Σάββατο, 26 Μαΐου 2012

marilena: Eurovision a good metaphor for lack of euro vision...

marilena: Eurovision a good metaphor for lack of euro vision...: By George Hay The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own. The  EURO  zone crisis is everywhe...

Eurovision a good metaphor for lack of euro vision

By George Hay
The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.
The EURO zone crisis is everywhere. The political and economic plight of Greece and Spain has reached fever pitch. And now awareness of the splintering currency area’s economic realities has reached the Eurovision Song Contest.
This annual musical cacophony, which dates BACK to 1956, features execrable europop sung by a succession of bizarre d-list pop stars who have somehow been deemed representative of their national culture. Voting takes ages and is conducted by hapless TV anchors of the host nation beaming live to all 26 participating countries in turn. In terms of efficiency, it has a lot in common with the actual euro zone.
This year it’s hard to resist hunting for subliminal messages in each nation’s songs. Part of the sober Finns’ entry translates as “Close YOUR Eyes”, summing up what most taxpayers in Helsinki want to do at the thought of fiscal transfers to the indebted periphery. On the other hand, Slovakia’s entry underlines the difficulty of getting all 17 members to reach a consensus: it’s called “Don’t close your eyes”.
Other entries are even more revealing. The Spanish have submitted “Stay with Me”, a transparent plea to German chancellor Angela Merkel to not abandon them. Germany’s own effort sums up its ponderous approach to the crisis. It’s called “Standing Still”.
But one entry actually addresses the crisis directly – and that country isn’t even in the euro zone. Montenegro’s song, “Euro Neuro”, is three minutes and five seconds of ostensible gibberish rapped by a middle-aged Montenegrin who goes by the unlikely name of Rambo Amadeus. But it contains a compelling message.
“Euro Neuro, don’t be dogmatic, bureaucratic/You need to become pragmatic”, implores a shabbily-dressed Mr Amadeus in the video, sitting astride a donkey that is symbolically blocking the path of a Porsche on a sun-kissed mountain road in the Balkans. In case the Brussels eurocrats haven’t got the message, the chorus is even punchier: “Euro Neuro/Monetary Breakdance … Give me a chance to refinance”.
Some might wonder why this agit-pop didn’t come from Athens: Greece’s own effort, sung by a lithe Hellenic chanteuse and called “Aphrodisiac” is more escapist. Sadly, Mr Amadeus didn’t make it past the semi-final. But maybe euro governments should TAKE him seriously anyway.

marilena: It's payback time: don't expect sympathy – Lagarde...

marilena: It's payback time: don't expect sympathy – Lagarde...: The IMF has no intention of softening the terms of Greece's austerity package, says Christine Lagarde. Photograph: Emmanuel Fradin for...

It's payback time: don't expect sympathy – Lagarde to Greeks Take responsibility and stop trying to avoid taxes, International Monetary Fund chief tells Athens

Christine Lagarde

The IMF has no intention of softening the terms of Greece's austerity package, says Christine Lagarde. Photograph: Emmanuel Fradin for the Guardian
The International Monetary Fund has ratcheted up the pressure on crisis-hit Greece after its managing director, Christine Lagarde, said she has more sympathy for children deprived of decent schooling in sub-Saharan Africa than for many of those facing poverty in Athens.
In an uncompromising interview with the Guardian, Lagarde insists it is payback time for Greece and makes it clear that the IMF has no intention of softening the terms of the country's austerity package.
Using some of the bluntest language of the two-and-a-half-year debt crisis, she says Greek parents have to take responsibility if their children are being affected by spending cuts. "Parents have to pay their tax," she says.
Greece, which has seen its economy shrink by a fifth since the recession began, has been told to cut wages, pensions and public spending in return for financial help from the IMF, the European Union and the European Central Bank.
Asked whether she is able to block out of her mind the mothers unable to get access to midwives or patients unable to obtain life-saving drugs, Lagarde replies: "I think more of the little kids from a school in a little village in Niger who get teaching two hours a day, sharing one chair for three of them, and who are very keen to get an education. I have them in my mind all the time. Because I think they need even more help than the people in Athens."
Lagarde, predicting that the debt crisis has yet to run its course, adds: "Do you know what? As far as Athens is concerned, I also think about all those people who are trying to escape tax all the time. All these people in Greece who are trying to escape tax." She says she thinks "equally" about Greeks deprived of public services and Greek citizens not paying their tax.
"I think they should also help themselves collectively." Asked how, she replies: "By all paying their tax."
Asked if she is essentially saying to the Greeks and others in Europethat they have had a nice time and it is now payback time, she responds: "That's right."
The intervention by Lagarde comes after the caretaker Greek government met to discuss a sharp fall in tax revenues – down by a third in a year. Under the terms of the country's bailout, Athens has agreed to improve Greece's poor record for tax collection in order to reduce its budget deficit, and Lagarde's remarks are evidence of a growing impatience in the international community. Reports surfaced in Germany and France of preparations being made to cope with Greece's possible departure from the single currency after its election on 17 June.
Belgium's deputy prime minister, Didier Reynders, said it would be a "serious professional error" if central banks and companies did not prepare for an exit.
The euro came under fresh attack on the foreign exchanges, dropping below €1.25 at one point on Friday, as the Spanish government was in talks to pump up to €19bn of rescue finance into Bankia, one of the country's biggest banks, and the Catalan regional government sought financial help from Madrid to deal with its debts.
Signs emerged of a widening gulf between Germany and France over whether common eurobonds should be issued to help those countries, such as Greece and Spain, with high interest rates on their debt.
Jens Weidmann, president of the Bundesbank, poured cold water on the idea – which is strongly backed by the French president, François Hollande – and also said financial aid to Greece should be cut off if it failed to keep to the bailout deal.
Jürgen Fitschen, joint head of Germany's biggest bank, Deutsche, described Greece as "a failed state … a corrupt state". Separately, however, there were reports suggesting that the chancellor, Angela Merkel, was dusting down the economic modernisation plan used to revive East Germany after the fall of communism in the belief that similar measures could be applied to Greece and other struggling eurozone countries. Today's Der Spiegel magazine says Merkel will present a six-point plan based on the East German blueprint as a growth strategy. It includes measures such as privatisation, looser employment law and lower tax rates.
Opinion polls are pointing to a close race between parties backing and opposing the terms of Greece's €130bn bailout, but neither Germany nor the IMF has demonstrated any willingness to water down Greece's austerity programme.
In her interview Lagarde says Greece is not getting softer treatment than a poor country in the developing world, and that the IMF does not find it harder to impose strong conditions on a rich nation.
"No, it's not harder. No. Because it's the mission of the fund, and it's my job to say the truth, whoever it is across the table. And I tell you something: it's sometimes harder to tell the government of low-income countries, where people live on $3,000, $4,000 or $5,000 per capita per year, to actually strengthen the budget and reduce the deficit. Because I know what it means in terms of welfare programmes and support for the poor. It has much bigger ramifications."


