Greek Diary


As mentioned on 7/01/2013, the pharmacies were beginning to break ranks and it was noted in the post that this would eventually lead to pharmacies opening “to suit the customers needs” rather than when it suited themselves. The article below confirms that this trend is happening and the opinion here is that eventually, pharmacies will all be open for the extended hours, including Saturdays. Next pressure will be for Sunday opening !!
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Once again we have another general strike today, called by the public and private sector unions. Public transport, hospitals, schools and pharmacies were affected to a greater or lesser extent. I don’t think participation was very high and I saw no reports about it in the newspapers today 10/04/14.  However, the question still remains: what do these general strikes achieve? Greece returns to the international bond market today for the first time in  4 years and to mark the occasion a car bomb was set off beside one of the buildings in the city centre belonging to The National Bank of Greece. This will certainly receive more attention than the 36th general strike since 2010, although what this gesture is attempting to accomplish is anyone’s guess.


As usual the pharmacists have ended the ‘open-ended’ strike following the passing of the omnibus bill in Parliament on Sunday March 30th. The bill contains proposals to liberalise the sector and the pharmacists were (understandably) vehemently opposed to these measures. The public were greatly inconvenienced during this strike but obviously pharmacists won’t really lose money as customers will return, so it’s only a delayed loss of income. However, once again a strike which caused a lot of problems for the general public has achieved nothing. It’s beyond comprehension why unions are calling strikes, which as pointed out in the post of 27/03/2014, change nothing.


The tweet below points out that despite 36 general strikes in Greece since 2010, no “policy goals” have been achieved. The problem is that the unions have no policy other than protesting against the measures, which as mentioned previously, is akin to protesting against poverty. Until unions become actively involved in working out a strategy to tackle the crisis, they will achieve nothing for their members and continuing to strike will continue to heap misery on the long-suffering public.

36th general strike since 2010. Policy goals achieved by these to date: zero. MT @ElenaBec Gen strike April 9


The pharmacists are beginning to make noise about the sale of non-prescription medicines in outlets, such as supermarkets. This is part of a range of measures designed to increase competitiveness. These measures will be the new battlefield between the vested interests and the government. Of course, in most European countries  you can buy products, such as Paracetemol or ‘flu medicines over the counter in shops and supermarkets. Only in Greece do you need ‘medical advice’ to purchase these items.Will the measures recommended by the OECD, known as ‘The Toolkit’, be implemented? The pressure is on the government but whether it can deliver remains to be seen.
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The year begins with two former government ministers denying that they used EU structural funds to build holiday homes. The funds were ‘actually’ used to modernise homes in order to turn them into guest houses, which were owned by relatives of both ministers. The view on here is that the EU are aware of all the structural funds that were  diverted for personal use in Greece and are slowly clawing all this money back. Ordinary people are paying so far in wages and pension cuts, coupled with tax increases but it is hoped that the politicians that caused the crisis will pay the price in the medium to long-term.


The usual wrangling is taking place between the various government ministers and the Troika about the budget. The Greek government’s ‘negotiating’ stance over the past few months has been “no more austerity measures” because it will create political instability. The projected shortfall, in the Troika’s estimation, €2bn, was inaccurate, according to the government. The government’s figure was €500m, which ( in its opinion) could be made by savings and a clampdown on non-payment of social security contributions and a more efficient tax collection system. The government now accepts that the shortfall will be in the region of €1.3bn and will present a budget in Parliament this week with measures to cover the funding gap. It still insists that the gap can be covered without additional austerity measures but the Troika does not accept this position. The budget will be presented in Parliament without the approval of the Troika so there could be a supplementary budget if the government’s figures and measures don’t add up. Will it ever end ???


A constant theme of this blog is the assertion that the Greek government is incapable or unwilling to carry out the measures agreed with the Troika in the memorandum. Perhaps it is part of the political culture to agree something and then try to row back on what has been agreed. I sometimes suspect that many of the political crises that arise are often instigated in order to have a ready-made excuse as to why this or that measure has not been implemented. The reform of the public service is one issue that has not been confronted. Administrative Reform Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, appointed in the recent cabinet reshuffle ( prompted by the withdrawal of Democratic Left), has stated that he needs 3 – 5 months to prepare a plan to sack 4,000 thousand public servants and place a further 12,500 in a mobility scheme on reduced wages. Public Sector reform has been on the table since 2010 and yet no progress has been made. While most analysts agree that Grexit has gone away, I would contend that it is still a distinct possibility, if not a probability. See the article below [Open in new window]


Once again the Troika are in town and the usual non-delivery of key measures are highlighted. It seems like the reforms and changes have to be dragged out of the government and ministers never take the initiative in implementing the measures contained in the (agreed) memorandum. This leads me to believe politicians don’t agree that reforms are necessary and they are only making changes because they are being forced to do it. In the meantime, Democratic Left have withdrawn from the coalition government in disagreement with the closure of ERT. This debacle will be used to explain why progress was not made in other measures from the memorandum. Deliberate delay tactics – manufacture a crisis to divert attention from the big agenda ??


I have written very little this year as I believed the scenario in Greece had settled into a fairly quiet situation. The unions are curtailing their strikes and the members seem to be getting tired of the protests, to the extent that the numbers on the demonstrations are down. However, all that has changed with the closure of ERT, the Greek national television and radio service. Most people agree that reform was necessary but the arbitrary decision to close ERT by Adonis Samaras, despite the objections of his coalition partners,  has re-ignited the unrest. It is hard to read but this could be a move to spark off an election allowing New Democracy to form a government with Golden Dawn. Of course, PASOK and Democratic Left don’t want an election so they may just have to live with the decision. One way or another, ERT is closed and Samaras is unlikely to change that decision until the new organisation is ready to launch. It is not inconceivable that no one will agree to work in the new ERT, similar to the situation in Ireland where nurses refused to accept jobs under new pay and conditions.


