Jul 5 2015

So this is how it all ends…

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By Vassilis Paipais


greek-debt[1]Since almost the outbreak of the Greek debt crisis in 2009, speculation began as to whether this would be a turning point announcing the end of one of the longest periods of peace, stability and democratic normality Greece ever witnessed in its near 200 years history; a period that goes by the name ‘Metapolitefsi’ (regime change). The latter term designates the period from the restoration of democracy in the summer of 1974 until…well, it seems that until now we were not sure of its end date. However, in all probability we now know -to paraphrase John Lewis Gaddis- that we are experiencing the death of a regime that promised to deliver a great deal but eventually led to Greece’s ruin and appears likely to go down in infamy, disgrace and national humiliation.


Things did not look so gloomy in the summer of 1974 when Constantinos Karamanlis arrived in Athens’ airport invited by the military junta in a desperate effort to avert a looming national disaster. The tragedy eventually did happen: one third of Cyprus succumbed to the Turkish invasion, with Karamanlis being unable to do much about it. The period that was inaugurated by the voting of a new constitution in 1975 marked the beginning of a new era and a new ethos in Greek politics. The Greek Communist Party (KKE) was legalised, Greek political exiles were able to return and the country set out to restore political unity, re-establish democratic rule, and heal its wounds. Despite the favourable omens, however, the new regime established by Karamanlis, suffered from constitutive deficiencies that undermined its long-term prospects and its ability to progress into a mature democracy with strong institutions, healthy fiscal practices and consensual political culture. Karamanlis himself recognising the polarised nature of Greek politics and the deeply-ingrained populist sentiment of self-victimisation pervading Greek society adopted a bifurcated strategy that revealed both his vision as well as his political Machiavellianism. On the one hand, he went to great lengths to secure the country’s accession to the EU in 1979. To his mind, that would ensure both democratic stability and political legitimacy for the new regime, not to mention the prospects of economic prosperity and geopolitical security that the entry to the EU promised. At the same time, however, mindful of the dynamics of Greek politics and the lack of a mature political culture, he did not refrain from the old die-hard populist practices that would become endemic in Greek politics in the years to follow. In an effort to secure absolute control on the country’s politico-economic establishment and avert the rise of populist Pasok, he nationalised Greek public service companies and inaugurated the habit of hiring party members or party favourites in sensitive public sector positions. The seeds of what would become the scourge of Greek political life, clientelism, cronyism and petty-party politics, were quite early sown.


Andreas Papandreou, a phenomenal demagogue and charismatic popular leader, had only to take advantage of those structures already in place to impose the first fully populist regime in Greece that openly operated on the basis of extreme party polarisation, vindictive rhetoric and open favouritism. Papandreou took advantage of the abundance of free-floating sovereign investment funds in the ‘80s (mostly pouring out of a stagflating Japanese economy) to introduce a rentier state-sponsored economy that thrived on parasitism and a cartel-run domestic market. At the same time the flux of EU money and the almost total absence of effective EU monitoring allowed the creation of an army of rentiers, cronies, praetorians and oligarchs of the new populist regime that almost threatened the Greek economy with a spectacular bankruptcy in the beginning of the ‘90s. In the meantime, the country’s constitutional situation was deteriorating as the 1985 constitutional amendment removed any checks and balances and granted almost untrammelled power to the ruling majority and practically to a close circle of party aids and magnets around the prime minister (the trivialisation of the constitution culminated in the 2000 amendment). The anaemic and half-hearted efforts by the following governments, including Papandreou’s second administration (1993-96), to save the day through emergency austerity measures only perpetuated the deadlocks and veiled the embeddedness and widespread appeal the culture of populism enjoyed in Greece post-1980s.


