Ιωάννης Μπαλτζώης: Πώς θα είναι η Συρία μετά τον πόλεμο

 

Οι εξελίξεις στη Συρία είναι ραγδαίες, αποσαφηνίζουν το τοπίο και αποκαλύπτουν τους σχεδιασμούς και τις επί μέρους συμφωνίες των δυνάμεων με ισχυρή προβολή ισχύος που κατοχυρώνουν τα συμφέροντά τους στην περιοχή. Συμφέροντα που διασφαλίζονται είτε αμέσως και δη φανερά, είτε εμμέσως δια αντιπροσώπων και δια μυστικών συμφωνιών, που θα αποκαλυφθούν στην τελική λύση για ολόκληρη την περιοχή.

Και αναφερόμαστε πρώτα από όλα στις ΗΠΑ και στην Ρωσία, ως τις δύο μεγάλες δυνάμεις με μεγάλη προβολή ισχύος και κατόπιν σε περιφερειακές δυνάμεις, όπως το Ιράν, η Τουρκία, η Σαουδική Αραβία, το Ισραήλ και ακόμη μικρότερες, σύμμαχοι αυτών, όπως η Χεζμπολάχ του Λιβάνου, οι Κούρδοι της Συρίας, οι Δρούζοι της Συρίας, θρησκευτικές ομάδες όπως Σουνίτες, Σιΐτες, Αλαβίτες κλπ.

IMF: Greece: Much Progress, but Action Needed to Address Crisis Legacies, Boost Inclusive Growth July 31, 2018

 Greece has successfully eliminated its extraordinarily high fiscal and current account deficits, and restored growth. It must now take action to address crisis legacies and boost inclusive growth, says the IMF in its annual health check of the country’s economy.

Greece has come to the end of its program engagement with the IMF. What has Greece accomplished during that time?As the Fund publishes its annual report on the state of the Greek economy, IMF Country Focus sat down with Peter Dohlman, the country’s mission chief, to discuss the report’s overall findings, key recommendations that could help lift the country’s growth prospects and living standards, and the Fund’s future relationship with Greece.

Before I answer your question, let me express my sincere condolences for the recent wildfire tragedy that has hit the Attica region of Greece.

Turning to your question, Greece can point to many successes. It has eliminated its extraordinarily high fiscal deficits (from a deficit of 15 percent of GDP in 2009 to a surplus of just over one percent in 2017) and brought its external transactions, its current account, into near balance. Doing this required some difficult decisions including pension and tax reforms, and improvements in public administration, such as a more independent revenue administration.

At the same time, Greece has put in place better social safety nets, such as the Social Solidarity Income. Greece has also made its labor markets more flexible and wages more competitive.

In product and service markets, many sectors were liberalized in line with the recommendations of the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development, the investment licensing framework became more business-friendly, and competition barriers were removed for several closed professions.

Most recently, Greece has put in place an important legal toolkit to help resolve nonperforming loans, which is essential to make banks healthy again. These efforts, along with better external conditions and other factors, have restored growth, and we expect economic growth and job creation to accelerate over the medium term. The government has also re-accessed capital markets, though so far, largely for liability management operations.

The IMF’s Stand-By Arrangement, approved in principle, was never activated. Does this mean Greece did not implement sufficient reforms?

The arrangement to support the authorities’ economic adjustment program was approved in principle, and was to become effective once the Fund received specific and credible assurances from Greece’s European partners to ensure debt sustainability, and provided that Greece’s economic program remained on track.

Although sufficient assurances on debt relief did not emerge in time, the agreement nonetheless helped provide confidence to creditors to disburse to Greece and close the second review of the European Stability Mechanism program in July 2017.

It also provided a good framework for us to closely coordinate with Greece and the european institutions on policies, and strengthened traction.

Following its hard-won recovery, is the country now out of the woods?

While much has been achieved, Greece faces very significant crisis legacies. Prominent examples are the extraordinarily high levels of public debt, nonperforming loans, unemployment, and high poverty rates.

