All posts by Nikos Konstandaras

Mr. Nikos Konstandaras is managing editor and a columnist of Kathimerini, the leading Greek morning daily.  He is also a contributor to The BusinessThinker.com

SYRIZA’s win will test institutions (in Greece)

nikos_konstandarasMr. Nikos Konstandaras is managing editor and a columnist of Kathimerini, the leading Greek morning daily.  He is also a contributor to The BusinessThinker.com

This editorial has also been posted in Kathimerini http://bit.ly/1yQQYaP

Greece was at an impasse, with a government that did not believe in what it was doing and an opposition that declared with passionate intensity that whatever the government did was wrong and that it would do everything right – it would share out money, annul agreements with our creditors and, at the same time, would not endanger Greece’s membership of the eurozone and the European Union. Naturally, many voters opted for utopia.

From today SYRIZA will have to face the test of reality. The party is obliged to manage the economy, keeping its promises as the treasury runs out of money, but will also have to deal with our partners and creditors, who have made clear their position that Greece must abide by its commitments. SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras’s statement that the electoral result annuls the memoranda and that the troika of creditors is no longer valid is a direct challenge to the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund. The only way to avoid a collision is if one of the two sides blinks. Time is of the essence and it is very difficult to believe that our creditors will be the first to back down because they will pity the Greeks if our problems get worse.

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Editorial: Reality testing (Greece)

nikos_konstandarasMr. Nikos Konstandaras is managing editor and a columnist of Kathimerini, the leading Greek morning daily.  He is also a contributor to The BusinessThinker.com

Greece’s long tradition of national division has accustomed us to living with many alternative versions of history and reality. The years of the crisis, the harsh adjustment of our living standards to our country’s economic capabilities, did not bring about a more realistic version of things, in which, regardless of our party allegiances and personal differences, we could share at least some understanding of the problems that we face and reach a minimum of agreement on what needs to be done. On the contrary, the nation has been divided again, this time between those who are in favor of the memorandum tied to the international bailout agreement and those who are against it without any real effort to evaluate the reforms that the country needs. The following weeks, in which Parliament’s possible failure to elect a new president of the republic would lead to national elections and all that this would entail, may just bring us to understand where we are and help us decide where to go. 

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Haste is not a strategy

nikos_konstandarasMr. Nikos Konstandaras is managing editor and a columnist of Kathimerini, the leading Greek morning daily.  He is also a contributor to The BusinessThinker.com

Even as the region grows increasingly unstable and Greece needs to stick to a stable course, our country suddenly finds itself in the middle of a political and economic storm, for no serious reason. When the economy and politics are mixed, the result is never good. The great possibility of parliamentary elections in a few months, if this parliament cannot elect a president of the republic, has provoked behavior by the government and official opposition which is as dangerous as it is predictable. Both are acting in such haste that they cannot make a calm appraisal of the situation inside Greece and beyond our borders and act accordingly.

The government’s haste to prove that Greece is emerging from the crisis, that it has no need for further support (and supervision) from the troika, that it can borrow freely on the international markets, coincided with a general wariness of the European economy. The result was a crash on the Athens Stock Exchange, while the cost of borrowing rocketed to unsupportable heights. The government wanted to make a convincing show of leading Greece with a sure and stable hand; it is now paying for its haste by having to accept strongly worded support by the European Commission and the European Central Bank, whose interventions calmed markets somewhat. What is the government’s strategy now? Most likely the patience it did not show earlier.

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Cracks in the heart of Europe

nikos_konstandarasMr. Nikos Konstandaras is managing editor and a columnist of Kathimerini, the leading Greek morning daily.  He is also a contributor to The BusinessThinker.com

“No further effort will be demanded of the French, because the government – while taking the fiscal responsibility needed to put the country on the right track – rejects austerity.”  These words do not have the simplicity or the revolutionary resonance of “Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite” but they are striking proof of a rift in Europe’s heart. With its budget statement for 2015, the French government made clear that it has no confidence in the economic policy that has been forced on the eurozone countries and that it is prepared to jeopardize its relationship with Germany. This bond is the nucleus of Europe and, until recently, the driving force of ever stronger union.

Many fronts have opened in Europe in recent years. But when the French-German axis is shaken, then we know that nothing is certain anymore. New alliances will be formed, and new balances and policies will be sought and no one can rule out the danger of the Union falling apart, or devolving into a loose formation of some of its members.

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An Editorial: US return to strategy holds out hope and danger

nikos_konstandarasMr. Nikos Konstandaras is managing editor and a columnist of Kathimerini, the leading Greek morning daily.  He is also a contributor to The BusinessThinker.com –

The  march of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria has forced the United States to refocus on a region from which it has been trying to disengage. For the past few years, US strategy in the Middle East and Central Asia was based mainly on selective strikes against terrorist organizations and the steady withdrawal of military forces from Afghanistan, as was achieved in Iraq in 2011. President Barack Obama’s announcement on Wednesday, in which he laid out his plan for crushing the unilaterally declared “Islamic State,” or ISIS, signaled a dynamic return to the region with a strategy that holds both hope for success and the danger of further chaos.