In fact, as a result of the rising living standards financed by foreign loans and perennial fiscal deficits, rentocratic populism infiltrated all the strata of the Greek political system across the spectrum rising to the status of political and fiscal orthodoxy representing, in a perverse Orwellian twist, the hallmark of progressive politics (!). The entry in the Eurozone was a decision based on seemingly sane economic facts (currency stability) and wishful projections (incentive for reforms to boost competitiveness) but in reality helped only to secure a semblance of false prosperity financed by the massive influx of cheap credit that flooded the country post-2000. In an unholy alliance with a number of economic oligarchs (in banking, oil, shipping, public construction, and media industries) that benefitted from close proximity with the government, the primary beneficiaries of the new system were successive governments that engaged in a sinful entanglement with ‘vested interests’ securing public contracts and controlling public opinion through docile media. These practices did not only penetrate the establishment parties (Pasok and ND) but the Left as well which was given a share in the ‘Metapolitefsi’ regime (mutual implication in rentierism secured complicity and appeased leftist populist sentiments). University professors, intellectuals, politicians, journalists and trade unionists across the political spectrum (with only few exceptions) tolerated or became staunch supporters of a degenerating pension system, unsustainable fiscal policies and a dysfunctional state bureaucracy already undermined by the aforementioned populist policies and practices of favouritism. Rentocracy was given an ideological gloss pervading pro-austerity and anti-austerity forces, which explains the confusion around the cross-party resistance against pension reforms and spending cuts in Greece. Instead of introducing a genuine progressive transformation of society, the Left became the forerunner of conservative resistance to much-needed reforms as it opted for the easy route: the defence of clientelism and parasitism as opposed to a long-term reform strategy that would boost Greek competitiveness and build up sustainable growth structures. This entire perversity was sustained by an unfair system of taxation that put emphasis on high indirect taxes (sharpening inequalities) and the squeezing of every productive sector of the economy. When push came to shove the only refuge for a failed and putrid political class was blame-shifting, polarisation and obfuscation of the real issues at hand. The referendum is simply the last desperate act of violence of a crumbling nomenclature on a disoriented populace.


We have now arrived at the end of a long (41 years) road. Not everything ‘Metapolitefsi’ stood for should be condemned. It was the longest period of political stability and democratic rule the country ever enjoyed ensuring Greece’s participation in the European experiment, a process that despite the many challenges it is faced with remains committed to creating a common space of security, prosperity and freedom. All these are now questioned or under threat in Greece. Feelings of humiliation and frustration abound amongst a people that was consistently misled and let down by its leaders, and pushed around by Europe’s intransigence and myopia. Greeks are now faced with a dim future. Banks are indefinitely closed, capital controls imposed and there is only a glimmer of hope for recovery or return to normality. This situation is most probably the premonition of regime change. This can go both ways. The way of extreme poverty, domestic instability, autarchic rule and geopolitical isolation is one; or the route of a real change through the voting of a new constitution and the revitalisation of Greek political life around the values of freedom, the rule of law, and social solidarity within a broader European family of nations. It is by now widely manifested that the real obstacle to Greece’s recovery is a parochial, blocked and immature political system that is refusing to simply step down insisting on parading its decomposed carcass like an undead zombie. The duty of the next day is first to realise the nature of the deadlock and then to reactivate our political imagination towards re-building the country from scratch. Let us hope this is done before a new national security tragedy, similar to the Cyprus invasion that made ‘Metapolitefsi’ possible, erupts and the wounds of national disunity fester. Let us hope this is not the only way Greeks learn their lesson.


Note: This article gives the views of the authors, and not the position of the Euro Crisis in the Press blog, EUROPP, nor of the London School of Economics.


Related articles on LSE Euro Crisis in the Press:

The Greek referendum offers an opportunity to challenge the EU’s preoccupation with the ‘politics of emergency’

Greece’s creditors are paying the price for not relaxing their conditions prior to the 2015 election

Modalities of solidarity in Greece: a civil society at the cross-road

Deal or no deal? Parameters of a decision

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Jul 2 2015

The Greek referendum offers an opportunity to challenge the EU’s preoccupation with the ‘politics of emergency’

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By Jonathan White

Following months of discussions, Greece missed the deadline for a 1.5 billion euro payment to the IMF on 30 June. This article assesses what the Greek debt crisis says about the wider process of European integration. EU decision-making has come to be shaped by a form of ‘emergency politics’ since the financial crisis, with the principles of representative democracy becoming marginalised by executive power. The Greek government now appears to be pioneering its own form of unconventional politics, but crucially one that is being pursued with a democratic mandate.

