Greece “The rights of all European citizens are at stake”
Published on Mon, 2012-09-24 08:52
The austerity package recently approved by the Greek government will “damage progress towards gender equality in the European Union” and “poses fundamental questions about sovereignty and self-determination in Europe, about people’s choices and what they imply,” wrote Genoveva Tisheva, managing director of the Bulgarian Gender Research Foundation (BGRF, focal point of Social Watch in that country), in an article published in the web site of the European Women Lawyers’ Association (EWLA).
The authorities of the bloc “clearly recognize that Greek people have made a ‘courageous choice’ in favor of their place in Europe. And now the Greek authorities and the Greek people need to draw all the consequences from this fundamental choice. A choice that leaves no choice to you. Almost a trap of your choice,” warned Tisheva, EWLA board member on behalf of Bulgaria.
According to the expert, who was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005, “all the austerity packages involve salary and job cuts in the state sector, the latest measures announced being targeted specifically at the so vital health and education sectors.”
“The challenge is not only in the economic area. The rights of the Greek citizens, of European citizens are at stake, the EU objectives and targets are blown away, and are fundamentally undermined. The validity of European values and standards is seriously questioned,” concluded Tisheva, a lawyer with expertise in human and women rights and a relentless fighter against domestic violence and human trafficking.
Tisheva’s article reads as follows:
The Greek lessons: High targets - poor solutions
The latest developments in Greece – the decision for a next round of austerity measures and the new wave of Greek people in the streets, inevitably makes us look back at the events that brought to this stage and calls to recapitulation of what are the real results of the three years’ intervention of the international, and namely European financial institutions.
Not only are we concerned about the present and the future of the Greek people but more and more are we witnessing the painful transformations of an experiment and realizing that one day it might be us and our country at risk of being trapped in this “ laboratory”.
During all these three years we saw that these institutions, called now the troika, want to help the “Greek patient”, without a clear idea how to do it, and in spite of the discontent of the Greek people. But one thing is sure, they are doing it with clear acharnement.
The history of the Greek crisis since 2009 is marked by at least six major packages of tough austerity measures, which coincide with or immediately follow bailout plans of the international and European institutions, followed themselves by strikes and street occupation. This repetition of “vicious circles” is frustrating and the point is that there is no light in sight.
How to believe then that the firm commitment of Greek Prime Minister Samaras and his government to press ahead with another round of austerity measures – called by the European Central Bank “measures for fiscal consolidation and important reforms” – will bring to a positive outcome? In exchange of the financial assistance and debt reductions negotiated by the ECB, the government is intended to achieve 11.5 billion euros in savings over the next two years. Here again the conditions of the troika include further reductions to state sector salaries.
The new history of the Greek crisis poses fundamental questions about sovereignty and self-determination in Europe, about people’s choices and what they imply. The EU and the European financial institutions clearly recognize that Greek people have made a “courageous choice” in favour of their place in Europe. And now the Greek authorities and the Greek people need to draw all the consequences from this fundamental choice. A choice that leaves no choice to you. Almost a trap of your choice.
But what have been the consequences of these austerity measures so far? And, most importantly, are these consequences in line with the so visibly declared EU standards, policies and targets?
Greece's statistical agency says unemployment in the crisis-struck country has risen to a startling 23.1 percent in May, 2012 – up from 16.8 percent a year earlier. An agency statement said the worst affected group is young people under 25, where 54.9 percent are out of work. A total 1.15 million people were unemployed in May 2012, compared to 1.1 million in April, or 22.6 percent of the workforce. In May 2009, months before Greece's crisis broke, unemployment was just 9.1 percent. The minimum wage has been slashed by 22 percent, or 32 percent for younger workers. As to the near future, pensions will also be cut for a fourth time in the latest round of austerity, the retirement pay being already slashed by up to 40 percent. Greece’s largest labor union has warned that the country’s unemployment rate – now at 23.1 percent will reach 29% in 2013 if the government carries out more planned austerity measures that include $14.16 billion in cuts for 2013-14.
As a matter of fact, all the austerity packages involve salary and job cuts in the state sector, the latest measures announced being targeted specifically at the so vital health and education sectors. Statistics and expert opinions have assessed that the high employment in state sector in Greece is a myth, it is in fact not higher than in other countries, also bearing in mind that health and education in Greece are still provided predominantly by the state. This is confirmed by the data from the OECD publication “Government at a Glance 2011-Greece”, which quotes: “Greece has one of the lowest rates of public employment among OECD countries, with general government employing just 7.9% of the total labour force in 2008.”
There have been no analyses and debates as to which sectors of the public sector deserve higher salaries and investments in productivity and which sectors require a down-sizing or restructuring. There is no global plan for liberalizing state involvement in some sectors, such as education and healthcare, or for improving services to citizens. The public sector in Greece is just associated with costs and these costs for some reason have to be cut as part of an austerity program.
In front of the strikingly negative consequences from not justified financial solutions, the challenge is not only in the economic area. The rights of the Greek citizens, of European citizens are at stake, the EU objectives and targets are blown away, and are fundamentally undermined. The validity of the European values and standards is seriously questioned.
Needless to remind the targets for the EU in 2020 – 75% of the 20-64 year-olds to be employed; reducing school drop-out rates below 10%; at least 40% of 30-34-year-old completing third level education; at least 20 million fewer people in or at risk of poverty.
On the other hand, the dramatically high youth unemployment rates in Europe call for immediate action by Member States. The European Commission has undertaken studies in all EU Member States which will provide input to the preparation of a draft Council Recommendation on Youth Guarantees, to ensure that young people are either in employment, education or training within four months of leaving school.
How does it all fit with the Greek experiment? And doesn’t it go against the objectives of the Lisbon treaty, the EU Charter on Fundamental Rights, the new EU Pact on Gender Equality?
According to expert opinions, Greek women have one of the lowest employment rates in the European Union and any future plan for improving the economy must focus on improving female employment and labour force. It can be hardly achieved with the next round of austerity measures involving further job and salary cuttings in the public sphere. As in other EU countries, women in Greece account for a higher share than men in the public sector and they suffer as well from the Gender pay gap, so women will be disproportionately affected by these measures.
Therefore the measures imposed by the EU on Greece for shrinking the size and worsening the quality of public sector employment, are expected to widen the GPG and to damage progress towards gender equality in the EU.