Europe's loan to Greece: a reward that comes with a warning. Greek austerity is lauded, but maverick behavior chastised
The European Community has issued Greece a reward and a warning. The EC earlier this week granted Greece a $910 million loan that observers here say is both an acknowledgement of Greek efforts to bite the economic bullet and, in the atmosphere in which the agreement was reached, a warning that Community members are growing weary of the maverick role Greece is playing on many EC issues.
The loan is actually the second half of a $1.82 billion credit agreed upon in the fall of 1985 to cover Greece's expected 1986 balance-of-payments deficit. Half the sum was proferred then and the second half was dangled as a carrot for reducing the inflation rate (to 15 percent) and the deficit (to $1.7 billion) by the end of 1986.
Some observers say the EC had little choice but to approve the second tranche of the loan - regardless of Greece's performance in meeting the agreed targets - because it could not allow one of its members to declare a debt moratorium.
In announcing the deal, EC monetary authorities recognized Greece for respecting, if not quite meeting, economic targets. Austerity measures Athens introduced to help curb inflation have brought it down to an estimated 17 percent from last year's 25 percent, and public-sector borrowing has been reined in to the targeted range.
In turn, the Greek government has agreed to maintain its year-old austerity policy until at least 1988 and to adhere more closely to EC policy. If it does so, it will quiet many of its critics in other EC states. But it will also run the risk of further alienating the Greek political left wing, which - largely because of the economic belt-tightening - abandoned the ruling Socialist Party during municipal elections in October. Strikes have already been called in December by the seamen's union, the garbage collectors, state power-company employees, and the National Confederation of Labor.
But if Greece fails to toe the EC line, it is likely to reignite the outcry within the Community that preceded the loan negotiations. Athens was the target of scathing attacks in the European press, particularly in Britian.
The widely read British weekly magazine, the Economist, recently ran an editorial calling for the EC to delay the loan because Greece does not ``play the European game.'' It cited Athens's dissent in the EC condemnation of Syria for its alleged links to terrorism. The Syrian issue was reportedly raised during the loan negotiations.
With the new pact, Greece has addressed some of these criticisms and thus quieted some political storms, but even with the loan money on its way, the country's economic future has not been brightened. Forecasts for economic growth in 1987 range from zero growth - among the optimists - to shrinkage of 0.2 percent. Greece is also strapped with a foreign debt of more than $17 billion, which is equal to 40 percent of its annual gross national product. Servicing of that debt over the last year has absorbed some 20 percent of its total foreign-exchange earnings.
A number of observers here say that the government's chief obstacle in meeting the EC's terms to the letter is its own bloated bureaucracy. ``People here are hired before elections, but they are never fired,'' one analyst said. But raising unemployment would not go down well with the political left.