The 8-day metro strike is forcing the government’s hand and they have declared a ‘mobilisation order’ which means the strikers must go back to work or go to jail. The Greek unions have learned nothing during the past three years of continuous protests. They don’t seem to realise that the government can’t back down without opening the door for other unions to demand similar concessions. The Troika would, in my opinion, view concessions to pressure groups very negatively. This is high stakes stuff because if the transport unions back down, it will be very difficult for them to take similar action in the future (The Grand Old Duke of York….) or very stupid of them to confront the government again. A good union general secretary would have cut a deal 3 years ago, giving negotiated concessions for a guarantee of no reductions in pay but as a Greek friend of mine said at the time “there is no mentality for this to happen in Greece at present”. Defining moment in Greece now I believe !!


The link below contains an interview with Paul Thomsen, the IMF’s chief representative for Greece. One of the main points is the political will to drive the reform agenda in order to prevent further austerity measures. This puts the Greek government between a rock and a hard place because it can’t justify more austerity but the corollary of this is that the reforms agreed with the Troika must be implemented, not just legislated for. Already, the transport unions are confronting the government over the reduction in their pay to bring it into line with other semi-state organisations. Many of the reforms affect interest groups with affiliations to the government parties, so progress in this area will be difficult.
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The IMF has issued a report on Greece, which is a long way removed from the positive spin being peddled in the ‘popular press’. An extract from this 260 page report is reproduced below. I have underlined a key point.

70. Progress is being made in reforming labor and product markets. As the impact of labor market reforms to date has been considerable, staff accepts delaying agreed reforms of the minimum wage regime, although it continues to consider such reforms to be essential. Meanwhile, the cut in severance pay is an important step towards reducing nonwage costs. Important upfront actions have also been taken to open up closed professions and promote product market reforms, but Greece is still well away from the critical mass of reforms needed to unlock sustained productivity gains, lower prices and protect real incomes. This will be another key area where the
government’s resolve will be tested as most of the difficult reforms that still lie ahead will challenge constituencies traditionally aligned with the main governing party.”


The Metro is on strike today and has called a further 24 hour strike on Saturday. The strike began yesterday (Thurs) and it is a typical example of a pressure group, in this case the public transport unions,  attempting to blackmail the Government. It means hundreds of thousands of people will be affected getting to work and travelling to the centre of Athens, which will have a further negative effect on the retailers located there. All the spin at the moment is that the Government is intent on pushing ahead with the reforms and measures – it remains to be seen but I’m skeptical. Incidentally, I can’t recall an occasion during the past 6 years when the Metro was on strike at the weekend.
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The link below contains an interview with Christine Lagarde about her views on the bailout programme in Greece. It basically confirms what has been expressed in this blog for the past 12 months. One difference is that it’s my view that the threat of Grexit hasn’t gone away and it’s difficult to see the reforms envisioned by the Troika and the Greek government being implemented. 2013 has seen the media ‘talking up’ the economies in Greece, and indeed in Ireland, but what has changed since 2012 ?
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There has been an increase in the number of pharmacies opening for extended hours and this is positive. Up to last year pharmacies did not open at weekends and there was an emergency rota for extended hours. However, the government brought in a law that they could open voluntarily for extended hours. This measure was vigorously opposed by pharmacists because they would have to spend more hours making the same money. There is little or no ‘impulse buying’ in relation to pharmaceutical products such as drugs etc. The market has fixed revenue so pharmacists make the same money, Monday to Friday, with occasional weekend roster duties. This has begun to change, as can be seen from the article below, although it was mentioned in this blog on 06/03/2012 that the pharmacists may be starting to break ranks. On that occasion not all the pharmacists supported a strike called by the pharmacy unions and it seemed there were differences emerging among the pharmacists. This is positive because these type of initiatives open up the economy and create employment. It has taken a long time for this process to begin but it will probably lead to all pharmacies opening for the extended hours and serving the customers when it suits the customers and not when it suits the pharmacists.
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The next tranche of the loan is on its way to Greece and this has been given by the Troika on the basis that all the ‘prior actions’ have been delivered. The prior actions are mostly legislation which is now in place. However, as has been pointed out consistently here, the implementation of these measures will be resolutely opposed by all the vested interest groups negatively affected by these measures. A key change is the reform of the tax system. One objective in this area is for immediate prosecution of tax offenders, with prison sentences applied straight away, instead of being deferred for many years, as currently happens. However, judges in Greece have been on a go-slow and walkout campaign because of reductions in their pay, with the result that there are now more than a million court cases outstanding. This is set to get worse as the judges have voted to continue this action until January 19th at least.
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The Government had offered the judges some concessions (referred to here on 09/12/2012) but these have been rejected. It seems that in Greece, it’s ‘every man for himself’ with no thought about other sections of society in general. While that attitude pertains it’s difficult to see how the Government can achieve its objectives, increased revenue from the reformed tax system being a key target. Clearly, in a country where tax compliance is not the best, the lack of credible sanctions is a big obstacle to altering  behaviour in relation to paying taxes. This has serious implications as it has been  acknowledged that no more austerity can be imposed while at the same time there are targets associated with the collection of taxes as part of the agreement. Greece is not out of the woods yet by a long shot!!


