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Friday 9 December 2016

Dan White: Ireland must stand up to German bullies - not suck up to them

Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel leaves an emergency euro zone summit in Brussels
Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel leaves an emergency euro zone summit in Brussels

The Government has done itself no favours in its handling of the Greek crisis – by siding with the Germans it has gone against the instinctive Irish sympathy with the underdog.

Needless to say, Sunday’s ‘No’ vote in the Greek referendum was a stunning slap in the face for the EU, the ECB and for Germany.

The Greek people ignored the advice from Brussels, Frankfurt and Berlin to approve the economic reforms being demanded by the country’s creditors. Instead, they backed their hard-left government by a margin of almost two-to-one.

By rejecting the demands of their creditors, Greek voters have thrown down the gauntlet to the EU/ECB/IMF Troika and Germany. The latter parties had been demanding that Greece impose tough new economic reforms in return for the release of the final €7.2bn Greece was due to receive under the terms of its 2012 bailout.

But after seeing their economy shrink by more than a quarter since 2010 and the jobless rate rise to over 25pc, it is clear that the Greeks have had enough.

Austerity isn’t working. Even if another “extend and pretend” deal along the lines of the previous 2010 and 2012 bailouts can somehow be cobbled together, it is now perfectly obvious that this will only put off the evil day and that Greece will be back looking for another rescue package in a few years.

The vast majority of ordinary Irishmen and women ‘get’ this. You don’t need a PhD in economics to see that the austerity that has been forced on Greece over the past five years isn’t working.

So why should a new bailout essentially consisting of more of the same work? It won’t of course, because it can’t.

Unfortunately, EU Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker and German chancellor Angela Merkel seem determined to ignore the reality staring them in the face and are continuing to pressure the Greeks to continue with a policy that isn’t working. This includes effectively shutting down the entire Greek banking system and limiting ordinary citizens to daily ATM withdrawals of just €60.

The powers that be are adamantly refusing to write down any of Greece’s €320bn debt mountain – the equivalent of 180pc of its GDP. However, if we’ve learnt anything over the past five years it’s that more of the same isn’t going to solve the Greek crisis. 

Instead of slavishly following the EU and German line the Irish Government should be supporting the Greeks.

There is something extremely distasteful at the sight of a small country being bullied by larger countries and international organisations. Am I alone in finding that such bullying sticks in the craw?    

We Irish have an instinctive sympathy with the underdog. By siding with the schoolyard bullies our Government has gone completely against the grain of Irish public opinion. Instead of sucking up to the bullies the Irish Government should lobby to ensure that Greece gets a deal that can work.

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