marilena: Greek opinion poll shows pro-bailout party leading...

marilena: Greek opinion poll shows pro-bailout party leading...: SATURDAY 26 MAY 2012 An opinion poll published today showed Greece's conservative New Democracy party, which backs the internati...

Greek opinion poll shows pro-bailout party leading

An opinion poll published today showed Greece's conservative New Democracy party, which backs the international bailout, having a slight lead over the leftist SYRIZA, which opposes it, ahead of the June 17 election.
New Democracy was backed by 23.3 per cent of respondents while SYRIZA scored 22 per cent, according to the survey by pollster MRB for weekly newspaper Real News. The result was tweeted by the newspaper ahead of its publication.
The Socialist PASOK party, which also backs the bailout, was third with 12.6 per cent.

Παρασκευή, 25 Μαΐου 2012

marilena: Support for Greece: 20 νομπελίστες στηρίζουν την Ε...

marilena: Support for Greece: 20 νομπελίστες στηρίζουν την Ε...: Με επιστολή τους 22 επιστήμονες - εκ των οποίων οι 20 έχουν βραβευθεί με Νομπέλ - ζητούν τη λήψη μέτρων για την ενίσχυση της Ελλάδας ώστε...

Support for Greece: 20 νομπελίστες στηρίζουν την Ελλάδα

Με επιστολή τους 22 επιστήμονες - εκ των οποίων οι 20 έχουν βραβευθεί με Νομπέλ - ζητούν τη λήψη μέτρων για την ενίσχυση της Ελλάδας ώστε να βγει από τη σοβαρή κρίση.

Είκοσι δύο επιφανείς ξένοι επιστήμονες, 20 από τους οποίους είναι νομπελίστες στους τομείς των θετικών επιστημών (Ιατρική-Φυσιολογία, Φυσική και Χημεία), δημοσίευσαν επιστολή στο διεθνούς κύρους περιοδικό "Science", με την οποία ζητούν τη λήψη μέτρων για την ενίσχυση της Ελλάδας, ώστε να βγει από τη σοβαρή κρίση.

Την ίδια επιστολή μάλιστα έστειλαν σε Ρομπάι, Μπαρόζο και Σουλτς.

Η επιστολή έχει τίτλο "Υποστήριξη για την Ελλάδα" (Support for Greece) και την πρωτοβουλία για αυτήν εμφανίζεται να έχει ο διακεκριμένος γερμανός γιατρός-ιολόγος Χάραλντ Tσουρ Χάουζεν, κάτοχος του Βραβείου Νομπέλ Ιατρικής 2008.

Οι επιστήμονες προτείνουν την καλύτερη αξιοποίηση των διαρθρωτικών ευρωπαϊκών κεφαλαίων, ώστε να ενισχυθούν στην Ελλάδα οι τομείς της εκπαίδευσης, της έρευνας και της τεχνολογίας, οι οποίοι, όπως επισημαίνουν, έχουν πληγεί από την έλλειψη πόρων, παρόλο που είναι σημαντικοί για την έξοδο από την κρίση. Οι επιφανείς επιστήμονες καλούν ακόμα τους ευρωπαίους ηγέτες να φροντίσουν για την επιβίωση και τη ανάπτυξη των επιστημονικών και τεχνολογικών ινστιτούτων της Ελλάδας.