Municipal workers are becoming very militant in their opposition to the austerity measures that directly affect them. Specifically, they are opposing the placing of 700 of their colleagues in a ‘labour reserve scheme’. This scheme is designed to lay off public sector employees on reduced pay for a year and if no job is found for them during that 12 month period, they will be fired. It is a very controversial measure, which was opposed by Democratic Left. This is a real test for the government because the parties can’t afford to back down or the scheme will be viewed by the Troika as not implemented and also a climbdown by the government would make it impossible to put any other public servants into the labour reserve scheme.[Open in new window]



The agreement on Greece’s debt has been agreed with the acknowledgment that the ‘prior actions’ had been completed and the necessary budget and transformation legislation passed in Parliament. For the past number of months, there has been ongoing confrontation between judges and the government about pay cuts for the former and this has led to judges working a ‘go-slow’, with the result that there are about 30,000 court cases delayed. One of the main themes of this blog is to comment on the implementation, or otherwise, of the measures  contained in the memorandum. It has been consistently stated here that the (any) Greek government is incapable of implementing this agreement and already concessions are being made to the judges.
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The problem with concessions like this is that someone else loses. For example, if mortgage terms are eased for judges, there is a cost associated with this concession, which will have to be picked up by the lending institutions or tax payers. Tax payers are ultimately bailing out the banks so, in reality, a powerful vested interest group manages to wring concessions out of the government at the expense of ordinary working people.

In relation to the ‘prior actions’, which are supposed to have been implemented, the government last week extended the date for the appointment of a Secretary General for Tax Collection. Under the agreement, this was to have been completed by March 2012 – so much for all the prior actions being completed. The mood is now shifting towards surviving until the general election in Germany next Autumn, when the Greek government believes it will receive the significant writedown of its debt that most economists believe must happen if Greece is to bring its debt to sustainable levels. The question is; when the pressure comes on as the terms of the memorandum are implemented, will the Greek government survive?


Once again, the fact that prices remain high despite the fact that wages and pensions are falling, is discussed in the article below. These points were made months ago on this blog and this is further confirmation that the  government is not tackling restrictive practices, cartels and price-fixing in the market. As pointed out earlier, I wouldn’t expect action by the government to address these issues any time soon. [Open in new window]


The point about economic reforms in Greece has been made on numerous occasions in this blog and the article below underscores this view. [Open in new window]


Inflation in Greece for September is the lowest in the Eurozone at 0.3%. However, prices, relative to wages and pensions, are still extremely high. The reason for this is the failure of the Greek government to address the problem of market manipulation, cartels and restrictive practices, which would mean taking on the ‘vested interest’ groups who resist these reforms. Many of these groups have sections wiithin the political parties and this makes implementing any reform measures almost impossible. It looks to me like the Troika has the government where it wants it. It would be extremely difficult to introduce more  austerity measures or labour market reforms but that’s what the Troika are insisting on. Obviously, this is an attempt to force the government to start implementing the reforms agreed in the bailout agreements. This can be seen from the comments of the Finance Minister, Yiannis Stournaras, in the article below from eKathimerini. [Open in new window]


The Greek Prime Minister, Adonis Samaras, has declared that his government will act to take on vested interests, a key issue for this blog. He is warning companies who are manipulating the market that this practice will be stamped out. “Whoever has created cartels should know that these practices have finished”, he is quoted as saying. This from a man who leads a government that can’t produce a law allowing supermarkets to sell infant baby food. Currently it can only be sold by pharmacies. I wouldn’t expect action in this area of the economy any time soon.
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A burning question here in Greece is why, with all the wage and pension reductions, prices are not falling and, as mentioned in an earlier post, are continuing to rise. The latest survey of prices in Europe shows Greece to be one of the most expensive places for consumer prices. The fact that prices are not adjusting to match wages is adding to the misery imposed on people as a result of continuing austerity.
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This blog has consistently argued that the Greek government is incapable of implementing the changes necessary to reform the economy and indeed, Greek society itself. It seems that a Greek exit from the Euro is looming, particularly in the light of the projected budget deficit of €20bn. The political outlook is bleak and SYRIZA, the main opposition party, are probably incapable of governing. Their political manifesto in the run up to the last election was very naive as already pointed out at the time (21/05/2012). The article below gives a snapshot of the current situation and describes the inertia that pertains at the moment. Nero fiddled………………….  [Open in new window]


Another article in ekathimerini today reports on an IMF study of the fuel market in Greece. If the market was opened up to competition, it would reduce costs to consumers significantly. However, it does warn that there would be opposition from the owners and workers in the two refineries, which currently control the fuel market. [Open in new window]


Today’s measure not implemented is the reduction in transportation costs for politicians and other high-ranking civil servants. The cost is €320m per year and the instructions from the minister responsible for implementing the measure are being ignored in some cases. If the government can’t implement the reforms related to itself, it begs the question how will it reform the wider economy? Incidently, following some changes the official fleet has been reduced to 44,000 cars – unbelievable in a country with a population of 11.5 million. [Open in new window]


This blog has continuously emphasised that the government hasn’t got the discipline or the courage to inplement the reforms agreed in the memorandum. There are countless restrictive practices in Greece, which stifle competition and encourage price-fixing and cartels. As already pointed out, wages and pensions are falling here, while prices are not falling and are, in many cases, rising. There is little doubt that Pharmacies is one area which needs to be opened up. Below is an example of a restrictive practice which prohibits supermarkets from selling baby food, which can only be sold in pharmacies at the moment. This is laughable, except that mothers are probably paying a very high price for a product, a high price they shouldn’t have to pay. This is one of thousands of reasons why prices are not falling and an increasingly unfair burden is being applied to ordinary working and unemployed people here. I believe this should be the focus of the protests against the austerity. The cuts have been made, or are in the pipeline, and it’s time reforms were implemented to encourage competition and lower prices. [Open in new window]


It is reported in ekathimerini today that the government is to go ahead with the appointment of a general secretary for taxation “in the next few months”. This was to have been done by March 2012, according to the memorandum

“Moreover, the Government will define powers to be delegated from the political level to the tax administration. These powers will include control over core business activities and management of human resources. The Government will also tighten the control of local tax offices by central offices, and fill the position of Secretary General of Revenue Administration with an external appointee with appropriate professional experience”. [March2012]

