Greek Member of Parliament Harry Theoharis: Greece Blames Everybody But Itself for its Economic Woes


Harry Theoharis is an MP for Greece’s To Potami party.

At the start of a make-or-break week for Alexis Tsipras’s government, it is a fact that Greece is now seen in many European capitals as a state that refuses to modernise and must therefore depart the eurozone, if not the EU altogether.

This view might be understandable, but it is wrong. Understandable due to the antics of a Greek government that has refused to engage in a constructive and competent manner with its creditors. Wrong because it is based on false assumptions about what has been accomplished in Greece over the past five years, about what a consistent majority of the Greek population wants, and about what the consequences would be for Europe.

Ultimately, this view is the mirror image of the – similarly understandable but similarly wrong – view held by the current Greek government, that the economic adjustment programme, widely known as the “memorandum”, is the sole source of all the country’s ills. Understandable because there is no doubt that the austerity prescribed as part of the memorandum has contributed to Greece’s great depression in terms of lost output (-25% in real terms) and unemployment rates (peaking at 27.5%).

But this view is wrong because austerity was inevitable when Greece was locked out of financial markets in 2010 with a structural fiscal deficit exceeding 18% of GDP the previous year, and wrong because the impact of this was always going to be severe for a chronically uncompetitive economy dependent on domestic public spending.

Austerity has played the role of the useful idiot for populists and nationalists in Greece who don’t want to accept that the roots of Greece’s economic and political problems were largely home-grown: chronically weak fiscal institutions and a dysfunctional legal, regulatory and tax system that for decades prevented the emergence of globally competitive private enterprises.

This is not to say the memorandum has been well-designed. Independent analysts, including the IMF’s own internal evaluation office, have identified a number of critical design faults: the massive debt haircut of 2012 should have been implemented in 2010, which would have allowed a smoother fiscal adjustment path and resulted in a shallower recession.

Even after that, the “troika” of European commission, European central bank, and International Monetary Fund has consistently placed more importance on adherence to overly ambitious fiscal targets rather than structural reforms and state-building.

In addition, structural reforms that were implemented early on – such as the necessary but abrupt adjustment in labour market regulation and the minimum wage without consultation with social partners – were poorly sequenced and proved insufficient to boost exports given the sclerotic business environment.

In short, there is plenty of blame to go around. There is no question however that the bulk of the blame lies with successive Greek governments that have only fitfully shown true understanding of the economy’s problems and a willingness to confront them. It is ultimately this lack of political ownership of reforms that separates Greece from other programme countries, and which is the main source of angst in European capitals.

Many, including myself, held hopes that the Syriza-led government elected last January would change this dynamic given its lack of ties to the clientelist system. Unfortunately, its performance to date has shown them to be just as conservative, tribal, power-hungry and ideological as their predecessors.

Not only do many of its appointments in key positions owe their jobs to party allegiance rather than competence, but the only common thread to their governing strategy thus far has been a blanket reversal of reforms, good or bad, undertaken by previous governments – seemingly for the sole reason of making a symbolic break with the past.

Moreover, the government has failed to articulate a concrete, progressive, forward-looking reform agenda, and move beyond its populist talking points to aggressively embrace the urgently needed structural reforms, many of which are outlined in the memorandum. These include market liberalisation, business environment simplification, an expanded and better targeted social welfare system, a truly meritocratic public administration, privatisation in sectors dominated by inefficient state monopolies, and pension reform.

As a result of the government’s lack of concrete reform proposals and general intransigence, the creditors have reverted to requesting ambitious fiscal targets and further horizontal austerity measures (ie VAT hikes) that are easily monitored in order to justify further aid to their parliaments, while the structural reforms are pushed back again.

So is all lost? Actually, beneath the hype in the news about austerity, default and Grexit, a genuinely exciting structural political opportunity has emerged: several opinion polls show that there is a silent but strong majority of Greek people who want two things: an agreement that ensures eurozone membership, and a cross-party government of national unity that can deliver.

