Former Creditors Blame Greek Politics, SYRIZA for Economic Disaster

FILE - Dutch Finance Minister and chair of the Eurogroup Jeroen Dijsselbloem. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

Two European Union officials who helped oversee bailouts for Greece said the ruling Radical Left SYRIZA of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ early months in power were disastrous for the economy and that the country’s political landscape, favoring the rich and powerful, were more damaging than wild overspending and runaway patronage.

Former Eurozone chief Jeroen Dijsselbloem joined the bandwagon in criticizing former finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, whose combative style with the Troika of the European Union-European Central Bank-European Stability Mechanism (EU-ECB-ESM) led to his ouster by Tsipras, who, reneging on promises, agreed to more austerity.

That was more than six months into the new Administration, when Tsipras sought and accepted a third bailout, this one for 86 billion euros ($100.48 billion) after saying he wouldn’t, and which led to more pension cuts and tax hikes.

Dijsselbloem, the Dutch Finance Minister, told Greece’s ANT1 TV that Varoufakis’ handling of the Greek crisis was “catastrophic” and the former finance minister constantly tried to undermine direct negotiations Tsipras.

Dijsselbloem said after a tense press conference in January 2015, in which Varoufakis announced that Greece would no longer deal with the Troika, Varoufakis followed him to the elevator asking to continue the negotiations anyway, belying himself.

Thomas Wieser, who headed the Eurogroup, an informal body where the ministers of the Eurozone discuss policy, was even tougher, but on successive Greek governments and the political attitude he said was ruinous for the country.

In an interview with Kathimerini, the American-Austrian economist said that, “Many people believe that Greece was the victim of a crisis that had its roots in fiscal profligacy, and only fiscal profligacy. Others see the reasons in low and declining productivity gains of the economy.”

He said those were valid points but only symptoms. “The root of the crisis was the inability, or unwillingness of the political system to evolve in line with the requirements of the late 20th Century. The role of policy cannot be to let friends, clients and special interest groups capture the state and profit from a special relationship. Government needs to ensure that access to justice, access to education and access to social services is equitable and easy. This needs to be financed in a responsible and also equitable manner. This was not the case in Greece, and this led to the economic crisis.”

He said eight years of austerity attached to three rescue packages of 326 billion euros ($380.95 billion) had helped but that the Greek state is still dysfunctional and geared to protest political and business interests and the oligarchs Tsipras vowed to crush.

“Eight years of programs have addressed the issue of fiscal imbalances and many issues related to competitiveness and the functioning of the administration. But it is not, indeed it cannot be the aim of a program to dive deep into the political and constitutional fundamentals of a society. It cannot start addressing the root causes of a judicial system that is not allowed to work completely independently, or into fundamental questions of how the education system is organized and set up,” he said.

Perhaps the biggest obstacle, he said, is the unwillingness of Greek politicians to change or put the common good ahead of their personal and party interests.

“The strongly antagonistic nature of Greek politics has not changed perceptibly over the last eight years and this usually results in a clientelistic setup of the political system, and influences the role of the media and their independence,” he said.