This is a direct quote from the memorandum under section 2.4 Revenue Administration Reforms. My question is why hasn’t this happened already? It’s no use decreasing wages and pensions, without the other reforms taking place and this is not happening. The article from eKathimerini is in the link below.
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There is no doubt that vested interest groups oppose changes and reforms in many parts of the Greek economy. The article below outlines difficulties being encountered by ferry companies which serve the islands. In a letter of resignation, the head of the Association of Greek Passenger Shipping Companies makes this accusation. In my opinion he should say who these people are and they should be challenged publicly about their actions and how they can justify their opposition to such reforms.
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It’s a big day of protest strikes in Athens, with the city centre blocked, due to protest marches. Also, recently questions have been raised about prices and inflation, both of which continue to increase, although wages are falling. It seems to be impossible to implement reforms here, even if the government legislates for these reforms to take place. The vested interest groups of associations and trade unions seem to be able to prevent any sort of meaningful changes. In many cases, these are supported by political parties, especially anti-bailout parties. For example, apparently if senior civil servants in management positions don’t agree with reforms, then they don’t happen. There are no logical reasons why food prices are rising, while wages and pensions are falling. Again, it seems impossible to have competition to reduce prices.I believe the fabric of Greek society is being torn apart and the next set of austerity measures (€11.5bn) will destroy the Country by causing the total collapse of the economy and exit from the Euro currency. Perhaps this is the agenda of the Troika as a way to reform Greece, because whatever form the government takes in the future if (when?) Greece leaves the Euro, they will be beginning with a blank page and empty coffers. [Open in new window]


An email from the Troika to the Greek Department of Labour has been leaked to the media here. It allegedly proposes that a number of labour market reforms should be implemented before the next bailout payout takes place. One of the main issues is a proposal to revert back to a six-day week along with measures to make it easier to hire and fire employees. It is hard to believe that ‘Social Europe’ would propose these type of measures. It’s more likely that this is designed to deflect trade union anger away from austerity measures and opening up closed professions and stream the unions into opposing the six-day week. I’ve said before that the Government, Unions and Employers should sit down and agree a roadmap out of the crisis but as yet there is no appetite for this to happen. It is debatable whether the Greek culture is suitable for this type of co-operation in a social partnership model anyway.
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I have had some discussions with Greek friends about why prices are not falling, while wages and pensions are being cut. Even a simple analysis of Feta production, which is an indigenous Greek product, is baffling. Surely if wages and wage-related costs are reduced, then prices should fall, especially as consumers have less to spend as a result of overall tax increases and wage or pension reductions. However, prices are not falling and in some cases are rising. The article below from eKathimerini asks this and other relevant questions, which give an indication as to the situation in Greece and demonstrates the competing forces at play here.
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Coming into September and the end of the holiday period, the protest strikes and marches are beginning to gain momentum. The police, fire service and coastguard are going on strike starting with a protest march tomorrow in the centre of Athens. I often wonder why no trade union leader has tried to negotiate a change programme with the government, containing measured cost savings, with the goal of protecting existing wage levels and jobs. It is one way of controlling the changes but it requires courage and imagination on the part of both sides, which unfortunately does not exist in Greece at this juncture.
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It’s still only August but the trash collectors have called a 48-hour protest strike over the effect of the budget cuts on their wages. Already the opposition to the bailout measures is underway and as can be seen from the article, it was not a peaceful protest. Many of these ‘protest strikes’ are politically motivated and often organised with the intention of causing trouble and confronting the police.
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The government is to introduce legislation to prevent Greek politicians from appointing their relatives to parliamentary positions. Once again, this has not been thought out properly because it discriminates against the relatives of politicians. What is required is an independent commission to conduct an impartial selection process for all jobs in the civil and public service, based on screening tests and interviews. Each applicant is just a number and should receive the position based on merit, rather than ‘who they know’. In my opinion, this law is being introduced for optics and politicians will find ways around it.  There’s probably a ‘Murphy-type’ law that covers this outcome.
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They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions.  In the post on July 5th,  the speed-up of the privatisation process was announced by Samaras. The purpose was to demonstrate to the Troika that Athens was serious about implementing reforms and to support a request for a two-year extension for implementing the measures required under the terms of the bailout memorandum. At the time I took this promise with ‘pinch of salt’ as I have consistently stated that the Greek government are incapable of and hasn’t got the discipline to carry out the agreed reforms. Ekathemerini today reports that the new appointments to TAIPED, the Greek privatisation fund, have not happened because they have to be approved by parliament. Some urgency when it’s within the control of Samaras to get this done. Will there be any privatisations in 2012 ???? Don’t hold your breath!!
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This blog monitors the implementation of the measures in the second Greek memorandum and the privatisation of the Postal Service, ELTA, is now on the agenda. The workers are meeting later today to decide what action, if any, they are going to take in response to this proposal. I assume they will oppose it and I agree with this stance, as privatisation will lead to cherry-picking the profitable part of the business and a worse service for outlying  areas. Greece is very mountainous, with many remote villages and of course hundreds of islands. In my opinion, the public will not be well served by a privatised postal service.
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When I began this blog on March 6th, I wrote about the memorandum and the fact that the Greek Government would find it impossible to implement the measures to reform the economy. At the time I wrote:  “Pay and pension reductions are one thing, in that they affect everyone but when it comes to reforms which affect individual areas of the economy like transport, pharmacies and lawyers that’s a different matter”. This view is supported in the article below from today’s Ekathimerini. Remember SYRIZA and other anti-bailout parties got a substantial vote in the election and both SYRIZA and the Communist Party (KKE) can mobilise trade unions and other groups to protest against reforms. As already mentioned on July 7th, GENOP, the union representing workers in the electricity company (PPC) has already come out against its privatisation and we can expect lots more of this in the future.
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The article below about a limit of a €1500 a year spend per person on healthcare by the Greek state makes for awful reading, if it’s true. It shows how desperate the Greek government is to demonstrate to the Troika that it is serious about producing the further saving of €11.5b required by the EU/IMF. As I said, if it is true then Greece has hit rock bottom.
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The link below leads to an article in the Athens News about the difficulties of starting a business in Greece. Red tape and corruption are major factors preventing foreign investment in Greece. it’s obvious that procedures and licenses were created to make work for all the public servants who were hired at the behest of politicians over the past 20 years. Naturally, if the red tape is eliminated then public servants will have nothing to do and they may lose their jobs. Hence the opposition from vested interests, such as trade unions and some politicians, to any form of change. It is probably a forlorn hope that the present government is strong-willed enough to implement the structural changes necessary to free up this logjam but if it doesn’t begin to happen soon then Greece will find itself out of the Eurozone sooner rather than later.
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So the privatisation process is speeding up (see link below)? Meanwhile the electricity has been re-connected at a charity hospital in Kypseli. The electricity was cut off because the property tax of €600 was not paid. The hospital looks after pensioners with disabilities and it was unable to pay the bill because it is owed 3 million euro by Greece’s main healthcare fund EOPPY. The 170 staff have not been paid since March and there are continuous shortages of food for the 235 patients. Austerity definitely works, at least for some privileged people !!!!!
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I pointed out on numerous occasions that Greece will not deliver the terms of the bailout memorandum and that it had already fallen behind its targets because of the elections. Well, below is more proof that Greece is not up to it and in my opinion, the elections are only an excuse for non-compliance with the measures. In relation to privatisations, which were to be “speeded up”, Democratic Left leader Fotis Kouvelis states in today’s edition of the Athens News that the process is complex (stating the obvious) and the legal system doesn’t facilitate the process, with the result that there is no investor interest. Is he putting it up to Samaras, his coalition partner, to implement legal changes to facilitate the process or trying to ensure ‘investor disinterest’ continues?
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Over the weekend, Adonis Samaras outlined the government’s economic strategy to the Greek parliament. This includes ‘speeding up’ the privatisation programme, as noted in the post of July 6th below. The problems with this strategy were also pointed out, but a key focus of this blog is to monitor the trade union reaction to the measures, including privatisations, being implemented  by the government.  The head of the trade union (GENOP), Nikos Fotopoulos, whose union represents workers in the Public Power Corporation (DEI), is threatening a strike and Summer blackouts over moves to privatise DEI. This is very serious because the temperature can reach over 40 degrees during the Summer in many parts of Greece and air conditioning, among other things, is vital. He is also quoted as saying he “will fight on behalf of the poor and the unemployed”. I don’t understand how this is the case because strikes will have a negative effect on their lives, although maybe he believes prices will increase after privatisation. He does say he will fight to keep the company in public ownership, which is a legitimate objective of the union. It didn’t take long for the GENOP leader to come out in opposition to the government’s plans.
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GENOP is a serious union, whose leader and six of its officials were imprisoned last year and have made this threat as far back as August 2010. ( see link below ) This will be interesting because GENOP is dominated by PASOK-affiliated trade unionists and PASOK is part of the coalition government. Obviously, Samaras and New Democracy will want to challenge this trade union but this could threaten the unity of the government. Game on !!
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I put a post on the homepage of my site about the implementation of the reforms relating to tax, which includes the measures and implementation dates. A Secretary General of Revenue Administration was to have been appointed by the end of March, a date not affected by the elections. However, as can be seen from this article, this has not happened, along with 210 other agreed measures. As I have said all along, the Greek government will not deliver on the terms of the bailout memorandum concessions or no concessions.
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The Greek government is looking for concessions in relation to paying its debts and implementing the measures in the bailout memorandum. This is a laugh. For instance, the government is looking to extend the time by two years for cutting the deficit. At the same time, it also wants to suspend the agreed reductions in public sector numbers and provide financial help for the poor and unemployed, which will increase the deficit, unless there’s growth or revenue from privatisations. The government agreed a time frame for the privatisation of state-owned assets, which has slipped significantly as a result of the elections. They are now proposing to ‘speed-up’ the privatisation programme in return for these concessions. Looks to me like they are trying to sell the same privatisation package for a third time – Bailout 1, Bailout 2 and now !! The speed-up will take place against a background of the resignation of the head of the Privatisation Fund, TAIPED  (see below 27/06/12)  with further resignations to follow. Front-loading the reason why the prvatisation programme will be behind schedule the next time ??

