It is ironic that Greece, in the throes of its debt crisis, is preparing to assume the presidency of the European Union officially as of January 8. Paralyzed by drastic wage cuts and savage tax hikes that have destroyed the middle class and suffocated by a massive public debt and a relentless troika that continues to demand further austerity, Athens will be playing host to the major decisions of its European partners for the upcoming crucial six months.
The country remains helpless in its quest to regain some form of economic stability with 1,365,000 of its citizens out of work making for a dizzying unemployment rate of 27.3 percent and for an astronomical 58 percent among its youth.
The slide in the economy continues unabated, with GDP having shrunk by one third since the onset of the crisis in 2007 and the OECD prediciting a further contraction for the coming year, albeit at a slower pace of 0,4%.
The public debt continues to spiral out of control, having reached an unsustainable 316,9 billion euros in the second quarter of the year and with OECD forecasts indicating that it will not fall below 160 percent of GDP before decade's end.
Meanwhile, wages continue to be slashed and currently stand at levels not seen since 2006 with workers having lost a quarter of their earnings over the last three years.
At the same time 597,000 Greek children are deemed poor or socially excluded with over half of them in "serious material deprivation," written in collaboration with the University of Athens, "The Situation of Children in Greece 2013."
The non-governmental organization, "Klimaka," has declared that the problem of homelessness in the country has reached critical levels with over 17,000, many of which are in the Greek capital. Contrary to popular belief, surveys show that 90 percent of the destitute are of Greek origin while only 10 percent are of foreign descent with the majority having lived in Greece for at least 8 years.
Disturbingly, over four-fifths of the needy are males in their prime earning years of 26 to 55 and over 50 percent have finished junior high, a further 25 percent have completed high school and another 20 percent have university degrees. Most were formerly employed in industries that have been ravaged by the crisis such as construction.
The banking sector has been very hard hit by the financial meltdown with all Greek lenders, weighed down by ever-increasing amounts of non-performing loans, unable to provide an impetus to the struggling economy. The tax system is unstable and discourages investment as new measures are being constantly implemented on an ad hoc basis in order to satisfy the neverending demands of the troika and long promised public works projects have yet to break ground.
Next week, Greece becomes Europe's president and will be welcoming its neighbors to more marathon bargaining sessions that will eventually determine the country's economic survival. Perhaps Prime Minister Antonis Samaras should begin by planning informative workshops for his partners, taking them on special fieldtrips to Athens' Omonoia Square so they can meet with the hungry and visit the plethora of soup kitchens they are forced to frequent on a daily basis. Witnessing, firsthand, where four years of imposed austerity has brought their partner and once-proud nation may just bring some connection with the harsh reality.