Μεταξύ άλλων, οι νομπελίστες εισηγούνται ένα μέρος από τους διαθέσιμους πόρους των διαρθρωτικών ταμείων για την Ελλάδα να κατευθυνθεί σε καινοτομικά προγράμματα επιστήμης και τεχνολογίας. Επίσης προτείνουν να τεθεί σε εφαρμογή ένα πρόγραμμα προώθησης της συνεργασίας ανάμεσα σε μεγάλα ευρωπαϊκά κέντρα έρευνας και τεχνολογίας και υψηλού επιπέδου ελληνικές επιστημονικές ομάδες.

Ακόμα, ζητούν να διασφαλισθεί η συμμετοχή της Ελλάδας στους μεγάλους ευρωπαϊκούς επιστημονικούς οργανισμούς και να αρχίσει ένα πρόγραμμα δημιουργίας νέων κοινών ευρωπαϊκών και ελληνικών ιδρυμάτων αριστείας, δίνοντας έμφαση σε εκείνα τα επιστημονικά πεδία όπου η Ελλάδα έχει ήδη μια ισχυρή ευρωπαϊκή παρουσία και τα οποία μπορούν να συμβάλουν καθοριστικά στην περαιτέρω τεχνολογική ανάπτυξη της.

Στη επιστολή αναγνωρίζεται η ύπαρξη ενός ισχυρού ανθρώπινου επιστημονικού δυναμικού στην χώρα μας και τονίζεται ότι, με τη λήψη των κατάλληλων μέτρων και με τη βοήθεια της επιστήμης και της τεχνολογίας, η χώρα θα είναι σε θέση σταδιακά να γίνει πιο ανταγωνιστική.


marilena: Police urge Greeks to keep money in bank

marilena: Police urge Greeks to keep money in bank: Police are urging Greeks to keep their money in bank accounts rather than putting it at risk of theft, amid further uncertainty about ...

Police urge Greeks to keep money in bank


Police are urging Greeks to keep their money in bank accounts rather than putting it at risk of theft, amid further uncertainty about whether the austerity-struck country will remain in the eurozone.
Greece's banks are likely to be shored up on Friday or Monday with €18bn (£14bn) of bailout funds they have been due to receive for weeks but which were held up by political uncertainty caused by inconclusive elections. Greece goes to the polls again on June 17, further stoking fears about its future within the euro.
The scale of withdrawals from Greek banks – almost 25% of deposits have been taken out in the past two years – and fears that other countries may suffer mass withdrawals has led to speculation that a eurozone-wide guarantee is needed to maintain confidence in the banking system.
Greece's national police spokesman, Thanassis Kokkalakis, told Reuters: "Many people have withdrawn their money from the banks fearing a financial crash, and they either carry it on them, find a hideout at home or in storage rooms.
"We urge people to trust the banking system, leave their money there, or at least in a safe place, not hide it at home, where they must anyway take the basic security measures."
The injection of fresh funds into the Greek banks is expected to allow the European Central Bank to start dealing with those unnamed institutions to which it stopped providing direct funding because they did not have enough capital.
Deposits in other eurozone countries are holding up, with those in Spain and Italy down only 3% and 2% respectively.
The Spanish government is propping up its banks, putting €9bn into Bankia, the fourth largest bank, and bringing in independent valuators – including US management consultants Oliver Wyman – for the property loans sitting inside Spain's banks. Spain already had a restructuring fund for its banks – known as FROB – which will provide the resources for the recapitalisation of Bankia.
Savings across the EU – including in Britain – are guaranteed up to €100,000 by national banking systems, which should prevent the need for any deposits to be withdrawn. There are suggestions that this burden should be shared across the eurozone.
Simon Ward, chief executive at global investment management group Henderson, pointed out that sharing out the bill might prove politically difficult.
"Germany would end up bearing the risk and I don't think that's politically acceptable," he said.
The ECB, Ward said, could do more to restore confidence in the stalling eurozone economies by embarking on quantitative easing. "We need to move to full QE that would stabilise the economies … boost confidence and slow the deposit flight. But we might not have time for that."

The Guardian

marilena: 'Don't win Eurovision' Spanish entrant told

marilena: 'Don't win Eurovision' Spanish entrant told: Pastora Soler's recent album Una Mujer Como Yo reached number three in the Spanish charts Spain's Eurovision contestant has admit...

'Don't win Eurovision' Spanish entrant told

Pastora Soler

Pastora Soler's recent album Una Mujer Como Yo reached number three in the Spanish charts

