Greek bailout worries ease

 
Greek Finance Minister Yiannis Stournaras with reporters in Athens, 1 Apr 14 After years of pain the Greek government now has a more upbeat message for the press

The doctors had come to inspect the patient.

Since 2010, Europe's sick man has been drip-fed instalments of its 240bn-euro (£200bn; $331bn) bailout. The bad blood between Brussels and Athens, when Europe's leaders berated Greece over lagging reform efforts, has receded. And today, eurozone finance ministers gathered in sunny Athens talking of "recovery" and "great efforts" that qualify the country for another big slice of aid: 8.3bn euros, to come in three sub-tranches.

For the Greek government, it's an important sign of confidence before European - and local - elections in May. The Prime Minister, Antonis Samaras, knows their outcome will depend on whether Greeks are beginning to feel that a corner has been turned. He's staked his career and his government's tenure on bringing Greece out of its worst financial crisis in living memory.

The left-wing opposition Syriza has capitalised on the pain that Greeks have gone through to get here. Four years of austerity, leading to unemployment above 27%, have given the anti-bailout leftists the lead in every poll for weeks. There's likely to be a large protest vote against the cost-cutting government in May's ballot.

But after some positive economic signs, Mr Samaras's conservative New Democracy has edged ahead in one opinion poll - and there's a spring in the prime minister's step.

The green shoots are showing: Greece is forecast to exit six years of recession this year, the deficit has been wiped out, save for interest on the bailout, and Athens is even preparing a return to the markets for the first time since 2010. The reform efforts will, the government hopes, persuade eurozone leaders to grant it debt relief later this year by extending the repayment of loans or lowering interest rates.

And yet most Greeks care or understand little about opaque macroeconomic figures. They focus instead on record joblessness, one in three now at risk of poverty.

The thud of tear gas canisters and smoke of petrol bombs no longer fill Syntagma Square, but protests continue and a general strike has been called for next week. Until unemployment falls and the majority sees a tangible improvement, the smiles of eurozone finance ministers won't rub off here. And the government still risks a backlash at the ballot box.

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble in Athens, 1 Apr 14 German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble in Athens - it's not clear what the big crosses are for
 

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  • rate this
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    Comment number 24.

    'He [Farage] said he did not want Britain to be part of an "expansionist" EU foreign policy, claiming that the EU wants its own "army and navy".

    Mr Clegg said this was a "dangerous fantasy that is simply not true".'

    German defence minister, von der Leyen has called for a "European Army" & the abolition of national armies. She wouldn't have said it if Merkel did not agree. What Merkel wants the

  • rate this
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    Comment number 23.

    14. The J Hoovers Witnesses

    "The Greeks have allowed their property bubble to burst. It's fallen by 60% but no mention of that here"

    They should have left the Euro

    Greece should not have been allowed in the "EU" or the Euro in the first place

    They are in the "EU having their country destroyed by it because of the sick, daft, megalomaniac "European Idea"

    DE let them in to please the French

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 22.

    Optimism might be somewhat premature, to say the least. Prepare for serious political instability in Greece. See http://www.tovima.gr/en/article/?aid=582959. In most countries, if true, the government would have to fall. But this is Greece.......

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 21.

    Too much corruption in this country I'm afraid.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 20.

    The need for Greece to encourage investment and build a stronger economy based on industries other than agriculture and tourism is key. However too many top professionals have emigrated to other EU countries, and there will inevitably be a shortage when their skills are called upon. The feedback I get from friends and associates in Greece is that they are not convinced by their government's spin.

 

Comments 5 of 24

 

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