Dear Chancellor Merkel
For one more time during the last 18 months a German politician, this time the Chancellor herself, resorts into populism in order to pacify an “enraged” domestic opinion in relation to the European Support Mechanism for Greece.
It’s about time our fellow citizens in the EU, the German people, who we dully respect, be informed about the truth in relation to the “laziness” allegations.
First of all, Greek private sector workers work more than the average EU-15 worker according to the latest Eurofound Working Time Development Survey. For 2009 the average collectively agreed normal weekly hours stand at 40 per week, the highest in Europe next to Estonia and Bulgaria, while in Germany it is down to 37.7 per week. As far as the statutory maximum working week is concerned both Greece and Germany stand at 48 hours, though Greece has a statutory maximum working day of 12 hours and Germany of 8. Only civil servants work less in Greece with the collectively agreed normal weekly hours standing at 37.5, in comparison to 39 in Germany. The Greek government is currently increasing civil cervants’ weekly working time at 40 a move that everybody in Greece approves.
Second, as far as taking holidays is concerned, the collectively agreed annual leave in Greece is 23 days in comparison to 30 in Germany, while the statutory minimum paid annual leave in Greece is 20 days per annum in comparison to 25 in Germany.
Overall, after the deduction of paid leave and public holidays the average annual hours worked in Greece stand at 1816 per year in comparison to 1655 in Germany.
The accusations about “laziness” are even more unfounded when referring to young workers. Even before the crisis there was the problem of “generation 700 euros”, that is the existence of a “precarious generation”, a majority of young Greeks, most of them knowledge workers, who were overworked, underpaid, debt-driven and insecure.
Of course there are also those young people who face a stubbornly high unemployment rate. Youth unemployment which was already a significant issue before the crisis, as in most countries in the EU, is currently almost at triple the rate of what it is for the total workforce.
Having said all that, politicians’ attempt to play the card of the moral economy story, whether they are Germans or Greeks, is leading nowhere, but to fruitless division and hostility. The biggest victim of such attitudes is going to be European unity and the EU itself. The “laziness” card, as cheap as the “Nazi” card used by certain populists in Greece, is totally misleading, taking the public discourse away from the real problems and causes of the economic crisis in Europe. To name but the most crucial in relation to Greece:
- The oversized, unproductive public sector, a result of clientelistic policies that led to the debt explosion
-The uncompetitive functioning of markets as well as the market dominance by inward looking, microsized enterprises
- The low quality of public institutions, especially the lack of government effectiveness and rule of law.
If Greece is to be saved and along with it the euro, the so called bail-out politics must put to the side the moral economy story and look more seriously into the real economy narrative.
Currently you do exactly the opposite: lots of talk followed by measures of austerity. What Greece needs is an economic revival plan followed by deep structural reform in the real economy. The aim is to make Greece a productive, competitive outward looking economy able to attract capital and investors, not just buy the products other countries produce by working hard and efficiently. After all this is what you want too, don’t you?
*Η παραπάνω επιστολή έχει σταλεί για δημοσίευση στην FT Deutschland με αφορμή δημοσιεύματα και δηλώσεις Γερμανών πολιτικών για την ελληνική "τεμπελιά".