Dark Days

The shortest day and thus the longest night, is almost upon us. It’s ‘goodbye’ to the sunny hours of spring and summer, and ‘hello’ to gloom – especially if you are Athenian.

Greece might have a new government, a coalition that doesn’t include the former Prime Minister, since the opposition leader refuses to cooperate unless Papandreou stands down and takes no further part in what has become a desperate squabble.

The aim of the new government will be to extract better – or at least, less onerous – terms for the delivery of the next stage of the bail-out package, but at the moment things don’t look too good. Greece’s debts are out of control. There’s no way the country can repay the interest accruing, never mind the principal.

Imagine you have a mortgage, several credit cards spent-out to their maximum, and overwhelming hire-purchase commitments on everything you need for everyday living.

How would you feel, knowing you could never clear your debts, that they would be passed on to your children and grandchildren, and that your family would be crippled for all time? Well, that’s how it is, and will be, for the Greek people, the ordinary men and women who have never asked more than to be allowed to get on with their lives.

A Spanish television programme talked, not to politicians or bankers, but to men and women in the streets, bars, and workplaces of Athens, asking what they thought of the situation.

The overwhelming view of those interviewed was that Greece should quit the eurozone, even if doing so meant years of poverty.

“We’d be broke,” many of them echoed, “but we’d be independent, in control of our own destiny,”

Unfortunately, when the various treaties establishing the European Union were drawn up, no provision was made for allowing a member state to secede, but now, with a possible Greek default or bankruptcy looming, the need for such an arrangement is becoming urgent, whether the EU ‘Grandees’ like it or not.

The Greek problem has been occupying the headlines and exercising the markets for weeks, with no sign yet of a workable solution.

There are almost daily confrontations between demonstrators and police in Athens and other cities, leading to a growing suspicion that Greece is becoming ungovernable.

The contagion appears to be spreading to Italy, the EU’s third largest economy. The interest demanded by the markets for the latest auction of Italian bonds reached the level at which both Ireland and Portugal were assessed as requiring aid, but in Italy’s case the amount needed for a bail-out would stretch the Troika’s (EU, ECB, and IMF) capability beyond breaking point.

Berlusconi is preparing to resign the premiership as soon as the EU’s ‘adjustment plan’ has been approved, leaving Italy, like Greece, in total political disarray.

Where will it end? How much more fudging and patching will it take to convince the EU that the game is up, and that the hour has come to call ‘Time’ on this unworkable dream?

By the way, have you noticed how the Russian President walks? He’s got a ‘Del-Boy’ swagger that would look more at home in Tooting than Moscow. I’ve included that gem just to cheer you up!

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