Spain's Eurovision contestant has admitted the country would struggle to host the event if it were to win.
Directors from broadcasters TVE joked to Pastora Soler, who will represent them this year, "Please, don't win!"
"If we won, I think it would be impossible to stage the next edition because it costs so much money," she told ABC Punto Radio.
Thursday saw 10 more countries named finalists in the second semi-final to be held ahead of Saturday's main event.
Swedish entrant Loreen, considered by some to be the favourite this year, was among the successful acts to go through.
Lithuania, Malta, Norway and Turkey were among the other nations to join the 26 finalists.
The evening saw eight countries eliminated from the competition, among them Bulgaria, Croatia, Portugal and the Netherlands.
Spending cuts
Pastora Soler will sing her ballad Quedate Conmigo (Stay With Me) at Saturday's final, to be held in the Azerbaijan capital of Baku.
It is written in the contest rules that the public broadcaster of the nation that wins must host the following year.
"I think it is not the moment, neither for Spain nor for Spanish public, to win Eurovision," Soler was quoted as saying by the AFP news agency.
The Spanish government has slashed spending in public television, resulting in the cancellation of several popular programmes.
Spain last won the competition in 1969, when it shared a four-way tie with the UK, the Netherlands and France.
Spain also won the contest in 1968, 12 years after it started, with singer Massiel's song La La La.

marilena: Greece: Out of cash, out of hope

marilena: Greece: Out of cash, out of hope: As politicians wrangle, the daily reality of the eurozone crisis is driving Greeks to despair..... While European leaders and pundit...

Greece: Out of cash, out of hope

As politicians wrangle, the daily reality of the eurozone crisis is driving Greeks to despair.....

While European leaders and pundits debate Greece's fate in or out of the single currency, a sombre mood blankets the debt-strapped country as it continues to be pounded by its unprecedented financial woes.

The harsh austerity measures that are being implemented in exchange for international loans are driving more and more ordinary Greeks towards the edge of depression and suicide.
Yesterday, a 60-year old unemployed musician thrust his 90-year old mother off their rooftop in central Athens before jumping to his death himself, witness said. A neighbour told Greek television that the pair had financial problems and were living off the mother's pension.
While the exact reasons for the deaths have yet to be determined, domestic news bulletins and analysts are worrying that this sad tale could be an example of the kind of hardship being felt by ordinary Greeks that could worsen further if the country leaves the euro.
Diamantis Dalabiras, 29, who works for an international telecommunications firm, said leaving the currency would be catastrophic. "The country would be like an orphan without a home," he said. A return to a national currency would make life for Greeks even harder in a country reliant on imports.
"Our economy and life will become much worse," he said. "We won't be able to buy anything... I'm also worried my company will decide to relocate."
Kiriakos Lolos is trying to grasp the effects a return to the drachma would have on his family company that imports furniture from Italy, China and Russia. "I am very scared as I don't know what will come next, whether we'll have money or not, whether they'll be chaos or not," he said.
The financial crisis and heavy taxation have all but wiped out the family business that was set up by his father in 1960. These days, Mr Lolos pays his employees and monthly taxes of €8,000 (£6,400) by using up his savings. He worries his company will not be able to make it to the end of the year. "As an importer, I'm better with the euro but these days people can't afford to buy anything, so I really don't know what's best for us," he said.
Some economists argue a devalued drachma could attract tourists and boost an industry that employs one in five Greeks. But according to the Association of Tourism Enterprises, a departure from the euro "can only be negative". George Drakopoulos, the director general of the association, said that a cheap currency won't necessarily make the Mediterranean country a low-cost tourist destination. "We will have hyperinflation and things will not become cheaper because we import most things and most businesses have loans which they'll have to cover," he said. Tourists have become increasingly weary to visit a country rocked by economic, social and political turmoil.
With the country mired in a deep recession and unemployment at historic highs, the finance ministry warned it could not collect taxes as Greeks struggle to pay. "These people will only be able to stand again if there's growth and employment," Nikos Lekkas, head of planning and controls for Greece's internal revenue service, said. "There will be a social explosion if we go on like this."
Chrysa Evaggelou, an accountant, said most of her clients could not pay their taxes. An unemployed builder she advises, for instance, is asked to pay €17,000 – money he does not have – because of property he owns. "Clients leave my office either swearing, with a headache or with depression," she said.


marilena: -Ένα κουπί?...........Όχι ευχαριστώ.......

marilena: -Ένα κουπί?...........Όχι ευχαριστώ.......: independent

-Ένα κουπί?...........Όχι ευχαριστώ.......


marilena: EU urges Greece to stay in euro, plans for possibl...

marilena: EU urges Greece to stay in euro, plans for possibl...: BRUSSELS - European Union leaders, advised by senior officials to prepare contingency plans in case Greece decides to quit the  single  ...

EU urges Greece to stay in euro, plans for possible exit


BRUSSELS - European Union leaders, advised by senior officials to prepare contingency plans in case Greece decides to quit the single currency, urged the country to stay the course on austerity and complete the reforms demanded under its bailout program. 

