As the International Monetary Fund admitted making mistakes in its handling of Greece’s bailout, the latest jobless total there illustrated the pain from crippling recession after years of bailout-linked austerity.
Unemployment rose to 26.8 percent of the workforce in March. February’s total was revised slightly down to 26.7 percent. It meant 1.3 million Greeks were officially without work.
The Greek finance minister Yannis Stournaras welcomed the IMF’s self-criticism saying: “It helps Greece.”
However, the European Commission strongly rejected the IMF view that lenders mishandled the first Greek bailout in 2010 by allowing Athens to delay restructuring its debt until 2012.
The Commission – which is one part of the so-called troika that prepared the bailout – insisted private debt restructuring in 2010 would have risked spreading the problem to other eurozone countries.
“The (IMF) report argues that an upfront debt restructuring in 2010 would have been desirable. We fundamentally disagree,” Commission spokesman Simon O’Connor told a news briefing.
Whoever is right on that point, it is little consolation to the Greeks that the IMF now acknowledges that it underestimated the damage to Greece’s economy from bailout imposed spending cuts and tax hikes.
Anger in Athens
Anger was palpable on the streets of Athens, where the EU-IMF austerity recipe that the Washington-based fund says it sharply misjudged has left rows of shuttered shops.
“Really? Thanks for letting us know but we can’t forgive you,” said Apostolos Trikalinos, a 59-year old rubbish collector and a father of two.
“Let’s not fool ourselves. They’ll never give us anything back. I’m sorry for all the people who killed themselves because of austerity? How are we going to bring them back? How?”
“This is unfair for everyone, for all the young people who are all unemployed, but nothing will come of this now because what’s done is done. The decisions have already been made and we cannot go back,” said 26-year-old Yannis Zoupis.
“They admitted it, but will anything change? Are they going to give anything back to us? No they won’t,” complained publisher Lukas Zaharopoulos.
Others were not qo quick to condemn the troika. A 54-year-old self employed businessman, who gave his name only as Alexis, said: “Even if they made a mistake, we should look at our own mistakes. It is not their fault that we ended up where we ended up. We started it, that is my opinion. We first have to look at what we did wrong, because there were other countries that had problems as well but they didn’t end up where we did.”
Greeks have seen their incomes plunge by about a third since the debt crisis erupted in 2009 and prompted Greece to seek two bailouts from the EU and the IMF.