Politics the key to solving Greek debt problem, experts say

By SUSANNA PAK, MEDILL NEWS SERVICE, Written for UPI  |  April 9, 2012 at 3:14 PM
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WASHINGTON, April 9 (UPI) -- With the Greek elections about a month away, the resolution of the country's debt crisis is proving to be "primarily a political problem," the mayor of a town in central Greece said.

Karpenisi Mayor Kostas Bakoyannis said in a conference call briefing Monday that the country's two main ruling parties have to create a coalition government to ensure Greece remains in the eurozone and on the road to recovery.

Although a few smaller parties have popped up, the conservative New Democracy party and the socialist PASOK party appear likely to remain dominant and in power after the elections in early May. But post-election, the two parties must unite their efforts, said Bakoyannis, who is a New Democracy member.

"I think what's important is 50 percent of the electorate hasn't decided how to vote," Bakoyannis said in the conference call sponsored by the non-partisan think tank Atlantic Council, giving the parties leeway to find opportunities to build consensus.

So far the parties have not been able to do that, said Alexis Papahelas, managing editor of the Athens daily newspaper Kathimerini.

"The problem is due to a lack of strong leadership. There is nobody to take ownership," Papahelas said.

Without leadership to push for reforms, the government may be forced to stop paying salaries or pensions, he said.

Papahelas predicted a "tough summer" but said Greece can set short-term goals to prove to residents and investors it is taking steps to get out of debt.

"Greece has to show it wants to be part of the European family," Bakoyannis said.

He noted Greece has an important asset in its young people who, although disillusioned with government now, will be a "great strength" in the future.

"We have an extremely well-educated generation of young people who have impressive skill sets and have international experience. They have the capacity to help the country in the years to come," he said.

Papahelas listed some short-term goals for Greece: Focusing on becoming more export-oriented, investing more in tourism and developing its renewable energy sector, which in particular has good potential to grow.

The country can also work on branding itself as "the Florida of Europe," the go-to destination for retirees, he said.

As Greece is working toward paying off its debt, other countries may step in to help.

"At some point Europeans will decide they don't want a failed state," Papahelas said. "I believe they'll provide a stimulus package or extend the fiscal adjustment by a year or two."

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