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‘The international story is, we’re a basket case’

‘The international story is, we’re a basket case’

The Greeks are in the streets, protesting against tough austerity measures and labor market reforms. But Greek finance minister George Papaconstantinou says the measures are vital.

July 8, 2010 7:16 by

Are Greeks buying into this campaign?

There’s still skepticism on the part of the wider population. We still need to convince people that we’re serious about this and it’s not just spin.

And there are complaints, from the medical association, for example. Rather than saying we’ll take measures to ensure compliance, all its members came out with a lame response, saying that we’re being singled out unfairly, which was not helpful.

Then there are the lawyers, notaries, plumbers, engineers… and that’s before you open a whole other chapter with nightclubs and restaurants (notorious for being dominated by mafiosi and protection rackets).
It’s not the first time someone has tried to do this, but it’s the first time it has being done like this, both in terms of the law and policing.

It seems to be more about changing a whole cultural outlook rather than just pushing through certain economic reforms.

A lot of the things happening in this country are not a result of rationality, but of adding privileges here and there, and the political class being weak to resist or feeling that the big political priorities were dependent on accepting these. It comes from the weakness of the political class and the way the system has operated as a system of spoils. To be able to get the spoils you have to rely on a civil servant, who’s dependent on you, and to then give it back as benefits.
So for a long time the aspiration of many families has been to get their kids well-paying, stable, and not particularly demanding jobs in the public sector. That remains the dominant sense among young people. This is bound to change, because the public sector is becoming less attractive – we’ll be hiring less, paying less, and shrinking the workforce.
The payscales in the public sector also have to change. They are quite illogical, in the sense that you have some very low-paid people and some very highly paid ones who don’t necessarily deserve it. And basic salaries are very deceptive. You have to look at the total yearly remuneration. In this ministry (Ministry of Finance), the basic salary can be 1,200 euros but the total monthly remuneration reaches 2,800 euros once benefits have been added up.

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