If the Troika agree to this it will just confirm the belief among Greeks that Greece will not be kicked out of the Eurozone. Even if this is resolved, the Greek government will be back for more. Whatever happened to the concept of ‘sunk costs’ ?
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IT looks like the political scene in Greece will not be settling down any time soon. Antonis Samaras has had eye surgery, the finance minister designate, Vassillis Rapanos has withdrawn for health reasons and another deputy minister has resigned. As already pointed out, the privatisation programme has been at a standstill since before the May elections and now the head of Greece’s privatization fund (TAIPED), Yiannis Koukiadis, has resigned. Nothing is straightforward in Greece but these events are beginning to border on the ridiculous. How can Greece stay in the Eurozone and meet its obligations in circumstances like these?
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The coach tour bus strike has been called off because it’s been declared illegal by the court. I believe there should be industrial relations legislation in place to regulate the relationship between the state, the employers and the unions. For example, if there is legislation in relation to strikes, where certain steps must be taken before a strike can take place, then once the procedures are followed the strike can go ahead. Terms of the legislation should include using state mediation services, conducting secret ballots for strike action, independent auditors to count the ballot and minimum strike notice. Declaring a strike illegal if the process had been carried out could not then happen, but unions would likely oppose any type of legislation in this area.
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Coach tour bus drivers to go on a 4-day strike from tomorrow. This will be a serious blow to the tourist industry, which is already suffering due to the recession in Europe and the problems in Greece.
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This is an excellent essay about the present-day crisis in Europe. I have come around to this way of thinking also and I believe the establishment is running scared.