After nearly six hours of talks held during an informal dinner, leaders said they were committed to Greece remaining in the euro zone, but it had to stick to its side of the bargain too, a commitment that will mean a heavy cost for Greeks.
"We want Greece to stay in the euro, but we insist that Greece sticks to commitments that it has agreed to," German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters after a Wednesday evening summit in Brussels dragged long into the night.
Three officials told Reuters the instruction to have plans in place for aGreek exit was agreed on Monday during a teleconference of the Eurogroup Working Group (EWG) - experts who work for euro zonefinance ministers.
The Greek finance ministry denied there was any such agreement but Belgian Finance Minister Steven Vanackere, said: "All the contingency plans (for Greece) come back to the same thing: to be responsible as a government is to foresee even what you hope to avoid."
Two other senior EU officials confirmed the call and its contents, saying contingency planning was only sensible.
In its monthly report, Germany's Bundesbank said the situation in Greece was "extremely worrying" and it was jeopardizing any further financial aid by threatening not to implement reforms agreed as part of its two bailouts.
It said a euro exit would pose "considerable but manageable" challenges for its European partners, raising pressure on Athens to stick with its painful economic reforms.
Greek officials have said that without outside funds, the country will run out of money within two months and there remains the threat that if it crashes out of the euro zone, other member states could be brought down too.
A document seen by Reuters detailed the potential costs to individual member states of a Greek exit and said that if it came about, an "amiable divorce" should be sought with the EU and IMF possibly giving up to 50 billion euros to ease its path.
Although EU leaders' minds will have been focused by that prospect, disagreements have flared over a plan for mutual euro zone bond issuance and other measures to alleviate two years of debt turmoil, such as giving countries like Spain an extra year to make the spending cuts demanded of them.
"The idea is to put energy into the growth motor. All the member countries don't necessarily share my ideas. But a certain number expressed themselves in the same direction," new French President Francois Hollande told reporters.
For the first time in more than two years of crisis summits, the leaders of France and Germany did not huddle beforehand to agree positions, marking a significant shift in the axis which has traditionally driven European policymaking.
Instead, Hollande met Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy in Paris to discuss policy, before the pair travelled to Brussels by train.
Despite fears Greeks could open the departure door if they vote for anti-bailout parties at a June 17 election, Spain, where the economy is in recession and the banking system in need of restructuring, is at the front line of the crisis.
After meeting Hollande, Rajoy said he had no intention of seeking outside aid for Spain's banks, which are laden with bad debts from a property boom that bust and still has some way to go before it touches bottom.
But his government said its rescue of problem lender Bankia would cost at least 9 billion euros and it is also seeking ways to help its highly indebted regions meet huge refinancing bills.
Socialist Hollande's election victory has significantly changed the terms of the debate in Europe, with his call for greater emphasis on growth rather than debt-cutting now a rallying cry for other leaders.
That has set up a showdown with conservative Merkel, whose primary objective is budget austerity and structural reform.
At his first EU summit, Hollande chose to make a stand on euro bonds - issuing common euro zone debt - despite consistent German opposition to the idea. "I was not alone in defending euro bonds," he said.
Merkel showed no sign of dropping her objections to the proposal, which she has said can only be discussed once there is much closer fiscal union in Europe. "There were differences in the exchange about euro bonds," she said bluntly.
The Netherlands, Finland and some smaller euro zone member states support her.
No major decisions were made at Wednesday's summit, which was intended to promote ideas on jobs and growth ahead of another meeting at the end of June.
But debate was intense, not just over euro bonds but over how to rescue banks and whether to give more time to struggling euro zone countries to meet their budget deficit goals.
"We haven't come together to confront each other ... but we have to say what we think - what are the right instruments, the right methods, the right steps, the right initiatives to raise growth," Hollande said.
The leaders discussed broad measures to stem the fallout from a winding up or restructuring of bad banks, EU officials said, with the European Central Bank pressing for the bloc to stand behind its struggling lenders but with Merkel's approval seen as far from guaranteed.
At the heart of the discussion are proposals from the European Commission for a legal framework to wind up or reorganize insolvent banks so as to avoid a repeat of the multi-trillion-euro taxpayer bailouts during the financial crisis.
Another suggestion is for the euro zone's rescue funds to be allowed to recapitalize banks directly, rather than having to lend to countries for on-lending to the banks. But that is another idea with which Germany is uncomfortable.
Having rallied on Tuesday, European stocks dropped 2.2 percent as investors priced in a lack of dramatic policy action. The euro tumbled against the dollar to its lowest since August 2010 and Spanish and Italian borrowing costs climbed.
A German two-year debt auction gave a stark illustration of how money is dashing for safe havens. Investors snapped up the 4.5 billion euros of paper on offer even though it came with a zero coupon - offering no return at all.
With the euro zone registering no growth in the first quarter and threatening to slip back into recession, policymakers touted three ideas to provide stimulus:
- 'Project bonds' backed by the EU budget to finance infrastructure projects alongside private sector investment.
- Doubling the paid-in capital of the European Investment Bank, the EU's co-financing arm, to a little over 20 billion euros.
- Redirecting structural funds which tend to flow to poorer countries, to other areas where they might reap more immediate growth rewards.
Even if all three proposals were to be activated quickly, economists say they will not provide a sufficient shot in the arm to the euro zone and the wider EU economy.
(Additional reporting by Jan StrupczewskiJohn O'DonnellCatherine Bremer and Marine Hass in Brussels and Julien Toyer in Madrid. Writing by Mike Peacock, editing by Anna Willard and Giles Elgood)


Πέμπτη, 24 Μαΐου 2012

marilena: How the Olympic torch could ignite Europe Chris Ri...

marilena: How the Olympic torch could ignite Europe Chris Ri...: OBSERVER

How the Olympic torch could ignite Europe Chris Riddell on Greece's Olympic - and financial - legacy

Chris Riddell 20 May 2012


marilena: Illegal Immigrants in Greece

marilena: Illegal Immigrants in Greece: At the Mercy of the People Smugglers By Andreas Ulrich in Nea Vyssa, Greece Many of the illegal immigrants in the EU arrive ...

