FROM JOHN McGURK IN ATHENS
If you need help to make up your mind about Britain staying in or getting out of Europe, then take a trip to Athens.
For it is here, even in the prestigious Syntagma Square, home to the Greek Parliament, where the austerity diktats and unwavering demands of Brussels are on daily show as the destitute wail for help and plead for money. It is a pitiful and pathetic sight.
Further north on the border with Macedonia, 15,000 migrants are trapped against wire fences and living in mud while waiting to be transported to makeshift Greek relocation camps because the rest of Europe doesn’t want them.
With Slovenia, Croatia and Serbia shutting their borders, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that an unsympathetic Europe has abandoned its most chaotic member state to deal with this crisis all on its own.
The clear evidence is that Greece cannot cope with its own economic disasters of debt, unemployment, homelessness and poverty never mind a humanitarian disaster now accepted as the worst European crisis since World War Two.
Areas of Athens can now be compared to the culture of North Africa where beggars and outcasts swarm the tourists with their hands out. It’s a sight unexpected in 21st Century Europe in a country which is supposedly part of the world’s most successful economic union.
Yet Greece, the gateway between Europe and the Middle East, is now expected to deal with migrants being washed up on the shores of its islands sometimes at a rate of 3,000 a day.
It is estimated that 42,000 people who risked crossing the Aegean from Turkey are now trapped in Greece unable to move on to their favoured destinations of Germany or Sweden and unwilling to turn back to where they came from.
While there can be little doubt that Greece cheated and cooked its books to gain admission to the European Union, it is also clear that Europe turned a blind eye principally because the country was ripe to make profit for German industry in particular.
In 2009, the year before the Greek economy crashed and burned, Germany exported 6.7 billion euros worth of exports to Greece.
But not all of this massive trade was honest because many deals were the result of corruption and bribery involving some of the biggest German business names who even paid Greece’s two major political parties, Pasok and New Democracy (essentially Labour and Conservatives) to smooth their paths.
There was the Siemens scandal where 100 million euros in bribes ensured that the contract to install security systems for the 2004 Athens Olympics went to the German industrial giant.
The investigation which followed exposed the uncomfortable fact that the Athens office of Siemens kept an annual slush fund worth 15 million euros. Little wonder it was Siemens’ most successful branch office.
Then there are the many questions surrounding the multi-million euro contract awarded for the Athens underground which was extended for the Olympics after the contract went to Deutsche Bahn, Germany’s national railway operator.
Mercedes is under suspicion over the supply of buses and military vehicles to the Greek army while a 1.7 billion euro deal to sell Greece 170 Leopard tanks built by the German giant Kruss-Maffei-Wegman was done via a shell company in the Caribbean, according to Der Spiegel.
Then there was the scandal over the sale of a 150 million euro anti-aircraft defence system to Greece by the German arms firm Rheinmettall which resulted in the company being fined 37 million Euros by a court in Bremen.
But the most scandalous example of German bribery and corruption involves the German naval engineers Ferrostaal who sold Greece four diesel electric submarines incorporating a propulsion system designed…by Siemens.
This is the deal which resulted in the Greek Defence Minister being jailed for 20 years for accepting 50 million euros worth of bribes.
His wife and daughter, and even his ex-wife, are also in jail because they each benefitted from property acquisitions including a lavish mansion at the foot of The Acropolis.
The irony is not lost on the many Greeks who now realise that their entry to the European Union was the go-ahead for big German business to make vast profits while the promised wealth and prosperity for Greece was short-lived and has ended in the country’s ruin.
Which is why many Greeks now appear to hate the Germans as much as they despise those who run the European Union.