Greece needs to address these legacies while also achieving sustainable higher growth and remaining competitive in the euro area. In our staff report, we call for rebalancing fiscal policy to better support growth and to strengthen social safety nets, strengthening more aggressively bank balance sheets to restore lending, and taking further steps to boost productivity and enhance governance.  Greece will need to continue to protect social and investment spending working within the high surplus targets agreed between Greece and european institutions.

How will the Fund stay involved?

As with all members of the Fund, we will continue to conduct our annual health check of the economy, that is, the Article IV Consultation, which entails comprehensive discussions with the Greek authorities about the full gamut of economic policies. The Fund also engages in Post-Program Monitoring of countries that finish their program engagement with high remaining repayments to us, and so our interactions with the authorities will be more frequent than the annual Article IV cycle.

In this context, we will report to our Executive Board twice a year, through the Article IV consultations process and Post-Program Monitoring, followed by publication of our findings. In undertaking these activities, we will work together with the European institutions.

A substantial share of our interaction with Greece in recent years has taken the form of technical assistance, and we anticipate continuing this engagement, at the authorities’ request, in targeted areas such as revenue administration and public financial management.

Greece’s debt is still very high. Is the debt relief from Greece’s European partners sufficient?

The debt relief recently agreed with European partners, combined with a large cash buffer, and the fact that most of Greece’s public debt is low interest official sector debt, greatly strengthens Greece’s prospects to sustain market access over the medium term.

However, as the official sector debt matures and is replaced by more expensive market debt, Greece’s ability to service its debt will gradually become more challenging. Greece will need to simultaneously achieve high GDP growth and run large primary fiscal surpluses for many years to keep public debt on a downward trajectory.

The commitment of European partners to provide additional relief if needed, following a review in 2032, provides for an important safety net in this regard.

There has been much discussion about the sharp pension cuts, which the government has applied as part of the loan program. Why are these necessary?

The pre-legislated measures that will come into force in 2019 represent another key step towards inclusive growth. They will not change the level of overall government fiscal balance, but will help to improve the balance between pension spending, targeted social support (including to low-income households and the unemployed), and investments.

Pension reform is critical for ensuring that the system can meet its obligations to pensioners over the long run, and will also improve the fairness of the system, both across the current generation of retirees and between current and future retirees. Some pensioners with long contribution histories stand to benefit from this reform.

At the peak in 2015, pensions absorbed 38 percent of the general government budget expenditure, requiring state transfers to the pension system of 9.5 percent of GDP. Greece’s social support system was at that time heavily centered on pensions that were extremely generous compared either to salaries or to what retirees had contributed to the system while they were working. The heavy spending on pensions, including on pensions for the relatively affluent, left little room for direct support for the population most at risk of poverty, including the low-income households and the unemployed.

Why is the IMF concerned about the authorities’ plans to return to the old system of collective bargaining?

One of the more important achievements in Greece over the past eight years is a more flexible labor market, and a more competitive wage structure following the 2011 collective bargaining reforms. The authorities always saw these changes as temporary and now plan to reverse them, meaning that the government will once again be mandated to extend the collective labor agreements negotiated between representatives of employers and employees in a particular sector or occupation, to all the workers in that sector or occupation.

This will reduce labor flexibility and risk disconnecting wages from productivity at the firm level, which does not bode well for bringing down unemployment and enhancing Greece’s competitiveness in the euro area. It will also limit the flexibility of firms to restructure, which remains needed in light of the bank, tax, and social security debt overhang.

Can Greece’s banks now be considered healthy?

Greek banks were hit hard by the crisis. Following private sector involvement in the context of the 2012 sovereign debt restructuring, Greek bank assets lost value. This loss in asset value was exacerbated by bank borrowers that simply were unable to service their loans and strategic defaulters that took advantage of debtor protection amid an ineffective judicial system to stop servicing loans that they were actually capable of repaying. Combined with the sharp deposit outflows in the first half of 2015, this has sharply limited banks’ ability to provide new lending.

