Sappho Xenakis on the Greek Debt Crisis

14:05 Wednesday 28th September 2011
BBC News 24

TIM WILLCOX: Let’s talk to Sappho Xenakis, a Greek specialist at St Anthony’s College Oxford. She joins us from our studio there. Now, reports today that the Greek government can’t even pay for ink for its printers now, which means that the tax forms can’t be sent out to anyone. It does seem that everything is just breaking down in Greece, including law and order. Is there a strong movement now do you think developing where people are just going to say, we’re not going to pay this?
SAPPHO XENAKIS: There has been a movement against paying some of the new measures, levies, which seems to be gathering momentum. However the protests in general have still been quite scattered, and in terms of leadership, there isn’t that. What there is is two pressure points. One is very high youth unemployment, now 33%, youth unemployment in Greece. And the other is these looming public sector cuts. And it’s worth remembering that one way in which Greece has maintained stability over the last few decades is through a clientelist system of public sector hiring.
TIM WILLCOX: Yes. Papandreou got these latest austerity measures through Parliament. But do you detect a growing anti-European feeling there? Would people now say, look, it might be better to leave the Eurozone, get out of the Euro, and take our chances by devaluing and going back to the drachma?
SAPPHO XENAKIS: What I understand is the overarching concern is about dropping living standards there. This is what the majority of people are primarily concerned about. If you think that Greece, already, before this crisis hit, it had one of the highest levels of inequality within the EU 27, and one of the highest levels of poverty, so people really can’t see where this is all going. Of course latest figures haven’t yet come out about where exactly poverty levels are there now.
TIM WILLCOX: And when you look at say a country like Ireland, which has done well, it’s taken its medicine and things, growth is improving there, but they’ve got a strong export economy. Greece doesn’t really have that. It’s tourism, maybe some wind, some wave power technology as well. But how is Greece going to get out of this now? Every economist you talk to says these debt levels are unsustainable. There’s no way they can pay this.
SAPPHO XENAKIS: I suppose one big hope is that the international community will rally round, not just within Europe, but there’s pressure from The U.S.. I read reports recently that Japan is even interested in contributing to a solution. So outside, externally, there is some hope still. Internally, it’s not clear how the money will be raised. Certainly some sectors remain exempt, and certainly in terms of elite tax collection, there are still big gaps. And there simply hasn’t been the sort of punitive attitude towards elite level tax exemptions and evasion that the public would like see.
TIM WILLCOX: OK. Sappho Xenakis in Oxford, thank you very much.