Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos at Peterson Institute

Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos at the Peterson Institute

On July 25, 2011, the Greek Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, Evangelos Venizelos, arrived in Washington, under the radar. Venizelos came to the U.S. capital to speak at the Peterson Institute on the current debt crisis in Greece, a topic which Americans — especially those who live and work within the Beltway — have become all too familiar with in recent times.

As a Greek-American living in DC, I was enthusiastic to attend the Venizelos discussion when I caught word of it. I am sympathetic towards my Greek relatives affected by Greece’s debt crisis, as well as curious to see how the Greek government is handling a similar economic crisis to the one unfolding in the US.

Having recently graduated with my BA in Government from Georgetown University and off to earn my MSc degree from the London School of Economics in the fall, the economics of global capital markets and the policies necessary to regulate them are of particular interest to me. How are the Greeks dealing with their own financial troubles and what can Americans learn from their strategy?

Venizelos & panel at Peterson Institute

Venizelos & panel at Peterson Institute

Sitting in the audience at the Venizelos discussion, I unfortunately found myself less than satisfied with the information I learned. The audience seemed to become lost in the throes of political spectacle. We were reduced to a body of witnesses, watching and listening to a reinforcement of Greek-US state ties as they were played out on the stage of the Peterson Institute’s press-covered event. I did not receive any substantive answers to my wonders regarding economic strategy.

Venizelos’ presentation was titled “The Greek Debt Crisis: Challenges and Opportunities”. Just from skimming the literature on my seat, I could tell that the Min Fin was set to take an optimistic tone with his speech — and that he did. Venizelos opened the discussion with a outline of Greece’s economic statistics compared to those of other influential countries. He explained the facts and the figures, implying that global media has skewed the severity of Greece’s financial problems.

For Venizelos, Greece’s economic character is a victim. The proud image of Greece suffers as the debt crisis is increasingly exacerbated by journalists trying to muster up their unique story angles. This, however, is not what I take issue with. I understand the importance of a strong national image. I was more concerned, rather, with Venizelos’ positive rhetoric alongside the later statements he gave.

Shortly after trying to tamp down concern about the image of Greek economy, Venizelos relayed a stringent economic plan for Greece, which he claimed was set to be completed by as soon as 2014. Abstractly outlining his plan, Venizelos noted that the plan’s plausibility for success remains slim if certain demands are not met. According to Venizelos, it will take great cooperation as well as an extreme lessening of political opposition (and even then there is no promise of financial upturn) in order for the plan to be successful.

This confused me. There exists an obvious disconnect between the intensity woven into Greece’s debt recovery plan and the opposing idea that the financial situation in Greece is being overplayed by the global media. One cannot help but ask why the Greeks would need such an acute financial plan if the economic circumstance in Greece is not as bad as the media portrays it to be.

Peterson Institute audience Q & A

Peterson Institute audience Q & A

Moreover, when asked during the question and answer session about how the political infighting-specifically, between the Pasok and New Democracy parties — would affect the economic plan and what the Greek government was doing to decrease the groups’ animosities toward one another, the Min Fin dodged the question. Instead of outlining how strong party opposition would be softened to facilitate successful implementation of a less than surefire plan, Venizelos turned from policy to politics. There was no talk of bipartisan negotiations. Instead, Venizelos took this opportunity to make a statement about the importance of cooperative government and parliamentary democracy, which turned into a reinforcement of Greek-US relations. This is where political spectacle came into play. Venizelos used his press-laden moment to reinforce Greece’s relationship with its empathetic American ally in lieu of answering the distinct policy questions set before him.

For the lack of content and overload of think tank “cotton candy” (a term I use to the credit of a fellow audience member), I blame the media; but, I do not do so for the same reasons Venizelos does. While the Greeks might argue that international media is negatively portraying Greece in order to save face in the global arena, I argue  that the media is a double-edged sword. The media may or may not be bending the stories coming out of Greece, but it surely seems to have kept the comments coming out of the Greek government in check.

Even so, who can blame them? What politician wants to say something he or she may regret in the future? Nevertheless, the presence of the media kept Venizelos from presenting a more detailed outline of the ways the Greek government plans to deal with Greece’s debt crisis. Maybe the only way to get the truth is to go to the source.

That being said, if you have some free time this summer and you are feeling a little like an anthropologist, go and see for yourself. Travel to Greece. Check out what the government and the media are overplaying and what they are underplaying. If you get nothing else out of the experience, spend some euros to help spark some economic upturn. Word from my family and friends in the motherland is that the resorts are more than hospitable right now!

By Katherine Relle

Katherine Relle

Katherine Relle

Katherine Relle is a graduate of Georgetown University (class of 2011), where she earned a B.A. in Government and Theology. Her strong interest in U.S. politics and foreign relations has been fostered by her work with the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, the White House Office of Presidential Correspondence and various D.C. think tanks, such as the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Southeast Europe Project. Recently, Katherine has worked between business and politics, as a member of the Federal Government Relations team at AstraZeneca, a large global pharmaceutical company. Katherine will attend the London School of Economics for her MSc masters degree in Media and Communication Governance in the fall of 2011. Katherine Relle was a 2009 Athens Fellow.



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