“Greece will surprise you in 2016,” these are the words of Prime Minister Tsipras during the Davos forum of last year. Indeed, it is surprising to us but I am afraid not in the sense Tsipras would like to. Greece is still sinking into a never ending abyss that is not going to end soon.
The Hellenic country is going in and out into the discussions of the European Union and not without reason. Not only Greece is afflicted by one of the worst economic crisis of the last years, but it is also struggling with the refugee crisis and its management. The country has become one of the main entries for hundreds of thousands of unauthorized migrants fleeing from the Middle East and African countries. At the same time, huge public debt and the pressures of the International Monetary Fund and the EU are harming the well-being of the country as well as changing entirely the social, political and economic environment. 2015 has been a hard year for the Union and its Member States: not only Greece has gone close to bankruptcy and the consequently exit from the Eurozone, but also the Union has given proof of the weakness of one of its original characteristics: solidarity. What is Greece going to do next? What are Tsipras moves for the future?
As far as the migration crisis is affecting the financial crisis, the contrary is also true: the economic pitfalls are making the migration crisis worse. Although this winter was not supposed to be overcrowded as the summers of the last years have been, it emerged that smugglers drop prices during winter months. As a consequence, from very recent data updated on 13 March, 2016, 143,205 people have reached the coasts of Greece from Turkey meaning that the total number of arrivals in the country since the beginning of 2015 is 1 million. What is even worse is that the Aegean Sea has experienced the highest number of victims reaching Greece from Turkey: it is estimated that 440 people have lost their lives crossing the two shores. The hostility of the Balkan states bordering Greece towards migrants is not helping. The complete closure of the Balkan route is leaving 45,570 migrants halted across Greece divided between Idomeni (12,000), islands (10,000), Athens (11,000) and the rest of the Greek mainland. As long as they close their borders, more migrants are blocked in one country against their will with little to none humanitarian aids. Moreover, they will be in search for more dangerous routes towards the northern European countries with the help of smugglers. As a consequence, a humanitarian crisis of enormous dimension is occurring. UNHCR has estimated that the majority of the migrant population stuck in Greece are women and children (representing 59% of the arrivals) The overall picture of the trembling situation in Greece is completed by the lack of means the country has in order to deal with asylum procedures. The fault is not only in the Greek management of migrant procedures, but mostly in the EU’s “much talk and little action” approach to this phenomenon. The responses given have been inadequate: the relocation of migrants across Europe discussed last year is still not active and the military intervention of various agencies and of NATO is not leading to big results.
What is less known is that the Greek financial crisis is not intact, but intensifying. The gazes of the world have been attracted by the tremendous migration drowning, forgetting that less than one year ago Greece was close to leave the Eurozone. The country is still suffering from recession, debts it is not able to afford, a high level of unemployment and still a strong dependence on creditors represented by EU and the IMF. Also, the high level of people’s dissatisfaction is not to undervalue. Tsipras reforms are worsening the well-being of the population resulting in what Greece calls forokataigida (neologism for flood of taxes). He does not have as many supporters as he had at the beginning of his career. The austerity as well as his reforms are harming the Greek middle class. Almost 50 companies per day fail and the income rate has decreased of the 40%. The overall thinking among the population is that Tsipras is making the same mistakes of his predecessors. In particular, they see that just the poorest population is paying for the debt of the banks, while the latter are not being touched by any reform. Tsipras is not longer the hero of reforms and the symbol of change for Greece. The Greek population has lost its optimism and it seems that the Prime Minister has lost it too. The dissatisfaction of the population towards the Government is high and some are starting to talk about a possible “Grexit.”
The problem at the Greek and European level is that the crisis they are experiencing (economic or political) is not as recent crisis as the public opinion thinks. The migration crisis is not only the result of an exaggerated amount of migrants arrived on Greece’s shores, but it is the result of incoherency in the management of the phenomenon itself. It is not the first time ever that the EU experiences large amount of migrants, but it is the very first time it experiences the fragmentation of its Member States. This is not to say that the humanitarian crisis does not exist. Unfortunately, it exists but it does so as a consequence of the bad moves the EU has adopted to resolve it. The only measures adopted have made evidence of the strong incoherency of the Union: acting as a heap of states that are forced to work together but still each one acting for their own interests. This is far away from the idea of a union of states with the same goals fighting together to overcome the same problems. Greece is overwhelmed of migrants mainly because many Balkan countries are closing their barriers and leaving the burden to Greece only. It is not enough to give to the country part of the Asylum, Migration and Integration fund promised in April 2014. Even though Greece received €259 million, it is not difficult to imagine why they were not enough. The “one in, one out” deal with Turkey of sending as many refugees to Europe and as many illegal migrants back to Turkey has just been put in practice in the last weeks. The agreement is supposed to discourage migrants to cross the sea and to risk their lives. However, the plan has already been criticized by the main human rights groups. In particular, these groups have criticized the legality of the agreement. Not only it goes against international law, but it also treats migrants as mere numbers. Also, Turkey is not the safest country for migrants. Actually, what has been hidden is that Turkey is taking the burden of illegal migrants because it will have in return increased funds for refugee camps, visa-free travel into Europe and, probably, it will gain ground on the talks of joining the EU.
Furthermore, it is important not to undervalue the role of right-wing movements against migrants. In fact, Greece has the spread right-wing party of Golden Dawn that is harming the staying of migrants. Their statements are everyday stronger and authorities are not helping in this regard. In March 2016, NATO’s top commander expressed his concern about refugees and their connections with terrorism. According to General Philip Breedlove, terrorists are masked among refugees and are spreading “like a cancer” in Europe. In reality, it has been proved that all terrorists attacks in Europe of the last years have been launched by Belgian and French capsules of terrorist. Even human rights organizations have testified that only a small percentage of refugees even sympathize with terror groups.
The burden of dealing with thousands of refugees is nothing if you think about the burden Greece has on its shoulder from when the economic crisis has begun. The austerity imposed on the country has not improved its financial situation by now. Many have thought that welcoming refugees by any possible mean would have meant a reduction in the debts the country owns. On the contrary, the Union has no intention of softening or rethinking about the austerity imposed, and still claims a good ‘economic behaviour’ from Greece. However, it is relevant to underline that as most of the conflicts in the Middle East have been in part provoked by the geopolitical interest of third actors (let’s say Western countries’ interests), part of the Greek (and northern Mediterranean countries) crisis is also due to interests outside the country itself. The EU was built on countries of different economic characteristics. Thus, the imposition of the same model has led to different effects in the different Member States. The Greek economic instability was not born a few years ago, but it is a fragility that Greece as well as the Southern European countries have always experienced. Corruption existed before the Union was made and exists today despite the austerity.
It is obvious that various interests are converging and fighting in Greece. The main actors of this game are the EU (and Germany in particular), the IMF and lastly Greece. The situation in the country is exemplar for what is happening in the whole Union. Very different states put together acting as a Union but still not cooperating with one another and fighting to put their interests always before the ones of the Union. In this game, only the stronger survives. The others are submitted and forced to solve the burdens that nobody want within their borders. All of this masked behind a common sense of solidarity.
Master’s Degree in Global Politics and Euro-Mediterranean Relations (University of Catania)
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