On a positive note, there has been a gradual improvement across key dimensions, including overall liquidity, asset quality, and governance. However, banks’ portfolios continue to shrink, with negative consequences for lending, and substantial further work is required to restore full confidence in the financial system and revive banks’ intermediary role.

Importantly, the authorities have now strengthened financial sector legislative and regulatory frameworks to facilitate resolution of nonperforming loans. These tools should be put to work and remaining restrictions on capital flows should be lifted in a prudent manner following the agreed roadmap.

Greece’s reform program is ongoing, so what benefits can Greece expect once these reforms are implemented?

Greece needs higher, more inclusive, and sustained growth. Since Greece faces a very difficult demographic transition—an aging and shrinking population that will translate into a smaller workforce—it must do even more to enhance labor force participation and productivity, and attract investment.

We expect the full benefits of existing reforms to materialize gradually, but sustained reform efforts, including beyond those in the pipeline, will be needed for Greece to attract more investment, create more quality jobs, and afford better social protection.

Steadfast implementation of reforms will gradually improve the prosperity and welfare of the Greek population, making the Greek economy more resilient to shocks, and closing the gap with euro area partners.

IMF: Greece: Staff Concluding Statement of the 2018 Article IV Mission

A Concluding Statement describes the preliminary findings of IMF staff at the end of an official staff visit (or ‘mission’), in most cases to a member country. Missions are undertaken as part of regular (usually annual) consultations under Article IV of the IMF's Articles of Agreement, in the context of a request to use IMF resources (borrow from the IMF), as part of discussions of staff monitored programs, or as part of other staff monitoring of economic developments.

The authorities have consented to the publication of this statement. The views expressed in this statement are those of the IMF staff and do not necessarily represent the views of the IMF’s Executive Board. Based on the preliminary findings of this mission, staff will prepare a report that, subject to management approval, will be presented to the IMF Executive Board for discussion and decision.

Ο καθηγητής Νίκος Μάργαρης τα έλεγε απ’ το ’99: Πώς οι αναδασώσεις αλλοίωσαν την ταυτότητα των Ελληνικών δασών

Η οικολογική ισορροπία σε μια περιοχή προστατεύεται όταν υπάρχει μεγάλη ποικιλία φυτών και ζώων. Αν όμως με ανθρώπινη παρέμβαση κυριαρχήσει η μονοκαλλιέργεια, οι κίνδυνοι εξαφάνισης της βλάστησης μεγαλώνουν ασύλληπτα.

Το παρακάτω κείμενο είχε γράψει ο μακαρίτης Νίκος Μάργαρης σε άρθρο του που δημοσιεύτηκε στις 28/11/1999 στην εφημερίδα Το Βήμα.

 
 

BESA,By Dr. Mordechai Chaziza: China’s Maritime Silk Road Initiative


BESA Center Perspectives Paper No. 900, July 22, 2018

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: The Mediterranean Sea, one of the most important maritime trade highways in the world, is the marine traffic hub at the western end of China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Beijing’s maritime strategic activities in the Mediterranean consist mainly of constructing and operating ports and railways to open up new trade links between China and the Eurasia-Africa zone. However, the implementation of a Chinese Maritime Silk Road via the Mediterranean cannot succeed unless there is a way to bridge the gap between economic interests and the capacity to protect those interests.

The One Belt One Road Initiative (BRI) has two components: the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road Initiative (MSRI), which is intended to link China and Europe via land and sea routes. This initiative – Beijing’s most ambitious integration project to date – lies at the heart of China’s foreign policy. The MSRI is designed to build sea routes with faster connectivity to increase trade along the land- and sea-based Silk Road, linking Asia with Europe and Africa.

Under the strategic framework of the MSRI, China has been buying up the development and operational rights to a chain of ports stretching from the southern regions of Asia to the Middle East, Africa, Europe, and even South America. According to the Financial Times, China has spent billions expanding its port network to secure sea lanes and establish itself as a maritime power.

