Opposition parties reacted with alarm on Tuesday to comments by SYRIZA parliamentary spokesman Nikos Xydakis that MPs should hold a debate about Greece’s membership of the euro, eKathimerini reported Wednesday.
Speaking on Skai TV Wednesday, Xydakis argued that “there should be no taboos when we are talking about people’s fate.”
“We have reached a point where the population does not have the stamina anymore,” he said. “I believe there has to be a political and national discussion the likes of which has not taken place during the last seven years. Naturally, this discussion has to start from Parliament.”
Unfortunately however,parliament isn’t always the best forum for rational debate, and the Greek media have an almost hysterical aversion to any mention of Greece withdrawing from the eurozone – often confusing Euro exit with EU exit which might have security implications for the country.
As expected, Mr Xydakis’s comments prompted an immediate and strong reaction from the opposition parties. New Democracy spokesman Vassilis Kikilias suggested that the government’s true intentions are gradually being revealed. PASOK’s Evangelos Venizelos argued that the comments were deeply damaging for the Greek economy and the country’s international standing. PASOK’s press office called on Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, who was visiting Belgrade, to clarify his position.
The opposition forgets that the SYRIZA leadership is ideologically committed to euro membership, and that the lenders political intransigence, intentionally leaked statements from Berlin, and the lenders inability to agree on a definition of sustainable targets is the reason why Grexit has returned to the forefront of the international financial press.
But even from within the government coalition, SYRIZA MP Dimitris Vettas expressed his opposition to any discussion about the possibility of Greece leaving the euro. “A return to a national currency would mean national isolation,” he said. “Opinions about referendums, the drachma or anything else anyone wants to think of cannot be considered tools that help the government.”
A SYRIZA MEP Stelios Kouloglou took a more equivocal stance, arguing that Athens should have a plan ready for the possibility of the eurozone breaking up but that for Greece to begin this process would be “suicidal”.
However, the matter is not likely to end there as New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis plans to attack the government over its delay in concluding the review, which has sparked fresh uncertainty, including about Greece’s future in the eurozone.
There is sustained fear campaign by all the media and almost all politicians, who are shouting down any mention of a rational debate about the advantages and disadvantages of leaving the euro using reasoned argument. Those who are stopping the debate rarely go beyond the use of words like ‘suicide’, ‘national disaster’ and ‘unthinkable’ to create fear in the public mind. Similar predictions about the result of the Brexit vote were proven to be wildly inaccurate, while on the other hand, there are several eminent economists who argue that a return to the national currency will benefit Greece in the medium term.
In reality, nobody knows what will happen to the country or the euro if Greece abandons the common currency, but everyone knows what will happen to Greece if it remains.
However politicians of all colours, both in Greece and in Europe, are too worried about the political consequences of a member state leaving the euro while their side is in power, as all they are likely to be blamed forever more for all that will happen to the country and the eurozone, good or bad.
Politicians in Greece would also like to think that the overwhelming majority of Greeks want to remain in the Euro ‘at any cost‘ but the situation is reaching a point where the ordinary Greeks have started to consider the cost too high.
As yet another round of negotiations with creditors has hit a snag, there is resurgent speculation over “Grexit”. In the latest survey, 64 percent of respondents favoured keeping the euro and membership in the eurozone and 31 percent preferred a national currency; a remarkably high figure, given that the issue is never discussed openly and the support for Grexit side – it such a side exists – has never given the opportunity to develop its arguments.
So Mr Xydakis may have a very good point. A rational discussion is needed so that people can make their minds about it, and if at the end of the discussion they decide to opt for the Euro they should stop complaining about the ever increasing austerity measures imposed on them by the lenders as a condition for the country to remain in the Eurozone.