Illegal Immigrants in Greece

At the Mercy of the People Smugglers

Many of the illegal immigrants in the EU arrive via Greece, which is overwhelmed by the flood of incomers. The would-be migrants are ruthlessly exploited by people smugglers, and many of them die in the attempt to get to Europe. SPIEGEL heard the stories of a group of young Bangladeshi men who made it to Athens -- and discovered the reality behind the dream.

The men standing in the train station of Nea Vyssa, a small farming village in the far northeastern corner of Greece, are soaking wet. Oyud, 20, Yousuf, 34, and seven other young Bangladeshi men have arrived in Europe. It's 7 o'clock in the morning, it's cold and their clothes cling to their skin. The men are shivering, and one has a bleeding wound across his face.

That night, the men had crossed the Evros (also known as the Maritsa), the river separating Greece from Turkey, in a rubber dinghy that was much too small. When a police boat appeared, they jumped in the water. The officers tried to detain them and circled around them, hitting one of them on the head with the boat's propeller. But the would-be immigrants succeeded in making it to the opposite shore, where they hid in the underbrush.
And now they're in Europe.

A Business Worth Millions

Oyud, Yousuf and the others have been traveling for months. They have made it across seas, through deserts and over mountain ranges. They have endured hunger, thirst, heat, cold and physical abuse -- all in the hope of a better life.
Immigrants from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Syria and Africa have been crossing over the Evros by the thousands. Greece is the gateway to the West, and roughly nine out of every 10 people illegally entering Europe follow this route. On peak days, the figure can reach 500 people.
Each of them has paid up to $10,000 (€7,950) for the journey. It is a business worth millions to the people smugglers, who play an indispensable role in the illegal entry into Europe. SPIEGEL accompanied the would-be immigrants on the last leg of their odyssey, learning not only about their motives and anxieties, but also about a trafficking system that is as brutal as it is well-organized.
It is a system that reaches all the way to Germany. Since the Greeks have not been able to seal their borders and are hopelessly overtaxed by the influx of people from Asia and Africa, Germany has had to cope with rising numbers of asylum seekers. In 2011, 45,741 people applied for asylum in Germany, an 11 percent increase over the previous year. In the same period, the number of people illegally entering Germany rose by 18.6 percent to reach 21,156. This has prompted German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich to call for new restrictionson the border-free travel regime within the European Union as well as for the temporary reintroduction of border controls whenever a member state cannot sufficiently secure its borders.

Clean Cities and Beautiful Women

Oyud Mina comes from Sylhet, a major city in northeastern Bangladesh. With a per capita annual income of roughly $680, Bangladesh is one of the world's poorest countries. Oyud is an orphan and has a sister who is married. Since there was no work to be had in Sylhet, Oyud says he moved to Dubai when he was only 15. There, he worked as a painter at construction sites, earning 100 dirhams -- roughly €20 -- a day.
One day, Oyud got an offer to travel to Europe. He was told he could pay off the costs later.
To him, Europe sounded like clean cities, beautiful women and cool cars. When Oyud was ready to start the journey, the middleman suddenly demanded a $1,000 prepayment.
Oyud scrapped together all the money he had. On Feb. 22, he put on his only jacket and set off without any luggage. A car jam-packed with others searching for a better life took him south. At a certain point, they were forced to get out of the car and walk for a few hours in the desert. "I saw soldiers," Oyud says, "but they looked the other way."
They arrived in the port city of Muscat, the capital of Oman. There, the 28 men got into a delivery truck that brought them to the shore, where an open boat was lying on the beach. They squeezed themselves onto the boat, sitting on top of each other and holding on tight. The trip lasted hours, the waves were high and the boat traveled fast. They suffered hard blows, bruises and cuts. When they finally reached land, it was like a deliverance.

'It Was Hell'

But their feelings of relief were short-lived. They had landed in Balochistan, the western province of Pakistan bordering Iran. Here, they camped out under open skies in a guarded and fenced-in camp. At this point, Oyud says, the people smugglers demanded $3,000 to continue the journey. "They beat us and threatened to sell us to the mafia, who would kill us and take out our organs," he says. It took his sister two weeks to come up with the money and send it to Pakistan. "It was hell," Oyud says.
Traveling only by night, they made their way across Iran. Oyud remembers making stops in Minab, Shiraz and Tehran. Then they saw mountains. Things got going again at 3 a.m., after only a few hours of sleep. They climbed up the mountain on foot, walking through the snow and ice in sneakers.
Soldiers appeared, shots were fired and Oyud heard screams. He buried himself deep in the snow and held his breath. When they started marching forward again, three men were missing from the group. They were dead.
Once they made it over the border and into Turkey, the Bangladeshis made their way to a remote house, where they were provided with fake passports. From there, they traveled in a tourist bus to Istanbul. During the 24-hour journey, the would-be immigrants passed through several checkpoints without problem. When they reached their destination, there were taxi drivers waiting and calling out numbers. Oyud's number was 75. He finally ended up in the house of an Iranian in the huge Turkish metropolis.
To continue on the journey, Oyud had to pay $3,500 more. He says his sister sold her jewelry and house, leaving her with nothing.