The Mediterranean Sea is one of the most important maritime highways of all international trade routes around the globe. It is a focal point, as it represents the western end of the BRI. Given the Mediterranean’s strategic position, China has stepped up its presence in the region by acquiring, building, modernizing, expanding, and operating the most important Mediterranean ports and terminals in Greece, Egypt, Algeria, Turkey, and Israel. Beijing wants to capitalize on the Mediterranean’s geographical proximity to become a major distribution hub for Chinese goods to the EU, its biggest trading partner.

The increasing economic ties between China and Europe are giving the Mediterranean region an opportunity to regain its place at the forefront of international trade. The newly enlarged Suez Canal, the main transport route between Asia and Europe, has doubled in terms of both capacity and traffic flow between the Red Sea and the Mediterranean. It now allows for the passage of larger vessels, reducing transit times between Asia and Europe and raising the competitiveness and visibility of Mediterranean ports.

However, access to the European market via Mediterranean ports, along with maintaining the vital flow of resources such as energy and other raw materials from the Middle East and Africa, depends on the security and political stability of the Mediterranean region. Maintaining a safe geostrategic environment and securing the geopolitical interface of the region are sine qua non conditions for the success of the construction and realization of the MSRI.

China is the world’s largest trading nation in goods. Three Chinese shipping companies are among the ten largest container-shipping companies in the world, responsible for approximately 10% of global trade. Most Chinese goods are transported by ship, so Beijing is a major destination and starting point of international shipping routes.

China’s shipping ports are among the busiest on earth. Eight of the world’s ten busiest container ports are in that country, with the port of Shanghai the busiest on the planet. China is the world’s third-largest ship-owning nation and the largest shipbuilding nation, with roughly 30 million compensated gross tones (CGT). Chinese enterprises are also active in the construction and management of ports around the world. Through the construction and management of ports and international shipping assets along the Silk Road as well as the building of faster connectivity via sea routes and an increase in trade, Beijing plans to expand China’s reach as a maritime power.

Beijing’s maritime strategic activity in the Mediterranean Sea consists mainly of constructing and operating ports or railways. These investments should be seen in the context of the country’s broader infrastructure activities under the BRI. The investment in sea lanes and railways complement each other, as they jointly open up new trade links between China and the Eurasia-Africa zone. China has slowly attempted to develop a presence in the Mediterranean by investing in international logistical distribution centers and infrastructure projects that have strengthened its regional position.

For instance, China’s investments in the Piraeus port, the ports of Ashdod and Haifa, Port Said, and the Suez Canal Corridor Project go hand-in-hand with the One Belt, One Road Initiative, which marks the passage from the Maritime Silk Road to the land-based one towards Europe. Beijing’s 21st century Maritime Silk Road should be considered a driving force for its economic and strategic interests in the Mediterranean, as well as a platform from which to accelerate and increase its regional presence and influence.

China is gradually becoming more influential economically, diplomatically, and geostrategically in the Mediterranean Sea. Huge investments and mutually beneficial trade relations between China and Mediterranean countries are increasing Beijing’s stake in regional affairs while exposing it to significant threats. The political instability and religious extremism in several countries in the wider Mediterranean region raises the question of whether Beijing would be willing to take on a leadership role, with all the responsibilities that that would entail.

There will be no successful implementation of a Chinese Maritime Silk Road without addressing the gap between economic interests and the capacity to protect those interests. Securing investments in a region of extreme geopolitical volatility will be a tough test for Beijing’s foreign policy in the coming years. China does not have an overall strategy regarding the Mediterranean region’s affairs; instead, it prefers to deal with each country bilaterally.

Chinese policy towards the region is still dominated by the economic factor, in particular trade and investment. Beijing will have to forgo strict compliance with its principle of non-interference if it wants to reap any benefits from the Mediterranean region. For the time being, China’s behavior in the region remains cautious: it is keeping a low profile and does not seek to significantly alter existing dynamics. Beijing continues to prefer to act judiciously and avoid getting involved in confrontations in the region.

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Dr. Mordechai Chaziza is a senior lecturer in Politics and Governance at Ashkelon Academic College Israel, specializing in Chinese foreign and strategic relations. He can be reached at [email protected]