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FT: Germany not to blame for Greek corruption and clientelism

Greece was permeated with clientelism and corruption long before it joined the Eurozone. Germany and other creditor nations bear no blame for them.

To revive trust in Europe, we must rebuild faith in democracy. Tony Barber in his article in the "Financial Times", gives his own view on how 2014 will be a successful year.

“What, by December 31 2014, will constitute a successful year for Europe? A broad economic recovery, and a steady healing of the wounds inflicted by the sovereign debt and financial sector crises, would certainly be welcome – as would an international achievement such as a US-European free-trade deal. Best of all, however, would be a restoration of the people’s dwindling faith in political institutions at national and EU levels. This is at once the biggest and the most elusive prize

But a decline in public confidence in Europe’s governing classes is wider, and it relates to technocrats as well as politicians. According to a Eurobarometer poll, trust in the EU had slumped from 57 per cent in 2007 to 31 per cent last May. Some 29 per cent of respondents expressed negative feelings about the EU – an all-time high, and double the level recorded six years earlier. Trust in national governments, meanwhile, was at 25 per cent, down from 41.

Recession, unemployment and stagnant or falling living standards account partly for these trends. So does the restructuring of the welfare state, which in the second half of the 20th century was a core element of the European social contract that blunted political extremism and solidified support for capitalism and democracy. It would be a mistake, though, to overlook non-economic factors such as corruption scandals, immigration and the crumbling of once rock-hard voter loyalties to mass political parties. Underlying everything is the frustration of Europeans that they exert less influence than ever over the decisions of elites, both in their own countries and in Brussels.”

Tony Barber says that “In the past two years such warnings have grown more frequent. Less apocalyptically, one might observe that in Greece, for instance, what proved incompatible were not eurozone membership and democracy but eurozone membership and a democracy permeated by clientelism and corruption. These defects long preceded the eurozone’s birth. Germany and other creditor nations bore no blame for them.

That said, Europe’s north-south divide is unlikely to disappear in 2014. It will not escape the attention of vulnerable eurozone countries that, as they receive yet more instructions to shrink the welfare state and cut wages, the coalition in Berlin will be preparing to increase pension benefits for Germans and to soften labour market reforms introduced before 2005. This sense of unfairness will be heightened by a proposal of Angela Merkel, Germany’s chancellor, for “contracts” under which eurozone governments make binding promises to adopt specific economic reforms".

"Even strong economic growth and job creation – challenging goals in themselves – will not be enough in 2014, or later, to rebuild confidence in European politics. Leaders must educate citizens better on the benefits and responsibilities of eurozone membership. In the EU as a whole, it would help if the voices of national parliaments counted for more. There are no magic solutions, but giving substance to democracy will be a good start.” the article suggests.