Below is a link to a very sad story, which should make people think seriously about who they vote for in elections. In my opinion, politicians are indirectly responsible for shocking incidents like this because they created the uncaring society in which we are currently living. Not just in Greece but in other countries like Spain, Portugal and Ireland. The political elites of Europe have lost sight of the goal envisioned for Europe and the European Union. Now they are just lap dogs for financial institutions and cowering before the financial markets.
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I’m at a loss to explain the methodology of Greek trade unions. The union representing the employees of 35 foreign airlines have called a 24 hour strike today  ‘in protest’ against changes in their collective labour contracts. As I have stated on numerous occasions, I believe that if the conditions are that onerous, then it should be an all-out strike until they have been restored. This is the beginning of the peak season in tourism so a 24-hour protest strike is ill-timed to say the least. Moreover, a number of foreign airlines have indicated that they are ceasing flights to Greece from October 2012 – wake up and smell the coffee folks.
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I wrote on May 18th that Greece would leave the Eurozone and pointed out that the terms of the memorandum were not being implemented. The article below from Athensnews confirms what I already suspected. It does beg the question why the tax office employees are not doing their jobs. Surely the tax collection procedures are in place and the job should just be done, whether there’s a government in place or not. Like I said, Greece does not have the discipline to remain in the Euro. The whole civil and public service seems to be dysfunctional.
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Panagiotis Lafazanis gave an interview to Athensnews about the policies of SYRIZA and I have to say they are a bit crazy, although they will probably sound great to many people. It is long on rhetoric and short of actual actions but the nationalisation of OTE, currently owned by Deutsche Telecom is one of the concrete actions and is ill-advised. On the one hand, SYRIZA wants to re-negotiate Greece’s debt and get most of it written off, while on the other hand, they want to nationalise a German-owned company. Do they seriously believe the EU will negotiate a write-down of debt on these terms or that any money will be left for investment by OTE’s former owners following the nationalisation? Sovereign economies are complex, especially in a globalised world and on reading the interview, it seems to me there is a complete lack of understanding in SYRIZA about ‘the way of the world’.  Greece needs  investment to promote growth but the uncertainty brought about by actions such as this will frighten off any potential investor. It’s entirely understandable that people want to vote for SYRIZA and against the memorandum, taking the conditions created by the austerity programme into account. However, the scenario without a bailout needs to be outlined so voters make a decision like this with the full knowledge of the potential consequences. Link to interview below.
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Most commentators are now predicting that Greece will leave, or be put out of, the Eurozone, based on political instability. This is a recent factor following the May 6th elections. I believe, as I have done since the first bailout agreement,  that Greece will be put out of the Eurozone for not implementing the terms of these agreements. There was an agreed government in place to negotiate the second bailout and implement some measures in order to receive the funds. This was led by a banker and not a politician so a ‘normal’ political situation was not in place. Following the election, we are back to ‘normal’ (in terms of Greek politics ) but with a caretaker government in place, there will be slippage on implementing the terms of the bailout memorandum. Even if a new pro-bailout government is elected in June, Greece will not reach the targets in the memorandum. These targets are based on projected revenue from income tax, and stamping out corruption, for example. Reforms in these areas are obviously at a standstill.  Also, GDP is forecast at certain levels  but so far this year, hotel bookings are down, in some cases by 50%.  So the targets for 2012 are not going to be met. The privatisation programme is stopped pending the election of a new government, which may abandon these plans, depending on the result. My opinion since 2010 has been that Greece will leave the Euro because it hasn’t got the discipline for membership of the single currency and that day is almost here.
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On 31st  October 2011 George Papandreou called a referendum on the bailout agreement and he was vilified from all sides. Politicians in Greece and throughout the EU were in consternation about letting the people decide on the memorandum. At the time, I thought it was a master-stroke because it smoked out all the nay-sayers, particularly New Democracy and Adonis Samaras. Subsequently, Papandreou had to resign but a coalition government was established to secure the bailout and implement certain measures under its terms. [Open in new window]

Now it looks like there will be a referendum on the bailout agreement in the form of a second general election, where the issue is pro or anti the agreement. This has blown up in the faces of the opponents of the referendum 7 months later, despite all the talks and haircuts for private bondholders. Greek debt is now a liability for European taxpayers and the people have a vote about paying it back !!!


The final attempt by the President of Greece to broker a deal between the parties has failed. It was apparent since last week that this would not succeed because of the position taken by SYRIZA in relation to the bailout memorandum. The Democratic Left could have joined with New Democracy and PASOK to form a government but it insisted on SYRIZA being part of any agreed new government. Some parties, particularly SYRIZA, have been accused of putting self-interest above the national interest. I’m not sure about that as I think SYRIZA have a lot to lose if they come first in the next election. They will either have to take Greece out of the Eurozone or compromise on their hardline stance in relation to the terms of the bailout. It’s a bit of a Hobson’s choice, taking into account the state of affairs that currently pertain in Greece.  [Open in new window]


The languge is beginning to accept the inevitability of a second election in Greece. It does look like the central issue for the parties will be remaining in or opting out of the Eurozone.  The spin from Europe also seems to have moved on to the next election. [Open in new window]