Not for the first time in recent years, the EU seems to be living through a state of emergency. Events come thick and fast, mixed with uncertainty and alarm. Repeating a familiar phrase that speaks to the high stakes of the moment, Merkel has warned that ‘if the euro fails, then Europe fails’. She might have added: if Europe fails, it fails despite the stated intention of all key players to preserve it.

Demonstration in Athens on 29 June 2015, Credit: janwellman (CC-BY-SA-3.0)

Demonstration in Athens on 29 June 2015. Credit: janwellman (CC-BY-SA-3.0)

A state of emergency is not just a grand term for chaos though. It describes a distinctive mode of rule. Following the formula of ‘exceptional measures for exceptional times’, leaders invoke crisis as a cue to abandon the standard procedures of politics. In place of public consultation and rule-bound decision, the discretion of executive power typically comes to the fore. In the present situation, acting in ways unscripted and largely unconstrained, it is the institutions of the ‘Troika’ – the Commission, ECB and IMF – and the Eurogroup which have taken up this role. Their appeals to authority rest on the doctrine of emergency – on the notion that, in exceptional times, security can be guaranteed only by the privileged insight of those at the top. The Greek government currently plays the role of the existential threat from which protection is sought.

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Jun 29 2015

The electoral success of the Danish People’s party: Something rotten in the state of Denmark?

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By Julie Uldam

Recently the Danes voted in a centre-right coalition led by the liberal party Venstre. Opinions polls had indicated a close race, with a slim majority for the centre-right government (52.3 %). And that was indeed how it turned out. Not too many surprises there. What did come as a surprise to the Danes and, not least, the Danish media was the success of the populist Danish People’s party (DPP) who increased their share of the vote to 21%, up from 12% in the previous general election four years ago. With more than one fifth of the vote, this makes them the largest party in the right-wing bloc and the second largest party overall in Parliament. Even the leader of the Danish People’s party Kristian Thulesen Dahl seemed a little stunned by this enormous success.

Kristian Thulesen Dahl, leader of the Danish People’s Party

Founded 20 years ago around an anti-immigrant, anti-multicultural, anti-EU agenda, the DPP has been seen as appealing to the “grey vote”, because they propose to fund improved healthcare provision for elderly people by cutting spending on immigrants, asylum seekers and refugees. However, in this general election, the typical DPP voter is not necessarily 60+, but based in a non-urban area. The trend is clear in maps of voter distribution. The DPP was the largest party in three large non-urban regions, with more than 30 per cent of the vote in some areas. In the wake of the election, the Danish media have focused their analyses on this urban – non-urban divide.

The Danes are now – spurred on by the media – asking how such a small population (5.6 m) could come to see viable political solutions so differently. In urban areas people are asking how non-urban voters can be so bigoted, egotistical and narrow-minded. In non-urban areas people are asking how urban voters – and especially Copenhageners – can be so smug, complacent and idealistically politically correct.

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Jun 25 2015

Eurobarometer surveys provide an important insight into the European Commission’s role as an agenda setter

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By Markus HaverlandMinou de Ruiter and Steven Van de Walle

What passes for public opinion and public support in the European Union consists largely of the answers of European Union citizens to questions regularly posed to them in surveys commissioned and controlled by the European Commission. These ‘Eurobarometer’ surveys not only enquire about general problem perceptions and attitudes towards the EU (Standard Eurobarometers); but also include batteries of questions about specific policy topics, ranging from nuclear waste disposal to sex tourism, food safety and child care. These questions are built into comprehensive Eurobarometer ‘waves’, consisting of around 25,000 face-to-face interviews.

