Leaders: Another act to come in Greek tragedy

Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis casts his ballot during the referendum. Picture: Getty
Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis casts his ballot during the referendum. Picture: Getty
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To those immortal playwrights of Greek drama – Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides – three new authors of Greek tragedy could now fairly be added: Yanis Varoufakis, Christine Lagarde and Mario Draghi. Despite the referendum, this is a tragedy with as yet no discernible end.

The result marks a resolution of sorts, with Greek voters having passed their verdict on the stance of prime minister Alexis Tsipras. But unfolding hand in hand with this has been the deepening crisis of the country’s economy. Its banks are on the verge of collapse. Capital controls have been introduced. Households and thousands of Greek businesses alike have been brought to the edge of a financial cliff.

Between November 2014 and last week, outflows from the country’s banks are reckoned to have hit €54 billion (about £38.5bn), or 30 per cent of the country’s GDP. Without a massive infusion of capital and a debt restructuring, the Greek economy faces ruin.

The economy of Greece may be relatively small – barely 3 per cent of eurozone GDP. But in a monetary union containing some of the most advanced economies in the world, it seems extraordinary that one of its smallest constituents could have brought about a crisis of such severity and duration.

It has left a host of searching questions to be asked as to the design and durability of the euro, the marked failure of fiscal rules to sustain it and how its governing institutions and personnel have failed to cauterise this crisis long before now.

The left-wing Syriza coalition has been a major contributor to the crisis by its refusal to recognise that credible debt reduction is a cardinal objective if the country is to have financial future of any sort. It has stalled and fudged and prevaricated to the point of exasperation.

Its ideological failure to recognise the realities of debt and deficit management may not be confined to its home supporters: elements of its fantasy economics can be seen in many countries. Cyprus was able to gradually loosen capital controls because of a decisive and credible commitment to reform. This has not been possible in Greece.

None of this, however, lets the architects of the European single currency off the hook. They bear a massive share of responsibility for admitting a highly indebted Greece in the first place. They failed to recognise early enough that debt rescheduling was inevitable. Now they have let the toxic perception grow of a country and its people being reduced to the status of a begging leper by the prosperous eurozone giants.

The referendum outcome guarantees neither a miraculous recovery in Greece’s banking system nor a broad agreement with creditors to secure its future. That is why it is less a conclusion than the curtain-raiser for a further act in this tragedy.

Bridging a gap in Scotland’s heritage

To the Pyramids of Egypt, the Great Wall of China and the Sydney Opera House, a new global icon has been officially added: the Forth Bridge. It is the sixth Scottish landmark to be awarded Unesco World Heritage Site status for sites of “outstanding universal value”. The verdict of the UN’s cultural committee left no room for doubt.

“This enormous structure, with its distinctive industrial aesthetic and striking red colour, was conceived and built using advanced civil engineering design principles and construction methods. Innovative in design, materials and scale, the Forth Bridge is an extraordinary and impressive milestone in bridge design and construction during the period when railways came to dominate long-distance land travel.”

But this begs the question: why, considering that the Forth Bridge has been standing for 125 years, has it taken so long to win this accolade?

It’s not as if it has crept slowly on to the landscape. Or that photographs have only recently emerged.

Perhaps, being built back in 1890, it was deemed too young to deserve such an award. Or that it wouldn’t last. Or that the distinctive red paint would run out.

Whatever the reason, such an accolade for this monument to Scottish engineering and industrial achievement is fully merited. It is Scotland’s instantly recognisable signature on the face of the world.

And it is an enduring masterpiece of human creative genius. Let’s hope that the new Forth Crossing will, its own way, look as graceful and elegant after 125 years.