If the current Greek government – comprised of two parties who for five years railed against the bailout – would sign its own memorandum, this would potentially create closure and an opportunity for renewal. Under previous Greek governments, there had always been at least one large populist opposition party deluding an electorate under severe stress that there were painless alternatives to the bailout. This structural political problem has now been addressed, and the conditions are ripe for a government that finally owns its reform programme.

The frustration and fatigue felt in many European capitals regarding Greece is understandable, but these aren’t good reasons to miss this unique opportunity for both Europe and Greece.

The original post appeared in the UK’s The Guardian.



  1. I speak as someone who truly loves Greece. I have done since the minute I first came here and I always will, but there is a real danger that many people have no real idea as to what has driven their Country into this present state and the anger which is justified, is being aimed at the wrong people.

    What I say is neither pro EU, and neither pro Drachma and f*ck the rest, but there needs to be a true focus to the anger which I see people throwing around without due thought. Sure we’re all mad here, it’s hard not to be, and I include myself in that as I have lived and suffered more than many here in my brief time so far.

    I came here seven years ago and found myself accidentally working for a criminal run NGO which had made it’s name for nearly 20 years defrauding the people and the nation, abusing their position within the health sector and being protected by those in control, so please allow me my right to express an honest and insightful opinion into what I know to have happened within the sphere to which I talk about.

    It’s heartbreaking to see what has happened here over this period of time, and, worst still before my time here when speaking of Politics and the corruption which has brought it to it’s knees.

    People need to move beyond blaming the EU, the IMF and the ‘Troika/Austerity’ measures when looking for the truth to the state of current affairs. The spiralling debt brought upon the Country which set about the current fiasco wasn’t as a result of the European Union, or anyone else other than the core Political Parties of old who had a monopoly on feeding the people the lies they knew would remain unquestioned by the elitist voters whom they relied upon to keep them in power for so long.

    The people allied to living the lie were too well versed in the manipulation and deceit which rushed Greece into the EU at a time whereby the facts didn’t quite add up by anyone’s standards and once committed they had no other alternative but to carry on spinning the same tale.

    The illusion of the Dictatorship being taken apart to form the new found ‘Democracy’ never really materialised if you scratch beyond the surface. It’s sad but let’s be honest for once, what I’ve lived through during my time here has been nothing short of being in a Police state. And I understand why in some part too which is the saddest thing. PASOK, ΝΔ, KKE have all spent a living telling people what they needed them to hear. Quite probably the same elsewhere before people chastise me for picking on Greece, because I’m not, it’s just I’m here and never had to tackle the things I’ve faced here anywhere else. Nor would I either.

    You don’t walk into a Government building here expecting to get somewhere without ‘googe-ling’ exactly what they have to do for you by law and that’s a fact. It’s not often the person behind the desks fault either, they haven’t been told, they haven’t the capabilities or the person in charge is corrupt/stupid/or busy with a million other cases wasting his/her time when they need to be doing something proactive.

    Never once have I felt as I did in other European Countries in Europe, in Greece. And I mean that in the nicest way, Greece is unique, crazy and alive, but it’s never been in Europe. Sure the Politicians throw the words around and the EU and IMF claim for us to be in it here, but the Political Parties of old have never allowed the benefits of being in Europe to get to the people. The cash destined for projects rarely even made it into Parliament before a sack truck and welcoming party ran out the back with it, and the municipal projects to which I have enjoyed and been privvy to elsewhere in Europe, rarely make it to the people here.

    It’s not hard to understand why most Greeks are livid with the IMF and the EU when they’ve been denied the reasons for being involved and yet now pay through the nose for being in this system which holds them to randsom, but to me it is unbelievable how the people known for systematic state abuse are allowed to carry on within their jobs. . . WTF!?