Drowned at the Border

Oyud waited in Istanbul for weeks. The room in the Iranian's house gradually filled up. There he was joined by Yousuf, who was married with two children. He had run a small restaurant in Muscat, the Omani capital, but had been cheated by his partner and left with debts.
They started out on the night of April 20 in a group of nine. Roughly 240 kilometers (150 miles) separated them from Edirne, a large city in northwestern Turkey that is the bottleneck for illegal immigrants making their way to Europe. Here, the Evros River makes a bend and flows through Turkey for a stretch. From the minarets of the large mosques, one can see Greece in the distance. Bridges in Edirne span the river. From there, it would only be a short walk into the European Union.
However, the land border here has been well-guarded for some time now. Frontex, the EU agency responsible for external border security, provides support for the Greek border posts in the form of thermal-imaging cameras. Germany recently boosted its Frontex contingent there, from six to 10 officers.
Plans also call for a 10-kilometer fence to be built at a cost of over €3 million. Its purpose is to keep the poorest of the poor out of Europe, just as the United States seals itself off from its Mexican neighbors with a border fence. What's more, robots and drones may even be deployed to guard Europe's external borders in the future, according to the latest plans from Brussels.
In Edirne, the people traffickers send their clients over the river. It's a perilous passage, and many people have already drowned in the fast-flowing rapids. Their bodies lie in anonymous graves in the nearby community of Didymoteicho.
Yousuf says that, before pushing them forward into the darkness, the people smuggler yelled out: "Keep to the left. To the right is Bulgaria, and you'll have problems there." Before that, he had given the would-be immigrants a cell phone wrapped up so as to be waterproof and €60 each to make the rest of the journey to Athens.

Unwanted Burden

Eight hours later, after barely eluding the border police, the nine foreigners are standing in their drenched clothes outside Panagiotis Mitoussis' café right on the market square of Nea Vyssa. The 64-year-old restaurateur sees refugees like these Bangladeshis every day. "We are a small country; we can't let everybody in," he complains, adding that Greece has been left to deal with the problem by itself.
According to the 2003 EU regulation known as "Dublin II," the EU member state in which a refugee arrives is responsible for handling his or her asylum process. The regulation aims to force countries such as Greece to take its border-security responsibilities seriously. But it also relieves countries located at the center of the EU, such as Germany, from the burden of unwanted asylum seekers.
Michael Hartmann, the domestic-policy spokesman for the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD), has been arguing that Dublin II should be reconsidered, and that the states on the EU's external borders should be given more assistance. Since 2011, Germany hasn't been sending any more refugees back to Greece, as the country's asylum policies supposedly violate human rights.
Greece has not been able to cope with the onslaught in any case. Since 2006, officials have registered a total of roughly 100,000 illegal immigrants per year. Owing to personnel shortages, the asylum applications are processed at a sluggish pace. Refugees are provided with neither financial support nor accommodations, and they only receive food donated by aid organizations and supermarkets.
Meanwhile, the rest of Europe has sealed itself off. The German government, for example, has sent officers from the Federal Police to Greece. Calling themselves "document consultants," they are stationed in airports and ferry terminals to keep a lookout for suspicious travelers. In addition, almost every plane arriving at German airports from Greece is closely monitored.
Given these circumstances, many refugees get stuck in Athens, which is currently believed to be home to around 100,000 illegal immigrants. They have been exacerbating social tensions there, at a time when Greek society is already on edge because of the country's debt crisis. Massive numbers of Greek police officers have been deployed in an attempt to at least keep the illegal immigrants away from the Plaka, the historical, tourist-filled neighborhood in Athens on the northern and eastern slopes of the Acropolis. Likewise, the illegal immigrants can also find no peace in the streets northwest of Omonia Square, an area which is predominantly inhabited by foreigners. Thugs belonging to the far-right extremistGolden Dawn party frequent the neighborhood.

Questioned and Fingerprinted

Back in Nea Vyssa, Oyud and Yousuf still have no idea of what to expect on the continent of their dreams. Cold and shivering, they wait in the market square until the police arrive with a delivery truck. The Bangladeshis climb into the cargo area and are transported to the transit camp in Filakio, while the man with the cut across his face is taken to a hospital.
Oyud and the others are questioned, photographed and fingerprinted. They are given a piece of paper bearing their names in Greek, which stipulates that they must leave the country after 30 days. Oyud cannot read it.
The procedure ends shortly after midday. Now they are in Europe -- and free. There is a bus that runs directly from the camp to Athens. But since it costs €70, more than they have, the Bangladeshis decide to take the train. The next one will be heading to Athens the following day at 3:42 p.m., so Oyud and Yousuf spend the night in the train station in the nearby town of Alexandroupolis.
The train's cars are full of refugees, and the trip last over 15 hours. Oyud and Yousuf fall asleep quickly. For the first time in a long while, they feel safe.

