How Greece became Europe’s unlikely model student
BRUSSELS CAN be a condescending place. In the EU, prime ministers are sometimes treated like school children. In a favorite sentence, tough officials say that national governments must “do their homework.” If Brussels is a classroom, then Greece has become an unlikely swot. Its handling of the pandemic has been praised. His plan to spend 31 billion euros of the EUThe 750 billion euro ($ 915 billion) salvage pot earned a gold star from EU officials. Greek ideas such as a common covid-19 certificate are taken up at European level. After a decade in which Greece has found itself in catching up lessons, having suffered three bailouts and an economic collapse, this is a big change. Syriza, the leftist party that ruled the country from 2015 to 2019, was the class rebel. On the other hand, the government of Kyriakos Mitsotakis, smooth center-right prime minister since 2019, is the darling of teachers.
In part, the change in reputation is a matter of politics. Syriza has established itself as a challenger of the EUin the current order, in the hope of overhauling the club from the inside out. But if the EU has a view of the house, it is one of the center-right centers where the New Democracy of Mr. Mitsotakis is based. In the technocratic world of EU political, Mr. Mitsotakis fits perfectly. A former management consultant, he speaks English, French, German and Davos, a dialect used by middle-aged men in snow boots at high altitude conferences. He wears the school uniform well. Explicitly, New Democracy was elected in 2019 on a plan to overhaul Greece. Implicitly, their task was to make Greek politics boring and make Greece a normal European country. The leaders of Syriza saw themselves as the beginning of history; The leaders of New Democracy see their job as ending a dark era.
They have some success. After a decade of bailout programs and nearly leaving (or being kicked out) of the eurozone, Greece had its finances in order long before covid-19 hit. Greek bond yields are near their all-time low as the European Central Bank no longer hesitates to buy Greek debt. In government, self-proclaimed nerds waving Ivy League degrees are now running the show. Its expenditure plan of 31 billion euros of EU the funds were accompanied by an audit of 1,400 pages, longer than all the proposals of certain countries. (Years of getting pummeled by Commission officials means Greek bureaucrats know what makes homeworkers happy.) While countries like Finland have taken hold of the ratification of the project, the plan for the Greece has walked through its parliament. The teacher is worried about the other children in the class.
The harsh conditions for migrants stranded on the Greek islands are expected to be a stain on the government’s record, with reports of “pushbacks”, when asylum seekers are illegally forced to return to where they came from. But the staff room in Brussels seems satisfied. In the minds of European politicians, the pushback rules are designed to prevent refugees from being mowed down by border guards, not to prevent canoes from being towed to the Turkish coast. By the same brutal logic, the miserable conditions on the Greek islands dissuade others from coming. the EU had a much bigger problem with the approach of Syriza, which initially failed to stem the arrivals, than the current approach of pushing them back. Last year, a young man was shot dead at the border as crowds of people tried to enter Greece from Turkey. Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, hailed Greece as the shield of Europe. For an organization that touts its rule-based order, it can be relaxed about violations if they are helpful. The flow of people has stopped. Beyond that, European leaders have few questions.
What happens outside the school gates is irrelevant to the EU. Where Greece goes wrong is in areas outside the EUthe mission. In Greece, activists and NGOs complain of a rise in police brutality after the coming to power of New Democracy. The other governments were happy to immerse themselves in Greek affairs during the rescue program. In normal times, however, they will do anything to avoid criticizing the internal affairs of another Member State. It’s a similar story when it comes to breaking down the patronage and nepotism that have hampered Greece. Syriza promised to fix it but did not. Mr Mitsotakis talks about a good game on the subject, but it is hard to take seriously from the son of a prime minister, brother of a former foreign minister and uncle of the current mayor of Athens. It is difficult to lead the charge, when the best proof of progress would be not to lead it in the first place.
the EU can also be a neglectful teacher in areas where he is expected to pay attention. When it comes to media freedom, Greece ranks fourth from the bottom EU, according to a Reporters Without Borders index. Only Malta, where the murder of a journalist brought down the previous government; The Hungary of Viktor Orban; and Bulgaria, probably the most corrupt country in EU, rank below Greece. Earlier this year, Giorgos Karaivaz, a Greek journalist, was assassinated. Kostas Vaxevanis, editor-in-chief of Documento, a left-wing newspaper that has investigated corruption, now needs police protection. Glossy presentations touting Greece’s progress in various ease of doing business rankings are undermined if the country drops other rankings. the EU always let things like that slip into the past, when it suited him. Greece is not as bad as some. But it’s never a good idea for the class swot to hang out with the thugs behind the bike shed.
Gush out of flunking out
As long as Greece continues to score high in the areas that matter, nobody cares. A government that goes with the flow politically, carries out reforms without complaint, and does the bloc’s dirty work on migration will always be welcome. Its flaws can be ignored. For all his speeches on values, the EU is a political and not a moral creature. It does not pass judgment on those who play the game. Governments that attempt to recast the EU, as Syriza did, end up steamed. Those who accept the EU in the present state of affairs, like New Democracy, can continue its business without disturbance. Hand in homework on time and no one will care. ■
This article appeared in the Europe section of the print edition under the title “A Model Student”