On the eve of the 13th anniversary of the September 11 attacks, Obama had to make the case to his compatriots that the Islamic State constitutes a threat to their country’s safety and interests, and he had to assure them that he would not lead them into a new war. He made clear that the disastrous invasion of Iraq in 2003 and subsequent occupation would not be repeated. He stressed that Washington was forging a broad coalition with Arab, Muslim and European states; whereas the United States would provide air power and military advisers, ground troops would come from the Iraqi army, Kurdish troops and other enemies of ISIS.

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Terror is the Islamic State’s strength – and its downfall

nikos_konstandarasMr. Nikos Konstandaras is managing editor and a columnist of Kathimerini, the leading Greek morning daily. He is also a contributor to The BusinessThinker.com

The Islamic State’s leaders are very clever, employing terror as their principal weapon. But their consecutive conquests, and the ease with which they took over large parts of Syria and Iraq, have driven them into the trap of arrogance – they forced their enemies to unite, they provoked the reaction of powerful forces which had avoided tangling with them. Their greatest contribution is that they are forcing the region’s people and the greater powers to take a morally clear stand against them: the slaughter of prisoners and civilians, the pogroms against Christians, Shiites and Yezidis, the destruction of the region’s cultural heritage, demand the immediate and absolute eradication of this threat.

The tragic results of the US-British invasion of Iraq in 2003, along with the chronic instability of Afghanistan, have made President Barack Obama loath to use military might. In the one exception –Libya – we need to remember that Washington’s decision to intervene, along with other NATO members, was taken on March 18, 2011, a month after the rebellion against Muammar Gaddafi had begun, and only when he was about to smash rebel forces. “It’s over… We are coming tonight,” Gaddafi declared in a radio and television broadcast a day earlier. “We will show no mercy or pity.” Until then, th United States had been wary of getting involved. An appeal by the Arab League, pressure from France and Britain, and the threat of an impending massacre of rebels prompted NATO’s bombardment of government forces, leading to Gaddafi’s fall and death.

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In trying to conquer, Putin unites Europe

nikos_konstandarasMr. Nikos Konstandaras is managing editor and a columnist of Kathimerini, the leading Greek morning daily. He is also a contributor to The BusinessThinker.com

President Vladimir Putin is obliged to feign indifference to the sanctions that the European Union and the United States imposed on Russia this week. But, being the player that he is, he must know that he faces two very serious problems: the sanctions will seriously affect his country’s ability to borrow and will also hinder investment in the energy sector, Russia’s core business; more important, however, is the fact that his actions in Ukraine have prompted a united response from a West that, until now, had been seriously divided.

Putin managed to unite a West which he had derided as decaying and divided. Ironically, he did so in precisely the same way he manipulates his own people – by presenting them with a common enemy. In the past few months, as Russia undermined Ukraine’s territorial integrity and European countries failed to forge a coherent position, Moscow encouraged its citizens to believe that they faced an enemy which disliked them simply for being Russian, that Western countries wanted to impose rules by which they themselves did not abide. Presenting the EU and the US as an enemy – and a weak and hypocritical one at that – had the desired affect of uniting the Russians squarely behind their government.

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Why do we (Europeans) vote in Euro elections?

nikos_konstandarasMr. Nikos Konstandaras is managing editor and a columnist of Kathimerini, the leading Greek morning daily.
He is also a contributor to The BusinessThinker.com

This editorial has appeared in elathimerini.com as well-

On last Thursday the British and Dutch voted. The next day voters went to the polls in Ireland and the Czech Republic, yesterday, Saturday, Saturday in Latvia,
Malta and Slovakia. Today, Sunday, the rest of the EU will vote. In the 28 member states, 400 million citizens are eligible to vote for 751 members of the European
Parliament, who will, in turn, elect the new president of the European Commission. This is the eighth such vote since 1979. But this time there is a sense that the
Union is in decline that it is losing in economic and strategic significance. Even so, the electoral debate in each country focused on domestic issues. Very often
those issues stemmed from EU membership, but the elections remained stuck on local problems, not on EU-wide solutions.

