The Greek crisis - out of the news, but not gone away

The Greek crisis has been out of the news, but it hasn’t gone away.

To watch recent news bulletins you would think that Greece has had a quiet summer.

Once the June election passed off without an anti-Euro party taking power in Athens, the media circus moved seamlessly on to Spain and Italy, but what they left behind has been a long, hot summer in which the downward spiral into debt-deflation has continued, possibly even accelerated.

The only bit of good news is that tourism was up slightly; fewer Germans came, but many more visited from the rest of Europe, perhaps out of sympathy, perhaps because its a country at the forefront of everyone’s minds.

The rest of the economic news has been quite dreadful. GDP is likely to shrink by 7% this year, which by the end of next year means the Greek economy will be about a quarter smaller than in was in 2009.

Around one in three businesses in Attica, the area around Athens, has shut.

Unemployment, already more than 25%, is rapidly heading towards 30%.

This is not a recession. It’s a depression.

The soup kitchens that feed 8,000 people a day in Athens have almost become old news.

Today we went to look at the state of health care for the unemployed, the indigent and the recently arrived.

Without work there is no social safety net in Greece. The seriously ill will get hospital care, but for others there are only the free clinics run by volunteer doctors, where the only drugs they can dispense are donations.

Some come from the drugs companies, most are unused or unfinished prescriptions that ordinary Greeks hand in for others to use

If you need a prescription in Athens you must now pay the full cost of the drugs.

In the past you paid a small charge, and the pharmacist reclaimed the rest from the state.

But the state has not been paying its bills. A pharmacist we spoke to today has not been paid since 2010, and is currently owed €190,000 by the Government.

So, not surprisingly, they have said ‘enough’.

In nearby Piraeus prescriptions are still being filled, so huge queues now form every day at the city’s small chemists, but already supplies are running low.

We met a Franco-Greek doctor who had moved to Athens from Lille 14 years ago to set up a small practice.

Half his patients are on state insurance, but the Greek Government is not paying their bills.

The other half are private, but they no longer have the money to pay his bills either.

He’s taking his wife, his two young sons, and his precious medical skills back to France before the end of the year.

Firefighters protest against planned pension cuts in Greece. Credit: Reuters

Talking to Greek friends, two stories have really hit home:

One woman’s father spent his life as a stickler for doing the right thing.

He paid his taxes, he made all his pension contributions - he even contributed extra to the state fund to ensure he and his wife would have a comfortable retirement.

Her godfather, in contrast, followed the example of most Greeks.

He dodged every tax he could dodge and put the minimum possible into the pension fund.

Two years ago her father had a pension of €2,100 a month, her godfather just €700.

Today, because her father is considered by the Government to be a ‘wealthy’ pensioner, his pension has been cut to a little over €1,000 a month, while her godfather still gets his €700.

The Greeks are hardly being given an incentive to follow the rules next time.

Supporters of Greece's Golden Dawn extreme right party gather in Athens. Credit: Reuters

The second story concerns a woman who owns a property in a not very salubrious area of Athens that she rented to an immigrant family.

She discovered that rather than a family of ten living in her apartment, 25 had moved in.

Her solution? Rather than going to the police or the courts to get an eviction, her first move was to contact the neo-Nazi group Golden Dawn and ask what they could do.

A visit from the thugs soon got the immigrants out. This is the same Golden Dawn that is currently third in the opinion polls, popularity largely built on their reputation for ‘getting things done’ where the police either can’t or won’t.

It’s not a pretty picture of life in the European Union in 2012.

The suggested solution to Greece’s problems remains, as it has for several years now, ‘more of the same’.

Europe and the IMF are still holding the Government’s feet to the fire over yet another round of spending cuts and tax rises to be enacted next month - at least another €11.5 billion, maybe as much as €15 billion.

So nothing that I have described above is going to get any better. Far from it.

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