Europe waits nervously for the latest deadline in the Greek crisis. The coalition government of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras has only days to meet the EU Troika’s draconian $13.5 billion package of cuts, after three months of talks have failed to bring agreement. The stumbling block within the coalition appears to be a newly-imposed demand for still further deregulation of the labour market. Already the removal of conditions won by the trade unions has resulted in the IMF declaring Greece “much improved” as a place for foreign capital to start up businesses: it’s shot up to 18th place in a table of 235 nations, but that’s at the cost of wages and job security.
With the Troika due to reconvene early this week to discuss the outcome of the Greek government’s deliberations, German finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble has wound up the tension, telling ZDF television that there are doubts over whether Greece had met its existing bailout commitments, and that nothing has been decided about the country’s future with the EU.
The situation in Spain gives some indication of the criteria applied to ailing economies by the EU and the European Central Bank (ECB). Spanish unemployment figures have just been released, showing that more than 25% of the nation is jobless – the worst figures since the death of dictator Franco in 1975, with rates as high as 35% in the south. But according to the ECB, Spain is “on track” to receive bailout funds. Nearly six million people are without work, including more than half of all youth, and the nationalised savings bank conglomerate Bankia has lost $7 billion so far this year, but if Mariano Rajoy’s government is deregulating in the interests of foreign capital, all is well according to the ECB.
If you’re in Sydney, come along on Tuesday night when Alex and I will be discussing the crisis in the Euro zone at the Australian Institute of International Affairs at the Glover Cottages, 124 Kent St, 6pm for 6.30pm. Details and booking, http://www.aiia.asn.au/nsw-events/
In July we visited the house at Kardamilyi in the southern Peloponnese where the British travel writer Patrick Leigh Fermor lived until his death a year ago. Now a comprehensive biography has just been released in the UK. It’s by Artemis Cooper, a granddaughter of Lady Diana Cooper, who had known “Paddy” since childhood. It is being hailed as “funny, wise, learned but totally candid” – and that’s from Barnaby Rogerson in The Independent, a self-confessed Leigh Fermor sceptic who has been won over by the book. One of its revelations is that the famous writer, who presented an effortless upper-class persona, was self-made and self-educated. I’m so pleased we got to see the rambling beachside house where he lived as an expat for three decades.
I’m in Sydney for the first time in six months. Walking to Central Station on Saturday to get the train for a quick trip to the Blue Mountains, I found myself in the middle of the Surry Hills Festival. It was huge – live bands on an outdoor stage, street theatre, dozens of food stalls, arts and crafts, environmental groups, kids’ amusements and a big, young, happy Sydney crowd. The event was in aid of the Surry Hills Neighbourhood Centre, and it’s a terrific initiative.
In the Blue Mountains I learned that Katoomba is experiencing a major cultural revival. On November 17 a modern cultural centre will open opposite the Carrington Hotel, with an art gallery, café and library. The gallery’s inaugural exhibition, assembled by guest curator Gavin Wilson, will be Picturing the Great Divide, bringing together outstanding paintings of the mountains. The area has strong visual arts and literary traditions and the new centre is certain to become the place to hang out.
The old library, now vacated, is getting a makeover as a performance space – much needed, since at present there is no theatre between Penrith and Bathurst. The newly-formed Katoomba Theatre Company, bursting with talent, is already planning its first season. I stayed overnight with my friends Louise O’Halloran and Adam Quinn, who are both on the board. They moved up there only months ago but have plunged straight into local community life. Louise was manager of Belvoir St Theatre and then a colleague of mine at the Art Gallery Society before starting the Responsible Investment Association. Adam has worked for the Sydney Theatre Company, Belvoir St and the Adelaide Festival. They join a board that includes company founders, director Larry Buttrose and his writer-performer partner Belle. Ita Buttrose is joint patron along with film director Bruce Beresford. Expect to hear a lot more about the company once the venue is up and running.