The results take the form of comprehensive reports of about 100 pages. There have been more than 400 of these so-called ‘Special Eurobarometers’ so far, and they are the key source of knowing what the ‘European’ public thinks about specific policy issues and the appropriate political level to deal with them. Individual Special Eurobarometers have aroused the interest of scholars working in specific policy areas, but to our knowledge no systematic mapping of these massive investments in gauging citizen opinion has taken place.

This is surprising for a number of reasons. First, from a normative perspective Special Eurobarometers could be perceived as an important link between the Commission and citizens. This link may become more relevant since diffuse support of the EU (the permissive consensus) has been replaced by politicisation and declining trust. Second, other instruments linking citizens and civil society to the EU, such as internet consultations, have received scholarly attention. Third, in strategic terms, the Commission can use public opinion data to build-up input legitimacy for new EU proposals. Yet, as the Commission is in the driving seat when selecting and dis-selecting topics, the Special Eurobarometer might not be the innocent instrument it appears at first glance.

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Jun 21 2015

Populism in Europe: a primer

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By Cas Mudde

Already in 2010, a good five years before a populist coalition government would be formed in Greece, then EU President Herman van Rompuy called populism “the greatest danger for Europe” (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 9 April 2010). Since then, many establishment voices have done the same, from German Chancellor Angela Merkel to the editors of the New York Times. What all warnings have in common is that they (1) come from people in power; (2) are vague on the exact meaning of populism; and (3) claim that populism is (omni)present in European politics.

Historically populism has been a marginal political phenomenon in Europe, unlike in the Americas (North and South). In recent years populist parties of left and right have gained electoral successes throughout Europe, although their effects on European politics have so far remained fairly limited.

What populism is (not)

imagesPopulism is a buzzword in the media around the world. There is virtually not a politician who has not been labeled populist at one time. In fact, accused would be a better term, as most people use populism is a Kampfbegriff to defame a political opponent. Few politicians self-identify as populist. Those who do usually first redefine the term in a way that is closer to the popular
use of democracy than of populism.

In the public debate populism is mostly used to denounce a form of politics that uses (a combination of) demagogy, charismatic leadership, or a Stammtisch (pub) discourse. None of the three are accurate understandings of populism. While some populists might promise everything to everyone (i.e. demagogy) or speak a simple, even vulgar, language (i.e. Stammtisch discourse), many do not. More importantly, many non-populist populists also do this, particularly during election campaigns. Similarly, while some successful populists are charismatic leaders, some are not, and many successful non-populists are also considered charismatic.

Instead, populism is best defined as a thin-centered ideology that considers society to be ultimately separated into two homogeneous and antagonistic groups, ‘the pure people’ and ‘the corrupt elite’, and which argues that politics should be an expression of the volonté general (general will) of the people. This means that populism is a particular view on how society is and should be structured, but it addresses only a limited part of the larger political agenda. For example, it says little about the ideal economic or political system that a (populist) state should have. Its essential features are: morality and monism.

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Jun 15 2015

The Politics of the Humanitarian Crisis in Europe

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By Roberto Orsi

One of the greatest moral achievements of the ancient world has been the enshrinement of a solidarity principle for the fellow human in distress, which finds perhaps its highest formulation in the evangelical parable of the “good Samaritan”. It is worth recalling that parable in full:

A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him, and went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee. Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves? (Luke 10:30-36)

The parable offers a clear portrait of what “being a neighbour” should mean, namely coming to the rescue of people in difficult situations and imminent danger, in order to let them recover (if possible), and regain their autonomy.

The parable of the good Samaritan would however look very different if its author had added that a secret deal between the inn-keeper and the robbers was in place, and that to a certain extent even the beaten man was somehow half-aware of the scam in which he plays the admittedly most uncomfortable role (to use an euphemism). It would look even more different if its author added that such a scam was operated on an industrial scale, with the vast complicity of those who were supposed to safeguard the security of that territory, and a plethora of intellectuals and spiritual leaders, who were using the best of their intelligence to envisage narratives providing direct or indirect legitimation for such traffics.

In such a different version of the parable, what would the Samaritan have done? The man was indeed severely beaten and in distress, should he then be rescued?

