Papers highlight formidable Greek challenges

Waving or drowning? A protestor in Athens Keystone

Swiss newspapers have generally welcomed the Greek parliament’s decision to accept an austerity package, but they point out that the hard work is only just starting.

This content was published on June 30, 2011 minutes

Editors were torn on Thursday over who to put on their front pages: Roger Federer, who had just lost in the Wimbledon quarterfinals, or disgruntled Greeks bearing Molotov cocktails.

The Basler Zeitung and the Berner Zeitung went with the former; most of the others, including the Zurich papers, went with the latter.

“Greece averts debacle,” headlined the Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ) beneath a dramatic photo of two Greek riot police engulfed in a cloud of orange tear gas.

Its editorialist, like many others dusting off their classical dictionaries, referred to various ancient deities such as Athena, goddess of wisdom, and saw the vote as a chance for the Greeks – “possibly their last”.

On Wednesday Athens fended off a bankruptcy that threatened to shake up global financial markets, approving severe spending cuts and tax increases in the face of violent protests by Greeks who say they have suffered enough (see box).

“The package has been accepted, but Greece is far from out of the woods. The difficult period of implementation is next,” the NZZ said, pointing to the need for not only structural reforms, including a complete overhaul of the political system, but also a change in the relationship between state and citizens.

“In many respects [this relationship] reminds one of the days of socialism in Eastern Europe. The state is still seen by many as a self-service shop.”

“Herculean tasks”

Le Temps in Geneva, which featured on its front page a picture of Greek politicians giving themselves a round of applause, wrote of the “Herculean tasks” that lay ahead.

“It’s now a question of making the public swallow the bitter pill of austerity… an essential step if Greece wants to finance itself on the markets again in two years.”

When it comes to growth, the paper was hardly optimistic. “History shows that the austerity programmes prescribed by the International Monetary Fund to dozens of countries over the past 30 years haven’t resulted in growth. Greece won’t be an exception.”

The country doesn’t lack assets, it said, “but clear policies to mobilise internal and external capital”.

“Wise decision”

The Tages-Anzeiger in Zurich also warned that “only if the economy starts growing again would the Greeks accept the administered shock therapy”.

The relief operation for Greece and the rescue efforts for the euro zone were like a giant experiment, it said. “Yesterday it continued to work – but there’s still no reason to sound the all-clear.”

It admitted that when it came to solutions for Greece and the euro zone, “there are currently as many opinions as experts”.

La Liberté in Fribourg welcomed the “wise decision” taken by the Greek parliament – “even if it was dictated more by patriotic duty than conviction”.

It speculated whether the EU really would have turned its back on Greece had the austerity package been rejected. “Not sure. We’re talking about the stability of the euro zone. And European solidarity is one of the keys to resolving the Greek crisis.”


However, The Basler Zeitung summed up what many papers thought: “Time bought, problem remains”.

“In the short term the Greek government has done the right thing,” it wrote in its editorial. “Is the problem solved? No. Because it’s doubtful that the Greeks can implement, in a country plagued by crisis, even higher taxes and lower wages.”

The Aargauer Zeitung agreed. It was “relieved” at the outcome of the vote – “the consequences of a ‘no’ don’t bear thinking about” – but believed nothing had been gained other than a bit of time.

“The austerity measures are driving Greece into a downward spiral… If the financial markets don’t stop bullying the highly indebted countries on the periphery of Europe, the so-called rescue parachute will have to be opened more and more. Possibly until bankruptcy.”

Also concerned was the Südostschweiz paper, which pointed out that parliament had voted against the wishes of the majority of the Greek population and against the wishes of tens of thousands of protestors who had been demonstrating outside the parliament building for months.

“This isn’t democracy,” it concluded.

Bloody violence

Tabloid Blick focused on the bloody violence on the streets of Athens, contrasting pictures of injured protestors with the applauding politicians inside parliament.

“The hopelessness of the situation has heightened the demonstrators’ readiness to use violence. Correspondingly brutal was the reaction of the security forces,” said the paper’s journalist on the scene, who got a faceful of tear gas and needed treatment for his troubles.

“The austerity package might have been agreed, but the acid test of Greek society has only just begun.”

Greek woes

The government of Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou, which won a first vote on Wednesday by 155 to 138 votes, expects on Thursday to pass the second and final bill of tax hikes, spending targets and privatisations agreed as part of an EU/IMF bailout.

The five-year, €28 billion
(SFr33.8 billion) package of spending cuts and tax increases would keep bailout money flowing to Greece from other European countries and the International Monetary Fund. It would free €12 billion in fresh loans, although the money will only be enough to see the nation through to September.

Investors around the world cheered the news, but protesters, fighting tear gas, hurled whatever they could find at riot police and tried to blockade the Parliament building.

By Wednesday night, police said 49 officers had been injured, one seriously when he was hit in the face by a chunk of marble. Forty-three protesters were detained, with 17 of them arrested. Emergency services said they had treated 99 protesters and passers-by for injuries.

Without the bailout money, Greece was at risk of default. While no one knows for sure what would have happened next, analysts have said it would have threatened the viability of the euro, the EU’s common currency, and could have done much worse.


Across Europe, officials hailed the vote as an act of "national responsibility". Relief was the main response in markets, too. Soon after the vote, the euro rose against other world currencies, including to $1.44 against the dollar. Stock markets around the world were posting big gains.

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