Form Beats Substance: Media as the Dismal Estate!


The international media rejoice in the fact that Greek priminister Tsipras has removed finance minister Varoufakis from his role as the main negotiator with the EU authorities about the completion of the second bail-out program, which should release another 7.2 bill € to the Greek government. During the past two months, much more attention was given to Varoufakis’ outfits, his mode of transport, his style, his eccentricities than to the substance of the Greek negotiating position. Admittedly, Varoufakis’ personal style must have been infuriating to his ECOFIN colleagues whom he lectured on how wrong their anti-crisis economic policy was. True, his interventions were longer on generalities than on detail, because in order to argue that Eurozone policy had failed, detailed program assessments were not necessary: the fact that Eurozone output is still below its pre-crisis Peak (-24% for Greece), unemployment more than one third higher (25% for Greece), the combined debt Ratio 15 percentage points higher (now nealry 180% for Greece) should – in a rational discussion atmosphere – suffice to make a point. However, Varoufakis massively misjudged the Eurozone ministers’ readiness to engage in a constructive, very  principled dialogue about the direction of Eurozone economic policy with a tiny Eurozone Country which had massively underperformed for decades and needed help. While such a discussion would be more than called for, Varoufakis’ presumption that the dismal Greek case was the moment and opportunity to do this, was wrong: his ministerial colleagues would not have this, period!

What is truly disappointing to the outside observer is the fact that both traditional and electronic media talked more about the “pop-economist”, about his motorcycle, his upturned collar, the shouting matches and his ennervating style than about substance. Repeated reports that the Greeks did not produce any program changes, notwithstanding the fact that a few weeks ago Greece produced a 26-page paper describing their program, that Greece refused to engage in “structural reforms” and do “their homework”, dominated media reports. And this is not only true of superficial tabloids, but also of the Financial Times, Neue Zürcher Zeitung, The Guardian, BBC, CNN, ORF, ZDF – and so on. Not one of the mainstream papers or media reported on the conflicts in substance between the new Greek government and the Eurozone Ministers. Rather, the gist of the stories was “that the Greeks refused to deliver”. Very little mentioning of the fact that the dyfunctionalities of the Greek economy and society were not the responsibility of the new government, but rather that of the previous government parties – which the populace had removed from government in the last election. No mentioning that the new government is serious about tax collection, broadening the tax base, fighting corruption – in contrast to the previous governments when they had been under the watch of the infamous “Troika”. No mentionig of the fact that the new government program puts ist emphasis on (admittedly under-defined) growth strategies, instead of crippling the economy even further.

It seems that the European Mainstream media are so enthralled with the morals-based disciplinary arguments of the Eurozone finance Ministers and heads of state (“old Agreememust be honored no matter what”) that they forget that democratic elections are the backbone of Europe, that the immiseration of large swaths of the Greek population warrants a rethink of the strategy, that swupport from the Greek population for the anyhow very difficult recovery of the Greek economy is crucial for the viabilaity of an agreed program and for the survival of the Eurozone. To bring the Greek government to its feet, to get the government thrown out, in order to bring the old Mainstream parties back, cannot be consideration driving finance ministers’ negotiations with the difficult Greeks, or can it?

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3 Comments

Filed under Crisis Response, European Union

3 responses to “Form Beats Substance: Media as the Dismal Estate!

  1. David Evans

    Excellent commentary. The Greeks are in an untenable debt position with few options and Varoufakis had the chutzpah to confront the Eurozone finance ministers. But, things may not work out well for the ostensible winners, who may deal with the failed game of chicken.
    D. Evans
    Jakarta

    • My guess is that eventually there will be an Agreement, since EU/EZ have alwys to wiggle through somehow. But this will not be a solution for the Greek crisis, just a temporary filler, so that they can pay their international creditors and their own domestic obligations (pensions, salaries). And, once Greece has agreed with the Eurogroup, the attempted discussion about the direction of the failed EZ economic policy will have been laid to rest, once and for all, i.e. until the next crisis raises ist head.

  2. Bud Clatanoff

    Well said, Kurt. As an American reading about the Greek-EU “negotiations,” I wondered whether it was personalities or policies that were actually tabled.
    Bud C.

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