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Greece

Stadler: The mood in Greece is improving

The EU elections in May will be an important test of opinion regarding Greece’s reform and austerity policies. Robert Stadler, the publisher of the Griechenland-Zeitung (Greece newspaper), is cautiously optimistic.

At the moment, Greece holds the rotating presidency of the EU Council. This week, the EU finance ministers met for their informal meeting in Athens. The Greek parliament has agreed on new austerity measures, and the EU finance ministers have released new bailout loans. The Greek government said it has a budget surplus if the costs of public debts are excluded. Robert Stadler, the publisher of the Griechenland-Zeitung (Greece newspaper) - the only German-language newspaper in Greece - is cautiously optimistic about the situation in Greece .

DW: Mr. Stadler, is Greece on the cusp of a recovery? Or is the Greek government's message too optimistic?

Robert Stadler: There are some signs in the economy where you can say that the bottom has been reached. It seems that unemployment has stabilized, although admittedly at a very high level. The recession will not be as bad as originally expected. But many people who suffered from the crisis, especially the 1.5 million unemployed, don't feel the upswing.

How would you describe the mood of the people?

Robert Stadler

Robert Stadler

The mood is still depressed if you want to describe it in psychological terms. The people have accepted the situation. The protests, which took place two years ago, have significantly decreased. You can say that the people are slowly getting over the shock and the protests, but there is still lethargy. Perhaps there’s no longer this totally depressed mood anymore as there was two years ago.

Where do you see opportunities for the Greek economy? The EU always states that the Greek economy is not competitive enough. Is this correct?

I think that it will be a relatively long process because the Greek economy wasn't really based on exports in the last decades. The percentage of exports was 50 percent lower compared to other countries. Now they are especially trying to strengthen this area. There has been some growth, but this has been reduced in the last months. Greece is not a country with a huge industrial base. It can't easily become an exporting nation. Greece certainly has good opportunities regarding agricultural products and obviously tourism.

Outside of Greece, mainly radical parties make the headlines – for example, the left-wing "Syriza" as well as the extreme right-wing "Golden Dawn". What is the political mood like in Greece? Has it radicalized?

Our newsroom is exactly in the city center of Athens. We have often experienced the radical right-wing demonstrators marching to Omonia Square and the radical left, the largest opposition party, have protested in another street. We have witnessed the lay off of public servants, which was backed by the Troika (EU, IMF and the European Central Bank). It was very noisy here in the city center even last year. But I have to say, it has calmed down in the last six months.

The elections for the EU parliament are in May this year. Are the elections important for the Greek population or do they not care at all?

The elections for the EU Parliament are only important because one can test and get an idea of the domestic balance of power. The opposition radical left wants to convert the elections into a referendum. It’s possible that if there’s a positive result for the left, they could increase the pressure for early elections. But the government will try to interpret it totally different. They will say that European elections are European elections and not elections for the national parliament. There will certainly be a radicalization of the political rhetoric as the elections approach. At the moment, it looks like there are two different political poles - the conservative "Nea Demokratia" and the radical left. It’s possible that a new center-left party will be founded before the May elections.

What is the Greek attitude toward European institutions? You often hear the accusation that the Troika is to blame for everything. “Europe has occupied Greece” is one of the accusations. Can this still be heard or are there now people who say that's not the whole truth?

I think there are differentiated views. Unfortunately the media and the public discussion often paint a black and white picture. We experienced this very often in the last decades. You either support the conservatives or the social democrats - it is very polarized. Now there is a large part of the population that supports the agreements with the EU, the austerity measures and the reform policies. And there is a similar large part of the population that opposes the EU agreements. It is often forgotten that despite the large austerity measures and the restructuring of the budget - which has not be seen in any other European country - European citizens have to bear these loans. That is often forgotten in the discussion in Greece.

How has the attitude toward Germany changed in the last year? In the media you could often see pictures of Nazi uniforms and protests against Chancellor Angela Merkel. Does this show the real mood in Greece?

There have been spectacular pictures produced for television during the demonstrations in the last two years, when one or two demonstrators among tens of thousands carry a Nazi flag or a picture with Angela Merkel sporting a Hitler-moustache. But in our daily life, we don't experience this. There was an anti-German mood at demonstrations two or three years ago, but in recent months the political situation has calmed. By no means can you say that there is an anti-German atmosphere here, especially outside of Athens.

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