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Victory For Politics Of Defiance In Greece Means The Real Crisis Starts Now

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By Anton Muscatelli:

Now that the Greek referendum has produced a decisive No vote, never mind what happened before. The real crisis starts now.

It has to be recognised that the Greek people faced a difficult choice. The referendum itself was a political gambit by the Syriza government to seek to split the eurozone governments and obtain a better deal. The politics of defiance has won. It was a major gamble, so will it pay off?

epa04832994 Supporters of the Syriza party and No vote campaign wave flags and react after results of the referendum in front of Greek Parliament in central Athens, Greece, 05 July 2015. Greek voters in the referendum were asked whether the country should accept reform proposals made by its creditors.  EPA/KAY NIETFELD
Celebrations by No supporters on July 5 in front of Greek parliament in Athens. EPA

There will be some EU leaders, particularly in France and Italy, who will urge a return to the negotiating table. But the odds which the Greek government now faces are stiff. One political commentator wryly told me in recent days that Syriza has achieved what few others managed: to unite the eurozone governments against it, even those most critical of austerity policies. In my view there is now an 80% probability of Grexit.

The Greek reality

The IMF’s debt sustainability report, which was published on June 26 just days before the vote, shows how dire Greece’s fiscal predicament is. Just a year before, the fund projected the country’s debt/GDP ratio falling from 175% in 2013 to around 128% in 2020. But the poor growth performance and poorer primary fiscal balances have worsened the outlook such that the ratio is now expected to be over 150% by 2020.

Worse is still to come: the report does not yet reflect the negative impact of the current banking closure and capital controls, which will have severely affected economic activity, and numerous commentators have said that the IMF’s growth forecasts for the country are too optimistic.

Although one can partly blame Syriza’s intransigence for the latest economic setbacks, the result of the referendum should be a wake-up call to the eurozone economies that fiscal austerity alone cannot be a solution. Greece’s GDP decline of more than 27% between 2008 and the first quarter of 2015 is one of the worse peacetime economic declines in history.

Entrenched warfare

Following the No vote, the rhetoric on both sides will be turned up another notch, having already sharpened in recent weeks. Northern-European critics point out that none of the reforms to pensions or to the economy, such as privatisations, which were agreed in 2011 have been carried out.

There were supposed to be €23bn (£16bn) of proceeds from privatisation over the 2014–22 period, and further ones which the Greek government promised but which have since been taken off the table. The IMF now notes that there have been privatisations of €3bn in the past five years and forecasts proceeds of only €500m a year over the next few.

In contrast, critics of the troika’s approach argue that Greece’s economy has lagged behind because of a basic lack of domestic demand, and that aiming to run a 3%-4% primary surplus in the national finances is incompatible with any sort of economic recovery.

This polarised debate disguises that the better path probably lies in the middle: Greece does need to improve the supply side of its economy by investing in new technologies and making its existing sectors more competitive. But in the meantime, demand needs to be sustained and you need more than three to four years to radically restructure an economy. In simple terms Greece needs another bailout (probably about €50bn), this time with a major debt restructuring (about €80bn, maybe more) to ensure that a new medium-term economic plan can be adopted which has a chance of working.

That’s what the bargaining should be about, and following the referendum the Tspiras government has a strong mandate. But this will require flexibility so far unseen among the eurozone governments – many have already said publicly that a No would lead to a Greek exit from the euro. Negotiating a new bailout will also take time.

Alexis Tsipras (centre) and other Greek party leaders meeting on Jul6 to discuss the referendum result. EPA


The liquidity threat
But in the short run the main binding constraint is the banking shutdown. It is rumoured that one Greek bank is almost running out of cash, and that the whole banking sector has no more than €500m-€1bn left to dispense: about three days’ worth of cash. Without political cover from the eurozone governments, the European Central Bank (ECB) cannot reverse its move on June 28 to cap the Emergency Liquidity Assistance programme, which led to the closure of Greece’s banks the following day.

Having already received €89bn in assistance to keep functioning, the banks can’t resume business unless the cap is removed. Without additional ECB support, there would quickly be serious dislocation in the economy as businesses and government cannot pay salaries, and key imports like food and medicines cannot be guaranteed. Many businesses would cease to operate. So if the eurozone does not restart negotiations then Grexit could follow, de facto if not de jure, as the banks run out of cash.

If the eurozone shuts out Greece from ECB assistance, the Greek government would then be forced to issue promissory notes or IOUs: in essence the precursor of a new Greek currency, to which the Greek Central Bank and the Greek banks would need to be parties. Indeed, outgoing finance minister Yanis Varoufakis has already indicated that this is a possibility. In theory this exit from the euro could be reversed if an agreement were reached with the eurozone.

But a dual currency limbo cannot last long. Very quickly it would make sense to convert all bank accounts, prices and contracts to the new currency. Because it would take time to issue new drachma notes, euro notes would continue to circulate alongside IOUs. But people would seek to hide them in the knowledge that the new drachma would quickly devalue, probably by about 50%. It is also likely that the euro would eventually stop being legal tender and tight capital controls would operate, with a forcible conversion of euro notes to new drachma notes.

For the creditors, Grexit means Greece could walk away from its debt, which is mostly held by governments rather than European banks. This will have a negative fiscal impact on large eurozone countries like Germany, France, Italy and Spain. But European banks have built up capital reserves in the last five years and should be able to withstand the shock of the sovereign bonds of large eurozone countries that they hold on their balance sheets plunging in value as a result.

For the eurozone, the key will be to prevent a contagion through increasing debt costs to other weaker members such as Spain, Portugal, Ireland and Italy. The ECB will need to use whatever it takes to defend these countries, including its Outright Monetary Transactions programme, under which it can buy their sovereign bonds.

For Greece, debt relief would follow an exit from the eurozone. But there are risks, not least that it would have violated its adherence to EU treaties by exiting the euro. So an exit from the EU, though seemingly implausible, cannot be excluded.

And in spite of having a currency with a much lower value following a Grexit, there might be little benefit to net exports for Greece. This is because the Greek economy is quite closed, with net exports less responsive than might be expected to a devaluation. Greece would also need to maintain a fiscal surplus with no short-run external finance sources. So for Syriza this risks being a pyrrhic victory. For the eurozone and the EU, meanwhile, this is their biggest ever challenge.

The Conversation

epa04832994 Supporters of the Syriza party and No vote campaign wave flags and react after results of the referendum in front of Greek Parliament in central Athens, Greece, 05 July 2015. Greek voters in the referendum were asked whether the country should accept reform proposals made by its creditors.  EPA/KAY NIETFELD
epa04832994 Supporters of the Syriza party and No vote campaign wave flags and react after results of the referendum in front of Greek Parliament in central Athens, Greece, 05 July 2015. Greek voters in the referendum were asked whether the country should accept reform proposals made by its creditors. EPA/KAY NIETFELD

Anton Muscatelli is Principal and Vice Chancellor at University of Glasgow. This article was originally published on The Conversation.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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