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Jun 11 2015

Greece’s creditors are paying the price for not relaxing their conditions prior to the 2015 election


By Stephanie J. Rickard

With no deal reached between Greece and its creditors despite months of negotiations over the release of further financial assistance, the country opted to delay a €300 million debt repayment to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that was due on 5 June. The Greek government now intends to bundle together several payments totalling €1.6 billion into a single payment due on 30 June, while fresh proposals have been communicated to creditors in an attempt to secure additional bailout funding.

Credit: IMF

This impasse could have been avoided. The IMF, an institution that for decades has loaned money to countries in distress, successfully sidestepped Greece-like drama in the past. The IMF accomplished this by relaxing the reforms required of borrowers in the run up to elections. In a recent study, I and my co-author Teri Caraway, find the IMF softened mandated labour market reforms in loans negotiated within six months of a pending election. The further away elections were, the more stringent the reforms required in exchange for financing.

The IMF typically softens required reforms prior to elections to avoid precisely the situation now playing out in Greece. Tough reforms give opposition parties ammunition to use against the government and increase the chances that the incumbent parties will lose. In Greece, the painful austerity policies demanded by international lenders resulted in a series of convulsive protests that shook the nation and ultimately led to the election of a new anti-austerity government under Syriza in place of the previous New Democracy-led government fronted by Antonis Samaras.

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Jun 7 2015

Greece – Deal or no deal? Parameters of a decision

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By Max Hänska

It appears to me that much of the ongoing discussion about the Greek debt talks misinterprets the parameters of the challenge, and the resulting (irreconcilable) disagreement. Some economists attribute the standoff to the unwillingness of creditors to accept economic facts (Greece needs debt forgiveness and economic support). Austerians argue that only radical reforms and cutbacks will salvage Greece, and attribute the standoff to Greece’s unwillingness to reform. Though neither assessment is fundamentally wrong, both miss the political nature of the decision creditors faced.

acropolis euroThe current crisis in Greece must be understood as the logical consequence of a flawed currency union. Without a political union, and attendant institutions that can both raise a budget (through taxation) and use that budget to establish permanent fiscal transfers within the currency union, crisese similar to the Greek one will repeat themselves. However, neither debtors nor creditors are willing to move beyond intergovernmentalism and give up (at least some) fiscal sovereignty (to the European parliament or some new institution), which would make the kind of permanent transfers necessary for stabilising the Eurozone possible.

Given the EMU’s structural flaws, inevitable crises will need to be resolved intergovernmentally. Unfortunately, Greece’s creditors have no confidence in Greece delivering on any of its commitments. The creditors view Greek promises as a fig leaf for an arrangement under which Eurozone citizens would indefinitely fund the Greek state —they don’t believe that the Greek government is sincerely willing or capable of delivering reforms. I doubt creditors are uniformly committed to austerity as a panacea. Rather, their insistence on invasive and strict conditionality is better understood as a direct result of lacking confidence. Without invasive conditionality creditors have no leverage over, what they perceive as, unruly Greeks.

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Jun 2 2015

Europe entrapped? An interview with Claus Offe

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By Claus Offe and Daniel Whittall

Europe remains mired in a crisis as much political as it is economic. The crisis has been long in the making and its dynamics stem from the institutional structures that govern European politics. 

In Europe Entrapped Claus Offe, Professor of Political Sociology at the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin, lays bare the institutional dynamics of the European crisis. He argues that Europe has entrapped itself in a bureaucratic apparatus and economistic rhetoric, both insufficient to the task of crisis resolution. Daniel Whittall spoke with him about his new book, and about where European politics might be heading next. 

Daniel Whittall: Your new book, Europe Entrapped, argues that the status quo for the European Union is ‘plainly unsustainable’. You call for a ‘major institutional overhaul’ of the EU, and suggest that without such reform the very project of European integration will come apart at the seams. To begin with, could you outline how you came to this argument, and what motivated the writing of this book?

