Beware of Europeans bearing gifts

Nick Dearden, Jubilee Debt Campaign UK

President Hollande of France was in Greece earlier this week, offering friendship and much needed investment to the economy. It’s interesting to discover today what he means by ‘investment’. Essentially Hollande is trying to position French companies to take advantage of the privatisation of Greece’s water, energy and railways, as well as forming a partnership to ‘help’ with the search for oil and gas in the region.

Hollande Greece

The generous Hollande is also loaning naval frigates to Greece, with the possibility of some aircraft to follow. This would seem the last thing which a heavily indebted country with Europe’s most bloated military would need, but Hollande is correct that his offer is a good reflection of the close French relationship with Greece that goes back many decades. After all, French (and German) companies have made a fortune flogging military equipment to a country that doesn’t need it, playing no small part in the current debt crisis.

Greece’s privatisation programme is not proceeding as fast as the Troika would like, but there have been some notable sell-offs. First up is the national lottery, which was privatised in the first wave, despite the fact that it is a highly profitable entity. Why on earth would a government want to sell off profitable sectors of the state? Surely nothing could make clearer that this had nothing to do with policies for reducing the debt, but rather with extracting ever more profit from the Greek people.

Then there’s the recent sale of a large part of Corfu to a New York-based private equity company, NHC Capital. They snapped up one of Europe’s most popular tourist destinations for €23 million for a 99-year lease. Doubtless their ‘investment’ will make it into yet another highly profitable, over-constructed tourist trap, of the sort which already litter the Mediterranean.

Corporate ‘investment’ can now be covered by special constitutional article 107 which gives companies special exemptions from the law – for example, immunity from normal planning procedures. This special status is decided by the government on the basis of national interest (currently providing jobs can confer such status). One example is a gold mine in the north of the country. The mine is believed to have gold and copper worth nearly £8billion, which the government received £9.5million for. Today it’s expanding its operations rapidly, in the face of serious opposition because the mine will rip apart pristine forests and an area of outstanding natural beauty, and is ‘protected’ from having to pay royalties.

When ordinary people fight back, they are harshly repressed. The most horrifying thing I’ve learnt since being here is the criminalisation of workers ability to take action to defend themselves – even when they haven’t been paid. Recently workers on the Athens metro had an emergency law applied to them to make strike action a criminal offence. It has also been applied to dock workers in the port of Piraeus, where workers organised a strike against 6-months of non-payment. The new law essentially forces workers to labour for free. If they strike they will be imprisoned.

For those of us in the delegation that have worked on debt crises elsewhere in the world, these are familiar themes – using a debt crisis to justify super-exploitation of resources and labour. Security spending booms, companies are handed special exemptions from the law, workers are harshly repressed. Welcome to Greece.