    Sure, costs and sacrifice has to be made, but those who put us in this mess are all still living la vida loco and yet people are dragging up WW2, Merkel and The capitalist nightmare which we appear trapped in. Indeed, life’s sh*t, but as a nation the Lagarde list rests idly on someones desk, gathering dust, the Siemens joke, and f*ck knows how many Yellow Submarines we’ve all bought and paid for pile up with the myriad of financial f*ckups which hold one of many keys to this nightmare coming to an end.,

    I’ve only been here a short period of time and yet I have seen and heard more stories about the way things have been run, and the hundreds (if not thousands of cases) of cases which still await the legal process, to know that far too many people who abused positions of power and wealth, with impunity for far too long.

    I’ve worked myself through misfortune of having to fight corruption when it happened to me first hand with my first job here, and I speak with bitter experience at knowing just how poor the system here is at dealing with those guilty of abusing the people, positions and careers, many of which were gained through deceit in the first place.

    Having said that, I have also seen the power of those who do work in state, government and the many offices through which I have dealt with during this time who do care, do more than their jobs, and who are similarly sick of being caught with their hands tied, unable to process idiotic things which are wasting valuable resources due to the unbelievably ridiculous red tape, confusion and lack of authority governing the present state of the nation.

    When I approached ALL the Government offices for help in 2009 to help rid the sector of criminals who had defrauded the state, the Health sector and the very people to whom they abused for funding, I got threatened, slandered, was liable’d by friends of theirs who worked for one of the national papers who then printed lies and who deliberately helped try to cover for them whilst they then tried to sue me for exposing them as criminals – No really. . .

    As the Judge said at the time – Only in Greece. And that people, is a true story.

    The f*ck up of a court case only ended against me last November when after being slandered, threatened and having my name and reputation dragged through the mud by these criminal scumbags, 6 years after, dozens of cancellations, them never turning up, failing to present evidence etc.

    This is the tragedy of Greece. If you do try and do the right thing, the system protects the criminal, so why not be the criminal?

    If and when the new Government would like to tackle this phenomenon. then and only then will Greeks finally see fortune within their own nation, and until they get mad about this there will never be hope for those who do care.

    I was one person, and a foreigner with little Greek language skills and no experience and yet I exposed them, saw that they ended up in court and watched with all present them be ridiculed in the Courts for their never ending lies.

    When I started, everyone here laughed, ‘etsi’ nothing happens in Greece my friend they would say.

    It’s not easy, it drives you to ruin, but it does if you make it. Don’t get mad, get even.

  2. If Greece had all it’s marbles in Greece where they belongs from get go maybe all the monies that Museums all over the world have made from them.,.. Greece would have lots more. How dare Britain say that it will close to borders to any immigrants coming from Greece to work in their country… If they don’t want anything GREEK then they should send EVERYTHING GREEK BACK HOME ASAP !!!!!!! There;s a thought for your asses! Just a thought!?
    Funny how having an entire cake and not wanting to share – even if it was STOLEN —- oh yeah!!! I remember now, it’s all coming back to me… 🙂

  3. Couldn’t agree more about the marbles Maria. Tragic, and a good point because now there is an active debate in Europe all aspects to how the EU and Nations are run, this is something the new Government have a strong position to address, and should.

    In reality it causes the problem that many other Countries holding Historical pieces would need to address which is why people are so reluctant to address it directly.

    As for the comments about the Borders, Cameron is a muppet being played (as are many) to force a stronger hand against Greece in the current talks, there is no legal way this would happen, and the Country would go to great lengths to see him and any other Party try such appalling Policies.

    Time is better wasted on matters which do have a valid effect and which make a genuine impact on the current state of affairs, not speculation on quotes and statements with no substance or legitimacy.

    The inherent systematic corruption of the state by people as addressed, like in ACTUP ΔΡΑΣΕ HELLAS and it’s members, Kostadis Kaburakis, Chysoula Botsi etc are the real agenda everyone wants to see tackled.

    The new proposals cover details on just how people like this will be targeted and rid of their entitlements, and years of campaigning against thieves like these is why these new changes affecting Greece as so positive.


    Τake away the corruption and Greeks will have the means to do much more of what they can, or ever could since joining the EU.

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