'My Karma Has Abandoned Me'

In the evening, they contact the people smugglers. Yousuf dials a telephone number, but what the man on the other end of the line tells him throws him back thousands of kilometers. "He says Greece is like Bangladesh," Yousuf says. "There's no work."
Yousuf tries not to panic. With his goal now within reach, his dreams have been shattered. "My karma has abandoned me," he says with tear-filled eyes.
Early the next morning, shortly before arriving in Athens, things get hectic. The refugees grab their luggage and gather into small groups. When the train comes to a halt, hundreds of people stream out of its cars and hasten toward the exits.

The Bangladeshis watch as the train platform gradually empties. They are the last passengers left. A security guard approaches them and tells them to go the park across the street. "You'll be picked up there," he says. He knows the game.
A young man with sparkling white teeth, jeans and sneakers shows up in the park. He is also from Bangladesh, and has been sent to meet the men. He has already been in Athens for two years, he says, but that there's no work. The only option is street trading. "The money runs out every month," he says with a laugh. He adds that he has a German girlfriend and pulls a German-English dictionary out of his backpack.
Athens isn't actually his final destination, the young man says. He just doesn't have enough money to continue yet. The rest of the journey to Germany costs between €2,000 and €3,000.

Translated from the German by Josh Ward

marilena: Greece debt creating healthcare crisis, warn chemi...

marilena: Greece debt creating healthcare crisis, warn chemi...: GREEK public insurers' inability to pay bills combined with worsening shortage of prescription drugs is causing panic Greece's pharm...

Greece debt creating healthcare crisis, warn chemists

GREEK public insurers' inability to pay bills combined with worsening shortage of prescription drugs is causing panic
Greece's pharmacies

Greece's pharmacies close for a 24-hour strike by chemists over unpaid repayments from the main healthcare provider and insurance funds. Photograph: Louisa Gouliamaki/AFP/Getty Images
Greece is on the brink of a severe healthcare crisis as shortages of medicines are exacerbated by panic among patients unable to get cancer or cardiac drugs, pharmacists have warned.
The insolvent country's worsening liquidity has led to public insurers being unable to pay bills and prescription drugs running dangerously low, say chemists. On Wednesday, the sector staged a one-day strike to highlight the "emergency situation".
"I give it 15 days. If the European Union doesn't release the loans it has promised by then, there will be scenes of utter chaos here," said Dimitris Karageorgiou, secretary general of the Panhellenic Pharmaceutical Association.
"The situation will become dramatic. Already we have cancer sufferers going from hospital to hospital to try and find drugs because no one can afford to stock them," he said. "If the shortages get worse, God knows what we will see."
The effects of the twice bailed-out nation's internationally mandated scramble to rein in runaway public debts have been felt across the board in the last month as concerns have grown over Athens' ability to remain in the eurozone.
"In that time 120 pharmacies have closed in Athens alone because of pressures from delays in payments for prescriptions from social security funds," said Karageorgiou. "Whatever you read about shortages is little. There are about 300 medicines that are no longer readily available. It's tragic."
Seated in her pharmacy in Plaka, the ancient district beneath the Acropolis, Mary Papazoglou said shortages ranged from antibiotic creams to thyroid and heart drugs.
"The situation with anti-cancer drugs is out of control but what can we do?" she said. "Because we're not being reimbursed we can't pay suppliers who can't pay the companies. It's a chain effect."
Under pressure from its "troika" of international creditors at the EU, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund, Athens amalgamated 13 social security funds into one body – the National Organisation for Healthcare Provision (EOPYY) – after being first propped up with rescue loans in May 2010.
But the pharmaceutical association, with 12,000 members, says the funds were unified "so violently" in the space of a year, with donations either not forthcoming or drying up completely, that NOPF quickly collapsed.
A fifth straight year of recession, which will have seen the Greek economy contract by around 27% by the end of 2012, had also had a devastating effect, said Karageorgiou.
"Record unemployment and mass emigration has meant that there is very little money coming into the funds," he said. "There is also a lot of confusion. In 2011 a total of 17 insurance laws were passed in parliament and they were often contradictory. The result has been no money in the till."
Pharmacists are owed about €1bn (£800m) by health insurers, say sector officials. As a result of the failure of state funds to cover prescription payments, chemists had, they said, been forced to no longer dispense drugs on credit. Instead, as of this week, patients will have to pay up front before being reimbursed from the state. Karageorgiou said: "You tell me. How can a pensioner surviving on little more than €400 a month afford cancer medications that cost €380?""This is the mess that lack of foresight has got us in."
Greece's cashflow problem has been exacerbated by the inconclusive elections on 6 May. As the country heads to polls again on 17 June, it does so under the threat of further rescue funds being withheld until anew government, ready to commit to unpopular reforms in return for aid, is in place in Athens.
Amid growing alarm, global drug companies have begun drawing up contingency plans to keep medicines flowing into the country in the event of it exiting the eurozone. Most of Greece's drug supplies are imported from abroad. Greek officials say part of the "nightmare" scenario that would ensue if Athens were to return to the drachma would involve the nation being unable to afford drug and medicine imports after any huge devaluation of the newly minted currency.