Claus Offe: I think this is what social scientists do, or ought to do: Answering in a truthful way and on the basis of compelling evidence questions such as: Where are we? What went wrong? Which are the forces and their resources that can be held responsible for the present mess? Are there forces that have a chance to prevail over them? What are the challenges to be addressed and opportunities to be explored inherent in our condition? And so on.

All of this needs to be focused, as concretely as possible, on a particular set of problems (here: the situation of the EU after the Great Recession, after the adoption – in 19 out of 28 member states – of the Euro, after the deepening divide between countries in terms of indebtedness, growth, and trade performance and after the emergence of bitter political conflicts both within and between member states).

I am deeply convinced (and say so at the outset) that this configuration of challenges and outright crisis tendencies cannot conceivably be mastered and coped with within the framework of given EU institutions, this is why a “major institutional overhaul” of the latter is called for.

DW: Your argument rests on an analysis of political economy across Europe, centred on the transitions of democratic capitalism against the backdrop of European integration. You place particular emphasis on the role of the state in staging and shaping markets, and yet simultaneously on how actors within a market economy – investors and employers –undermine the political framework of democratic stability on which the state rests. What does this dual dynamic tell us about the workings of democracy and capitalism in Europe, and how sustainable do you foresee their continued intersection?

CO: Perhaps I am trying to elaborate the obvious, or an analytical idea that in no way is originally mine, but has been developed by a great intellectual tradition in political theory and political economy. Yet my personal experience from some 50 years of academic work in research and teaching is that one basic insight stemming from this tradition (say from Hilferding to Polanyi to Hirschman) is all too often ignored or forgotten. To put it in a nutshell: The “economy” is nothing that is governed by something that standard textbooks call “the market”.

Markets, together with the institutions in which they are embedded, are rather themselves political creations. Opportunities and constraints that market actors face are institutionalised by forces operating through the political system. Not a single market transaction could take place without the legal and political provision of court services to enforce property rights and contracts or without central banks defining and managing the currency that mediates market transactions. Policies and legislation and constitutions create licenses for market action, subsidise and promote industries, protect and even bail out some of those who lose in (national as well as international) market competition, establish entitlements, regulate production and distribution and provides the physical as well as institutional infrastructure (transportation systems, harbours, research universities, communication media etc.).

Capitalist market economies are neither “natural” nor in any sense uniquely “rational”; they are artefacts of political action and the outcomes of conflict over social and economic power. To provide all these preconditions of a capitalist economy and, not to forget, clean up some of its negative externalities (from unemployment to environmental disruption), fiscal resources are needed of an ever-increasing volume.

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May 28 2015

Greek Media in Disarray

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By Maria Kyriakidou

Image: Mr. Tinou Bao, Courtesy of Flickr, Creative Commons License 2.5

Image: Mr. Tinou Bao, Courtesy of Flickr, Creative Commons License 2.5

There is perhaps no other field that better illustrates how deeply ingrained clientelism is in Greek political culture than the media sector. Politicians, media and business have long been operating as a ‘triangle of power’, where private and political interests are intrinsically intertwined and where the media function as the means through which these interests are played out. It is this bleak media landscape that a newly published report on ‘Media Policy and Independent Journalism in Greece’ paints with much detail. Drawing upon detailed research, including interviews with key actors, authors Petros Iosifidis and Dimitris Boucas describe the challenges the Greek media landscape poses for policymakers and journalists.

The backdrop of the triangle of power dominating the Greek media system is a weak and inconsistent regulatory framework, incapable of monitoring and controlling state and private interests. The market deregulation that took place in the late 1980s and early 1990s allowed for the proliferation of private media, but not to the benefit of media pluralism. Instead, it led to an excessively augmented and financially unsustainable media market, with high levels of media concentration in the hands of Greek businessmen with interests in other sectors of the economy, a lot of them dependent on public contracts, such as shipping, telecommunications and refining. In this context, private media have been long used as powerful means of influencing the government and as platforms for indirect profit through the strengthening of relations with politicians and the acquisition of state contracts. Continue reading

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