Throughout the EU people worry about where the EU is headed. The years of crisis showed up weaknesses in the bloc’s construction. This created
the need and the opportunity for solutions through the adoption of new mechanisms and institutions. Precious time was lost, as was the even more
precious sense that Europe was the home in which we could all feel safe. However much the Greeks may have been to blame for their problems, they
were not the only culprits in the EU. For the good of all, Europe should have shown that its grand construction was not in danger because one of its
rooms had caught fire. “Personifying” the crisis, presenting Greece as a scapegoat and a “unique case,” renewed old enmities and ethnic stereotypes.
It sowed division. In the markets, Europe appeared as weak as its weakest member. It abdicated the power and the responsibility that it would have
had if it functioned as a single force, with the world’s largest economy (with a combined GDP of 13 trillion euros in 2012), with 500 million citizens
constituting the wealthiest and best-educated group of people the world has known. Instead, the EU found itself on the brink of losing its common
currency. Many people felt threatened by strangers – either immigrants or citizens of other countries who needed their support. Some were angered
because they were asked to help, others because they lost benefits and security.

The debt crisis is one of many important issues. How can developed countries continue to provide their citizens with everything to which they are
accustomed when the global economy has made them uncompetitive? How can each country gain the most from being in the EU when the EU does
not project its power because each member acts according to its own narrow interests? When voters reject austerity and reforms because they consider
them unjust, how do economies become more competitive? Is the solution to be found in reducing social security in Europe or should we demand that
competitor countries take equal care of their own citizens?

The problems remain unsolved and can be dealt with only at the EU level. Europe will be saved only if the serious debate begins within the next
European Parliament – the one that will represent powerful centrifugal forces

 

May Day in a changing world

nikos_konstandarasMr. Nikos Konstandaras is managing editor and a columnist of Kathimerini, the leading Greek morning daily.  He is also a contributor to The BusinessThinker.com

Like glaciers melting after ages of stability, the global political system is undergoing great change. Alliances are loosened or reinforced, old enmities are revived and the whole system of global governance is being tested. It is impossible to predict where this will lead.

There was a major May Day rally by workers in Moscow’s Red Square – the first since 1991 and the collapse of the Soviet Union. Many of the banners did not express the demands and wishes of Russian workers, instead they praised President Vladimir Putin for his dynamic intervention in Ukraine’s domestic affairs and for the annexation of Crimea. On May 9, a major military parade in Red Square commemorate the day in which the Allies defeated Nazi Germany. The revival of this Soviet tradition was Putin’s project. More recently, Russia adopted laws which make it easier to annex parts of countries that were in the Soviet Union; they also allow citizens of such territories to gain Russian citizenship. It is clear that Russia is on an irredentist march.

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Europe’s big sleep

nikos_konstandarasNikos Konstandaras is managing editor and a columnist of Kathimerini, the leading Greek morning daily. He is also a contributor to The BusinessThinker.com

Something strange is happening in Europe. Member states are drifting toward elections for the European Parliament, as fears grow that the election of many members of nationalistic and euroskeptic parties will hinder further union, yet no one is rushing to fix things. The major countries, those which usually take the lead, are not leading. Smaller ones are absorbed by their problems. And the challenges in the broader region and in relations with the United States are growing. It is as if the dream of collective security and prosperity has been abandoned and each country is pushing through the forest on its own.

Germany, the greatest European power because of its economy, is playing for time. For many months before the September federal elections, Europe waited. Six weeks later, we are still waiting for a government to be formed and have seen no initiative aimed at dealing with the economic crisis and its explosive social and political consequences. Indicative of this is how Chancellor Angela Merkel recently referred Prime Minister Antonis Samaras to the troika of our creditors when he tried to discuss changes to Greece’s economic restructuring program – as if the political management of the crisis is a technical matter.

Germany is in no rush, because it is not one of the country’s facing a debt and deficit crisis. On the contrary, its economy is coming out stronger. But as long as Berlin does not push initiatives, the more social and political tensions will rise and bring greater numbers of euroskeptics to the European Parliament. This will affect many countries’ domestic politics, but with the European Parliament undertaking ever more important functions, it will also hobble Europe’s future. Italian PM Enrico Letta, whose country (like Greece) faces a large public debt, high unemployment and popular discontent, recently expressed the fear that if mainstream pro-EU parties got less than 70 percent of the seats, we would face a “nightmarish legislature” in Strasbourg.

Germany is absent, but France is chasing its tail, afraid to tackle the reality that it can no longer afford the social democratic benefits that its people are used to. The government also has to deal with the challenge of the extreme-right National Front. In Greece, the Netherlands, Finland and other countries there is a strong extreme-right current.

Britain, meanwhile, is trapped by the domestic discussion on a possible referendum (by 2017) on the country’s future in the EU. There, too, a euroskeptic party, the UKIP, is on the rise, while there is a strong anti-Brussels wing in the ruling Conservative Party.

Time is passing and the EU countries seem oblivious to the danger that social insecurity and unemployment are strengthening the forces that oppose the idea of a united Europe. Like sleepwalkers, they are headed for a collision with reality.