Following talks this week, it was announced that European Union and International Monetary Fund officials will return to Greece for discussions on a third bailout. After clashes between the two institutions earlier this month, the very glimmer of possible cooperation between them is being hailed as some kind of success. Dutch finance minister and Eurogroup president Jeroen Dijsselbloem said it is a ‘very positive and good step’.
Greece needs help if it is to to pay off €7 billion to its creditors in July this year. If it doesn’t, it will face potential bankruptcy and exit from the euro. The leftist Syriza government has apparently already acceded to further tough measures on the tax system, pensions and labour laws, which could see pensions cut even further and a lower threshold set for income tax.
Yet according to the head of the European Stability Mechanism – the Eurozone’s bailout fund – things are going well for the Greek economy. Klaus Regling told German newspaper Bild that Greece would probably not need the full agreed loan of €86 billion (£73 billion) by August 2018. Considering Athens has already made a €2 billion repayment to the bailout fund, Regling said it showed ‘Greece is a reliable contract partner. It is a sign that the restructuring of the Greek banking sector is progressing well.’
Greeks themselves may not see things quite so rosily. Last week thousands of Greek farmers rallied outside the Greek parliament and others blockaded roads in protest against austerity measures which saw tax and social-security contributions rise. According to a Reuters report, one food bank in central Athens is now serving 11,000 families — up from 2,500 in 2012 and 6,000 in 2014. Food banks no longer know if they can meet the needs of the numbers. The Greek Orthodox Church is even helping some people pay their water and electricity bills.
Of those living in poverty in Greece, around 1.2million are pensioners. One 73-year-old pensioner, Dimitra, interviewed by Reuters, said she had never imagined being reduced to handouts. ‘It had never even crossed my mind… I lived frugally. I’ve never even been on holiday. Nothing, nothing, nothing.’