Snapshot China – Newsletter No. 3 – What is wrong with Greece?
It is Chinese New Year in Beijing and most of us try to enjoy some quiet days. Quiet maybe, but not peaceful.
Europe is in turmoil for many reasons. Russia and Ukraine are grave threats not only for the economy but also for the possibility of a new cold war, or worse. Immigration, integration and social stability have failed; religious extremism and crime have become a menace in daily life. The economy remains lethargic, the least to say. The euro is unstable. And there is the danger of “Grexit”, the exit by Greece of the EU.
Overall the EU is weak, politically and economically and fundamentals are simply not good.
Exaggerated or not, I am told the image of the EU Parliament today shows politicians who are redundant in their home country, get a well-paying job to do little and hardly appear for work in the Parliament, except to read a novel, newspaper or check their mobile. Is there any record of attendance? The EU Commission has some competent staff I have been fortunate to work with but right now the top people still need to find their way while also facing a divided Europe that is unable to assume any position of strength to deal with internal and external challenges. Even a world power like China is calling for attention but Europe seems too busy with its many other “priorities”.
The case of Greece is a threat for the future of the EU but also a symbol of the many things that went wrong and remain so as nobody has the courage nor vision to clean up the mess, not only in Greece but also in many other member states. The system has failed as I explained in my book “Toxic Capitalism”, referring to some of the absurdities in Greece, Italy and other countries.
In my book I mention the dubious role of the financial institutions, the rating agencies, the bureaucracy and politicians in general. Since then, what has changed? Not much. Greece has made mistakes for sure. Simply calling for austerity and debt repayment is rather meaningless without rendering justice. Moreover, the real problems are not being tackled, such as the devious role of banks and other financial institutions during the crisis, the corruption and inefficiency of the bureaucracy and political institutions, the failure to collect taxes, the monopolies and oligopolies who continue to strangle the economy. The country is ranked very poorly for corruption, graft and media freedom. How can the Greeks come out of their misery under those conditions? It is unfair to call them lazy. In Greece running a business is a joke because of its stifling bureaucracy, and no politician has the guts to do what needs to be done. Nothing much has been achieved on tax evasion and graft prosecution. There is a need for a real revolution. The Chinese might not be always models to copy but their performance in the port project proves what is wrong in the country (see “Chinese Transform Greek Port, Winning Over Critics – Cosco-Built Container Terminal in Piraeus Marks Public-Relations Victory for Beijing”, WSJ 20 November 2014).
Greece is just an extreme example of what is wrong in our decaying Western Europe. Except to a certain degree for Germany, Switzerland and some Nordic countries, Europe has nothing to be proud about in terms of running their country, their economy, their foreign policy.
I still feel “European” but I sometimes have doubts. China has a host of thorny challenges but Europe certainly has no right today to lecture it: the EU has to clean up its own house before it can claim any credibility.
As for China, the challenges I mentioned last year are still here. Where the country is going remains a question mark and 2015 might be a difficult year indeed. China closes its door a bit more for sure, maybe it feels the rest of the world is both irrelevant and a threat. First deal with the internal issues, isolate the patient in quarantine. Then later we will see.
As Europeans, we need to act if we want to remain relevant.
(this Newsletter is sent out to our listed contacts)