Below is a very interesting article by Paul Mason, BBC Newsnight’s economics editor. It analyses the political situation in the aftermath of the Greek election. The conclusion is that unless the EU come up with a Plan B to facilitate the formulation of a coalition, Greece will default. One point in the article I disagree with is that New Democracy were prepared to “to attack what they see as the vested interests of civil servants and public sector unions.”  The previous ND government were elected in 2005 on a platform of government reform and they did not deliver. This is because the mindset in Greece is for ‘big government’ so parties trying to change that have major difficulties. Once the unions and other vested interests begin their opposition then changes are almost impossible to implement. That’s one reason there hasn’t been a truly liberal party (calling for ‘small government’) in Greece thus far and unless the terms of the bailout memorandum are implemented, there is no chance of this happening in the medium to long term. The anti bailout vote is as much a statement on this issue as it is against austerity.
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GSEE and ADEDY, Greece’s two largest umbrella unions representing private and public sector workers, have planned an anti-austerity rally at downtown Kotzia Square on Tuesday, starting at 10 a.m. The KKE communist party, meanwhile, and its union offshoot PAME, will be gathering at the Hellenic Steel plant in Elefsina, where workers have been on strike for more than six months. Greek Communist Party chief Aleka Papariga will also be holding a campaign speech at the site. Seamen have also called a May Day strike, meaning that ferries will be tied up in port until Wednesday morning. (ekathimerini)

Transport on May Day 

Workers at the Piraeus-Kifissia electrical railway (ISAP) and the Athens metro began May Day with a three-hour work stoppage from the start of their shift until 8 a.m., with the latter pulling the brakes on all routes to Athens International Airport throughout the day.

Buses and trolley buses in the Greek capital will begin pulling off work from 9 p.m. on Tuesday as they hold a two-hour stoppage from 10 p.m. until the end of the shift, while the Proastiakos suburban railway and the OSE train will be on strike all day. (ekathimerini)

If there are any tourists arriving today, they won’t be able to use the metro from the airport to Athens. There are no ferries, so no trips to the islands for tourists that are already here. The unions are striking and having demonstrations protesting against austerity but what about the ‘austerity’ they are imposing on others ? Perhaps the paper hasn’t quoted the reasons for the strikes but it seems to be strike for the sake of it on May Day.


5. MAYDAY ON MAY DAY Serious problems are expected in shipping on May 1 following the decision by two mariners’ unions, Pemen and Penen, to hold a 24-hour strike on that day. Earlier in the week, the umbrella Panhellenic Seamen’s Union (PNO) had called a four-hour strike on all sailings. But some of the federation’s member unions deem this to be insufficient and have called a 24-hour strike instead. (Athens News)

As usual, while there was no reason given, other than rhetoric, for the PNO calling the four-hour strike, two of its constituent unions have given no reason for the 24-hour strike. Unless of course you agree that the four-hour strike  is “insufficient”. (insufficient for what ? “minimum homage for those who fought and struggled to establish fundamental labour rights” ?) Like I said, if conditions have become so intolerable – go on all-out strike until these ‘fundamental rights’ are restored. Perhaps the headline should be ‘Mayhem on May Day’




4. MARINERS TO STRIKE Ferries and other ships will not sail between 8am and noon on May Day, the Panhellenic Seamen’s Federation (PNO) announced on Tuesday. It said the four-hour work stoppage paid “minimum homage” to those who fought and struggled to establish fundamental labour rights that were now being demolished and levelled by government policies, with the support of and at the instruction of the troika. (Athens News)

In my opinion, this is grandstanding. If conditions are so intolerable, then trade unions should go on all-out strike until the situation is resolved or a compromise reached. The leadership of this union are living in a parallel universe and all they are achieving is disruption to other people’s lives at no financial cost to themselves. Gutless wonders!!!!


I wrote a letter in response to an article in Kathimerini about the political and economic situation in Greece (see link below)
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The ferry strike began today but there is  no information about the issues involved. The union spokesman just says it’s the callous policies of the government that have caused the strike. This is an attempt to give the impression that the union is fighting ‘the good fight’ on behalf of everyone. However, governments all over Europe have introduced austerity measures to varying degrees so it is not unique to Greece. I would expect a union that has a grievance that affects its members to justify calling a strike and also to outline its position in relation to what will solve the problem, instead of cliches about government policies and measures. In my opinion, this is an example of a union with muscle using its power to extract concessions from the government.
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The main political parties here have no shame and voted to give themselves an advance of €29m for party funding. I would have thought that the likes of the communist party (KKE) would adopt the moral high ground and refuse to take this money in light of the financial crisis. KKE also advocates leaving the Eurozone and not co-operating with the forces of international capitalism. Seems they have no trouble dipping in to the bailout money, coming from those same ‘capitalists’.  PAME, the KKE affiliated trade union group, is also the driving force behind the ferry strike.
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It looks like the seamen’s strike will go ahead tomorrow despite attempts to reach an agreement. The Development Minister, Anna Diamontopoulou, has accused the union of being split on the strike and accuses PAME, the communist-backed section of the union, of resisting compromising with the government. This will have serious repercussions and may prompt the government to get a judge to declare the strike illegal or indeed introduce legislation to curb strike action in general.
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It looks like this will be a weekend of standoffs but I believe a solution will emerge, even if it’s only where the union calls off the strike to garner goodwill from the public. [Open in new window]


FERRY TALKS DEADLOCKED Ferry workers have failed to break a deadlock in talks with the government to try and prevent an Easter strike. Leaders of the Panhellenic Seamen’s Federation (PNO) said they were “some distance” from the proposals they received at a meeting on Thursday with Shipping Minister Anna Diamantopoulou. The PNO is planning a strike on April 10-11, spelling misery for Easter travellers. Union officials are expected to meet again on Friday, with Diamantopoulou maintaining that her dialogue with PNO is ongoing. (Athens News)

Ferries in Greece are a form of public transport, similar to the Metro, Buses, Trams and Trains, so this is a very difficult situation for the government. At least the comments by both sides are restrained and this would hold out some hope that a solution will be agreed.

Again, as I said in my post on the Memorandum, specific groups and unions are always going to try to protect their interests. The only way to avoid these incidents is to have a broad ‘Partnership Agreement’ between the Unions, Employers and the Government, which could lead to a ‘road map’ to extract Greece from its difficulties. However there is no mood among any of the three groups to adopt this approach. So ‘death by a thousand cuts’, if you’ll pardon the pun.


