreme poverty and unemployment, growing grievances – but certainly not the departing point for a complete collapse. At least the collapse we have in mind when we think of civil wars, ethnic clashes, or internal conflicts.
As 2014 comes to an end, we might eloquently state that Greece is a state in full dissolution. This observance might stem from the lenses of our generation, the people crossing their 30s, but it can also be attributed to a number of facts that when put together, shape a rather uncomfortable, not to say worried, situation.
The quest for self-perseverance and the European Monetary Union
In winter 2011, and for the first time since joining the European Community in 1981, the term “Grexit” appeared in the headlines around the globe. Greece reached at that time the maximum degree of distrust by its partner states in the European Union. Rumors that the government was planning to default from the bail-out program through a referendum over the fate of the county within the consolidation program, and the EMU consequently, stirred up the discomfort of the main political figures in the Union. The government stepped back, but the national elections of 2012 brought an even fuzzier situation in politics and society: the economic crisis in Greece has taken structural features after a couple of years of implementing harsh austerity. In this context, the problem for Greece is no more the question of perceiving austerity and how to survive within it or even exit the consolidation programs successfully, but rather the conceptualization of an economic and social situation that resembles more to a country, and nation, with no clear goals and objectives, no plan and no will to address social, education, public, and foreign policy.
The Youth and the Bubble of Start-Up Companies
Since 2010, many informative and success-sharing gatherings, such as TEDx Athens, have been upscaled to monumental events through which innovative thinking in business was presented in the public, and where successful leaders around the globe were invited to motivate and re-brand Greece and its young entrepreneurs. In a country with a highly-educated youth that in large has no professional experience, and most importantly without having practiced its skills earned throughout education, “innovative thinking in business” is not the problem. It is just a way to grow your business, given that you have passed all necessary steps to build a business and achieved to overcome all burdens faced, such as funding, expertise, bureaucracy, taxation.
Well-established private foundations in Greece have given emphasis to the “added-value” of such events towards the entrepreneurial mobilization of Greek youth, in a business environment that lacks all essentials for a young businessman to flourish. And here comes the outcome of this process: since 2011, in a country where over 51% of workforce below 35 years old is unemployed, more than 200 start-up companies are created per year. The majority of them is tech-driven, being therefore unable to absorb and employ over 5 employees and therefore lacking the capacity to create labor-intensive conditions. In Greece, more than 10,000 companies in labor-intensive industries are needed in order to effectively address sky-rocketed unemployment. Innovation is vital, but it is not a panacea, especially under such abnormal employment conditions. In the meantime, Greece has not achieved to bring about a strong and functional, business-friendly environment, being ranked as the less appealing and most fractured place for someone to start a business in the EU28.
Strategic Gaps in Education and Foreign Isolation
The education system in Greece is not built to address the needs and strengths of its economy. The education model is not structured in alignment with the assets of the country in certain areas of economic production and growth. Greece is traditionally bound to rural production, shipping, and tourism, holding a large share of the GDP. Yet, the most demanding university schools to enter in Greece in terms of grade scaling, such as law, medicine, and architecture, share over 40% of young unemployed graduates.
In terms of foreign policy priorities, Greece has lost significant leverage outside EU with regards to partnerships and effective transnational lobbying over certain issues. Among the most pending and “popular” ones, is the recognition of the official name of FYROM, the bilateral issues with Turkey regarding the exclusive economic zone, the quagmire in Eastern Thrace, the bilateral relations with Albania regarding the Greek minority in the southern parts of the country and the exploitation of natural resources in the northern part of the Ionian Islands, and, to some considerable extent, the Cyprus issue, as long as Greece is a strategic ally of Cyprus with strong cultural and historical ties. In addition, Greece has not established solid synergies with Russia with reference to energy partnership, a bilateral relation that has been further destabilized, negatively affected after the ongoing tensions in Ukraine and the imposition of sanctions over the exports of agricultural goods over the Russian market.
In the European Parliament, a great part of Greek MEPs are endeavoring to unveil all the aforementioned issues with respect to the enhancement of Greece’s position in the decision-making process in Brussels. This is the first sign of a major shift on the way pivotal issues of national concern should be addressed regardless of political affiliations or strategies. Political parties in Greece should possibly learn from this mutlipartite cooperation in the European Parliament and take into consideration the next steps of building broad alliances in domestic politics.Dimitris Rapidis