Greek Disease

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Inside the New Sick Man of Europe.


Nicole Itano

19 February 2010


The first time I tried to apply for my Greek residence permit, there was no one there to take my application. To the bemusement of the lawyer who accompanied me, the office was shut in honor of — no joke — the patron saint of lawyers. When I did finally manage to submit my paperwork, the clerk merely shrugged when I asked how long it would take. “A year,” she said, “maybe two.”


As the spouse of an EU citizen, getting my permit should have been a formality. But legal arguments, my lawyer advised, would get me nowhere. Instead, a call to the government office that deals with foreign journalists got me my residence interview scheduled in record time — delayed only by an inconvenient, month-long Christmas strike. (Though to be fair, the six chain-smoking, frappé-drinking officials who attended the interview to rubber-stamp my application were reasonably friendly.)


This is the image of the Greek civil service that’s making the rounds in Europe these days: a group of lazy, corrupt, and inefficient officials who may or may not show up for work before retiring on cushy pensions. As Europe grapples with the fallout from Greece’s excessive state debt, frugal Germans are balking at the idea that they should bankroll their tax-dodging, early-retiring Mediterranean partners.


Of course, there is some truth to this narrative. Generations of Greek governments have padded the civil service with their supporters and in the process created a flabby monster of a state that in 2008 ate up 48 percent of Greece’s GDP. No wonder pressure is mounting in Brussels and Berlin for deeper budget cuts before Europe will come to Greece’s rescue.



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