Is the eurozone on the mend? Jean-Claude Juncker certainly thinks so. The EU president was upbeat in Brussels last week as he gave his annual state-of-the-union address, proclaiming that “the wind is back in Europe’s sails”.
Juncker’s optimism appeared to match the view from Greece, the currency bloc’s problem child. In Athens only the previous week, the visiting French president, Emmanuel Macron, had been even more enthusiastic, declaring against the backdrop of the Acropolis that Greece’s prolonged crisis was over, and that therefore Europe’s was too.
Macron’s finance minister, Bruno Le Maire, went further, calling the Greek prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, “a real leader [who] works for the common good … a prime minister who works with great courage”.
But if progress on Greece’s privatisation programme is anything to go by, the eurozone’s most troubled economy is still in the foothills of recovery. Despite signs of resurgence – at 0.7%, Greece recorded two consecutive quarters of growth this year for the first time since 2006, and made a successful test return to the markets – foreign sell-offs have been plagued by red tape and political resistance.
To the delight of many, nonetheless, Tsipras, the man who set Europe ablaze with Marxist ideology and anti-austerity rage back in the heady days of January 2015, is becoming more pragmatic by the day. The 42-year-old’s embrace of the free-market policies he once abhorred was cemented last Sunday, when he announced that he would personally oversee the foreign investment drive now viewed as key to curing the curse of Greece’s unemployment rate. More than a fifth of the country’s working-age adults are out of work.
During his annual economic…