French press review 4 July 2015
Issued on: Modified:
The countdown to decision day in Greece continues, with analyses and counter-analyses aplenty. Let's just hope Greek voters understand the text they will vote on better than some of the commentators appear to. The implications of the possible outcomes range, it would appear, from flat calm to total chaos.
"Europe hangs on Greek vote" says the main headline in right-wing Le Figaro. "Greek euro toss-up" is how left-leaning Libération summarises the same situation.
The facts are simple. The Greek people are called to vote tomorrow on the following proposition: "Do you accept the proposals made by the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund on reforms for the completion of the current programme and preliminary debt sustainabilty analysis."
The Greek government, which appears, unlike most of the rest of us, to undertsand what that actually means, wants voters to say "no".
Basically, the struggle is between the creditors, who have kept the Greek economy afloat since 2009 and who want to see further cuts in government spending and an increase in tax intake, and the socialist government which was elected on promises of an end to austerity, limited tax cuts and no change to a pension system which many observers, even inside Greece, agree needs to be changed.
The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development reckons that retirement pensions currently swallow up about 17 per cent of Greek national wealth. While the official retirement age is 62, more than half of all Greek employees leave earlier than that, again adding to pressure on state resources.
Libération's editorial says Europe doesn't like referendums. But it is a mistake to think that integration can make progress without the support of the individual nations in the community.
What would happen, wonders Libé, if the rest of Europe was asked to vote tomorrow on the proposition "do you want to give the Greeks more money, even if they refuse most of the reforms demanded?"
This is not a simple clash between a popularly elected government and a faceless crowd of technocrats, says Libération. Those Brussels civil servants administer policies that have been elaborated and agreed by elected governments, many of which governments have obliged their own voters to accept spending cuts and tax hikes in order, not to satisfy abstract rules, but to make the European monetary system work.
If the Greeks go, says Libération, they will be able to devalue their new currency (the old drachma) and will eventually become extremely competitive. But can a nation already on its knees survive a further cut of up to 70 per cent in living standards?
And where's the logic for a Europe demanding cuts and savings if it allows the Greek debt of 320 billion euros to simply evaporate?
The sides need to keep talking, says Libé, whatever the outcome of tomorrow's referendum.
Le Figaro's editorial calls for calm. It should never have come to this, laments the right-wing paper, but what can you expect when you're dealing with socialist rabble like Alexis Tsipras, a man who favours dirty fights rather than purposeful negotiations.
Le Figaro points out that tomorrow's referendum won't solve the problem. If he gets the hoped-for No, Tsipras will be able to swagger back to talks with the creditors, complete with popular mandate. But Europe should continue to refuse any pressure to soften a stance dictated by financial reality. If the Greeks want to stay in the game, they have to play by the rules. If the partisans of a Yes vote win, that will probably be the end of Tsipras and his brinksmanship.
Le Figaro's editorial doesn't explain how an incoming government would be supposed to get the Greek economy going again, given that even the creditors accept that yet another round of loans and debt restructuring will be needed just to keep the beast breathing.
There are other things happening in the world. The Pope, leader of the Roman Catholic Church, is off on a visit to Latin America. Catholic paper La Croix says Pope Francis's message is directed at indigenous populations and the poor (often the same thing) and is a mixture of scripture, theology and environmentalism.
The church, according to La Croix, is in the front line of the battle to save the Bolivian rain forest, helping indigenous indians to establish communities in harmony with their environment, rather than allowing the giants of multinational exploitation take over completely.
Speaking of multinationals, the transport organisation Uber which offers to turn private car owners into cut-price taxi drivers has decided to suspend its operation in France. Speaking in Le Monde, the local boss says it's not the end of the idea of everyman his own taxi driver, just a pause so that new proposittions can be made to the relevant authorities.