The development minister is trying to arrange a meeting with the Panhellenic Seamen’s Union (PNO) to discuss the two-day strike scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday next week. I wonder will a deal be done ‘under the table’. The last time the strike was called off but no information given as to why. More…


Already the politicians are beginning to break ranks in relation to the reforms agreed in the Memorandum. It’s look after number 1 for Makis Voridis, the transport minister, coming up to the elections. More…

The Panhellenic Seamen’s Union have called a two-day strike for next Tuesday and Wednesday of Easter week. It is in protest against the government’s plan to merge their health service provider with the State’s main health care provider. This will have a serious impact on people returning to islands for Easter.

The Mayor of Athens wants to bring in legislation to regulate demonstrations. This has very little chance of success, although badly needed. More…

The seaman’s union called off its strike yesterday after ‘talks’ with the minister. There is no information if any concessions were given in relation to the union’s demands. Elections are forecast for the end of April or beginning of May. Below is a good article about the situation in Greece with elections coming up.

Further Reading


Strike activity is beginning to pick up now that the dust has settled after the conclusion of the second bailout. The real risk to Greece has always been about the implementation of the measures required by the international creditors. This means a privatisation programme,  reforms related to closed professions and restructuring of the public service, including the health service. I personally do not believe the political resolve exists in Greece to see this programme through, especially when the unions and other vested interest groups begin their opposition in earnest.

Me uyeia to kourema ??

The bill to liberalise the taxi industry is going to parliament next week – this is one of the first hurdles for the Greek government to overcome to continue receiving funding from the EU/IMF. The taxi union’s reaction will tell a lot about the appetite for, and reactions to, reforms. /03/2012_432860

It’s very hard to imagine how a massive fraud in the IKA fund could go undetected for so long. There seems to be very few checks and balances or proper accounting systems in many areas of Greek society. The health service could do a lot with €20m.

Greek politicians in PASOK and ND try to pull a stroke to write off a large portion of their debt. They added an amendment to an unrelated bill on ‘livestock breeding’ to reduce the interest on their loans. It’s no wonder nobody trusts them, including the Greeks themselves.

The Pharmacists Union have called a 48-hour strike for Thursday and Friday but the pharmacists in Athens and Piraeus are not supporting the strike and will work normally. Are the first cracks beginning to appear in relation to trade union solidarity ?

Transport unions have called a 24-hour strike for tomorrow March 1st to protest against the new austerity measures but the people who suffer are other ordinary workers, trying to get to and from their jobs, which are becoming less secure by the day. There will be no Metro or tram service. At this stage it’s like striking in protest  against poverty, although nothing can be done about it.  I haven’t seen any demands from the unions other than they are against the new measures. Obviously they want their wages restored to previous levels. If the government were to do that, then the Troika will withhold the bailout money and the transport workers won’t get paid at all. What part of this do they not get !! As I said in the post on Feb. 28th who in their right mind would invest in Greece.

A work stoppage between noon and 3pm scheduled for Feb 29th did not seem to get much support and according to ekathimerini, the demonstration outside Parliament at 6pm attracted only about 1,000, due to heavy rain. A side effect of the demonstration was the closure of three metro stations, two of which are used for transferring from one metro line to another. This caused problems for many commuters.

Check out this letter in Ekathimerini newspaper.

Greek disease — paperwork I feel great sympathy for individual Greek civil servants who are losing their earnings, pensions etc. But my experience taxing my moped (very small motorbike) in Rethymnon in early January encapsulates the ‘Greek disease’ perfectly.
Step 1. Travel 22 km to my nearest tax office.
Step 2. Queue up at window 1 in the tax office, fill in form and buy a very expensively printed voucher.
Step 3. Queue up at a second window, complete another form.
Step 4. Queue up at the main cash window and make a second payment.
Step 5. Return to the second window with proof of payment and get a stamp on the form.
Step 6. Travel one kilometre to the police station with stamped form.
Step 7. Fill in two more forms at the police station and make a third payment.
Step 8. Get two police stamps (a postage type stamp, plus a rubber stamp) on my documentation.
Step 9. Travel 22 km home again.
All this was undertaken without drama, and in good humour. But:
It involved four different civil servants, at least six forms, three receipts, three hours of my time and for what? All three payments totalled just fifteen Euros, nowhere near enough to cover the costs incurred by the Greek State administering the tax.
Putting up the tax is not the answer. Simplifying the process by eliminating paperwork is. Then the need for so many civil servants will evaporate overnight.

Dave Wood
Rethymno, Crete


The trade unions are now supposed to be holding demonstrations on February 29th but I haven’t read anywhere about the three-hour work stoppage. The problem is the ‘lightening strike’. My wife is due to fly out from Athens airport tomorrow. Will the air traffic controllers go on strike ?? Will the metro to the airport be working ?? Who knows? Invest in Greece – don’t make me laugh. The working environment and labour relations will need to improve dramatically to attract any sort of investment to Greece, which always prompts my question; where will this ‘famous’ growth to resurrect the economy come from ?

Umbrella trade union organisations GSEE and ADEDY, who represent workers in the private and public sectors, have called a three-hour work stoppage on Wednesday 29th February. The work stoppage will be from 12 noon until 3pm, followed by a rally at 6pm. This coincides with a ‘day of action’ organised by the Brussels-based European Trade Union Council (ETUC).  Furthermore, doctors at public health hospitals have called a 24 hour strike, 29th February,  the same day on which the government will vote on a draft Health Bill reducing the number of hospitals from 132  to 82 by closures and mergers. A similar strategy to that employed in Ireland – Roscommon hospital springs to mind. The law will result in the closure of certain departments, such as emergency units,  in remote hospitals to allow staff to be moved to big hospitals. A reduction of 17% in overtime pay for doctors is also proposed.

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