16 Σεπτεμβρίου, 2015

"Why I am standing as a candidate for To Potami in the upcoming Greek election"

To Potami is a new party running on a budget many times smaller than that of its rivals. Its voice, however, is increasingly being heard and its support keeps growing.

In the coming election of September 20, I am standing as a candidate for To Potami, the pro-European centre-left party formed in 2014 by journalist Stavros Theodorakis. To Potami - which means 'The River' in Greek - was formed with a twin agenda, first to fight the corruption and cronyism of the traditional parties of government, Pasok and New Democracy, and, second, to defend the future of Greece inside the Eurozone against isolationist calls by strong forces of nationalism and populism.

The seven months tenure of the Tsipras coalition government of extreme Left and extreme Right parties (Syriza and Independent Greeks) has changed nothing in Potami's core objectives. The Tsipras government that has just resigned committed in its short life all of the errors of the old parties, together with some extraordinary errors of its own.

The Tsipras government - like its predecessors - made many statements on corruption but took no real measures to fight it. It did not start the process of constitutional reform, or of electoral reform or justice reform as it had promised. Moreover, it opposed the 'minimum guaranteed income' for the poorest, as advocated by the EU and the IMF, a measure which would have removed overnight the 'insurance' rationale of clientelism - since Greece remains one of the most unequal and the only country in the EU without income support  for the poor (and 90% of the unemployed receive no help from the state).

In spite of his fiery rhetoric against the powerful oligarchs that unlawfully occupy the private television frequencies, the Tsipras government did not find the time to legislate on this most basic of reforms. It did not launch an open competition for terrestrial television licenses. It did nothing to enhance journalistic independence either, instead packing the public broadcaster with its own appointments.

Moreover, the former government did not say how many channels it intends to advertise (or how to assess this number), if and when it brings a bill before parliament. The issue of number of licences is hugely important, if any television stations can be viable and independent. Given that the existing seven national channels are currently all losing money, they rely for their survival on their powerful owners, who in return for paying salaries expect complete control over news broadcasting. Allowing the same seven channels to go on will please the owners, secure their continuing support for Tsipras and ensure corrupt news for another generation.

The government did not bring about civil service reform and did not curb the power of political parties over promotions and transfers in the civil service and the judiciary. It did not create a scheme of coordination among the various government departments - as recommended by OECD and the EU. Worse, its main occupation has been to replace all senior public officials with its own cronies and party supporters, from the largest banks, to the secret service and senior hospital management. Syriza's cronyism is as grotesque as that of its predecessors. These are no reformers.

And when it comes to Europe this government's bellicose and militant rhetoric against the European Union is matched only by its ignorance. The humiliating retreat by Tsipras on July 12, which accepted a third EU bailout on the condition of very harsh austerity, has not been matched by a shift in the rhetoric.

Tsipras claims that he has averted an 'extreme catastrophe' that was being planned by dark forces. The catastrophe is real, caused by the capital controls imposed by Tsipras because he misunderstood the significance of the June 30 deadline. A worse disaster, namely a disorderly default, Grexit and a complete collapse of all Greek banks and all payment systems would have been brought about only by this government's continued incompetence.

Alexis Tsipras says that his policy shift is the result of 'blackmail' and that it is the triumph of injustice, forced on him by 'extreme neo-liberal and conservaitve forces' that are now running Europe. He does not seem to realise that the Eurozone governments are divided between centre left and centre right (as is Germany's), that the Eurozone is an agreement requiring fiscal discipline and that in the absence of central fiscal power,without that discipline there would be no Euro. This is not 'neoliberal' economics, just the fact that the 18 member states have to coordinate their fiscal policies strictly.

Because there is no central or federal state, the only way to have a common currency is to have a reciprocal agreement and stick to it. The level of taxation in each state, or the size of the state or the generosity of its welfare benefits are open to all members to decide. They can be choose to be conservative or progressive. The Euro is not a neoliberal conspiracy, as Mr Tsipras seems to believe. It is 18 states working together.

In an article this past Sunday in newspaper Kathimerini, Yanis Varoufakis accused the EU of not respecting the deal of 20th February, which extended the second programme by four months to June 30. He inadvertently revealed an even more shocking truth, namely that he did not understand what he was signing. It had to be pointed out to him by Ms Lagarde, Mr Moscovici and Mr Draghi a few days later. In the article he claims that they together 'reversed' what had been agreed.

In truth they pointed out what the documents had said from the start, namely that he had signed a commitment to complete the fifth review of the second programme, as agreed by his predecessors. Still, even after signing this and even after finding out what it meant, Varoufakis and Tsipras shamelessly announced to the Greek public that the agreement of February 20 meant the 'end of austerity' and the removal of strict conditionality (or the 'memorandum') from the 'loan agreement'.

It appeared a stunning victory. It was all a pack of lies. Still the television news programmes did not challenge those claims (only some newspapers and websites did) and Syriza's popularity skyrocketed.

When the EU insisted on the terms of what had been agreed, Tsipras and Varoufakis said that they were being 'blackmailed' as dark forces planned their 'attack' on the 'Left'. The incompetence and cynicism of Tsipras and Varoufakis has proved even more dangerous than their ideological fanaticism. Without them neither capital controls nor a third bailout of this magnitude would have been necessary.

To Potami is a new and small party running on a budget many times smaller than that of its rivals, mostly by activists and volunteers and with very few staff. Its voice, however, is increasingly being heard and its support keeps growing. Stavros Theodorakis has just recruited one of the most prominent personalities in Greek public life, Nikiforos Diamantouros, who has recently completed two terms as the European Ombudsman, to run for To Potami in its lists.

Many other distinguished policy experts, business people, human rights activists and ordinary people are standing. To Potami's lists are a roll call of national, regional and local personalities, active citizens speaking out against the old establishment and against injustice.

The forces of populism are still very strong, however. Syriza may still win. Its main rival, the conservative New Democracy, which caused the crisis with its reckless and dishonest policies, has not reformed but is experiencing something of a revival under a new leader.

Both parties are experts at manipulating frustration and anger for short term electoral gain. But the clear and solid determination of the Greek people to continue living in an open society, with strong institutions and at the heart of Europe is the bedrock on which To Potami's future rests. This time or next time, our progressive message will be heard.

by Pavlos Eleftheriadis

16 September 2015