What does it mean to be Greek?


This September I celebrate 20 years in England. It seems like a good time to reflect on identity and culture.

People easily spot I am Greek, it’s the middle-Eastern looks and the Yannena-meets-Essex accent. But do I feel Greek and what does it mean to be Greek?

Such an obvious, redundant question for those still living ‘down there’, but a perplexing conundrum to all long term expats.

If you take some distance from schooling, religion, culture and ‘common’ sense (in its local variant), you begin to doubt who you are, or who you are supposed to be.

Even though I am a permanent resident of the UK with no intention of going anywhere, I feel Greek. I listen to Voularinos every day, I watch the news, I am a constant critic of political developments on my blog and on public and private platforms. I cook Greek food (only) every day.

Yet, I shudder in horror at the blackened medievalism of the orthodox church, I despise the homophobia, intolerance and misogyny that defines so much of every day Greek life. I do un-Greek things like walk places (no car you ask?), take the tube (no fear of terrorism?), use a microwave (no fear of cancer?). I don’t take antibiotics every time I have a sore throat (I am still alive) and go out without a jumper if the temperature hits 18° (my mom doesn’t know).

Why am I here and not in Greece? I am an intellectual refugee, not an economic migrant (nothing wrong with the latter BTW). I decided to settle here because I could not adjust to life in Greece after studying here for 4 years. When i tried to resettle there people were rude, unstructured, irrational and disrespectful.

Yet, Greeks are warm people who will chat to your kids and will make a fuss if they take a tumble in the park. People take pride in things, have knowledge and compassion. Strip away the propaganda, anger, war-lust, nationalism and all the rest that define every day nastiness and there is a lot to admire in being Greek.

Am I less proud to identify as Greek after the last 6 years? I joke to my bosses that I would be great in a fund raising role ‘Greeks have a knack for asking for money’. Why are we great out here and so terrible in running our own affairs down there? This is a question often asked.

Perhaps the intellectually curious leave. Perhaps the rotten work culture and a vortex of corruption and semi-legality corrupts even the well intentioned. What we have seen over the last few years is that when expats went back to help they failed or got booted out. I don’t mean my fellow academics like Varoufakis, Lapavitsas,Tsakalotos, they are a different breed.

Being Greek means a lot of things. I am proud to be Greek even though I have difficulty defining what it means. Should I try to save the rest of you from a distance? No, I don’t think so. I can say what I think, but saving Greece is a job for the people who live there. We out here will be proud of who we are regardless.




What is to be done


This week we have emerged from a media veil of silence, under the pretext of a strike, to discover that Tsipras’ government is creating a rerun of the 2015 summer from hell.

Tsakalotos returned from the IMF meetings in the US bearing a package of nearly 9bn euros worth of measures. 3.6bn of which need to be legislated and ready to implement automatically in case of deviation from future targets.

Let’s take a moment to explain what this means. Reductions in pensions, wages and hikes in taxes and contributions amounting to 5.4bn for 2016/17 plus automatic deductions in spending for 2018/19. The latter 3.6bn will be out of executive control and will be actioned by an independent fiscal council.

Why are the numbers so bad? 1) because Tsipras did not stick to the agreed plan and did not complete the current programme evaluation -pending since October 2015 2) because economic data have deteriorated since last summer 3) because Europe will not agree for debt relief to allow for a shallower adjustment.

Tsipras claims that he is asked to go over and beyond agreed measures. Yes he is, because this is no longer July 2015. He either does not understand the dynamic nature of fiscal measures or pretends not to. I don’t know which is worse.

Why are we about to relieve 2015? Because “negotiations” (the very word makes me nauseous) between Greece and the Troika have broken down (again) and Tsipras is pressing for a political solution (again). All this while the state is running out of money (again) and won’t meet its loan repayments without Bailout money in July (again).

We come therefore to the question posed by Lenin: what is to be done? As then, same now: overthrow the regime.

Tsipras, his chair loving sidekick Kammenos and the circus of incompetence they preside over needs to vacate government immediately, before they cause another credit crunch, default, Grexit. They have to go, now.

Who will replace them? Things have gotten so bad that there is only one solution, a National unity government staffed by technocrats and focused on bringing order to the chaos of cronyism, inefficiency and corruption Syriza bred and developed over the last year.

Isn’t this undemocratic? Isn’t this what the laughable Leventis is asking for? Isn’t it what I argued against in the past? Yes, yes and yes. Yet, it is this or Grexit and a Failed State.

What is to be done? The Greek people have a choice. Go to Syntagma and stay there till Tsipras leaves, or go to Syntagma, dance a kalamatiano, and dust off your Drachma.



The Silence of the Greek Lambs


What is the most annoying thing to government? What makes the most difference in times of tension? One might say the press.

Yes, the press, sounds obvious doesn’t it? As citizens we rely on the press to expose abuses of power, to point out inadequacies of governance, to discipline those in command. We need the press, even in times of social media and autonomous, independent first hand reporting. The reason for this is that journalists offer context, can link up events into narratives. We need such narratives as members of a polity to understand the political process and to organise in resistance to policies that harm the common interest.

How does this reflection on the significance of the press in democracy link with what is happening in Greece over the last few days and weeks?

The ‘first time left’ (for the second time, actually) of Mr Tsipras and his far right side-kick Mr Kammenos has elevated hatred of the press to Goebbelian heights. The corrupt, oligarchic, plutocratic etc media have been a target of Mr Tsipras since before he made PM. Funny enough however, such anti-left, anti-democratic corruption did not deter him from having a series of secret meetings with such oligarchs, and did not prevent a good section of the main-stream press, actually supporting Mr Tsipras electoral escapades.

State minister Nikos Pappas (currently standing in for Goebbels it seems) has been pursuing a campaign to ‘clean’ the Greek media of their corruption and to help them see the light of ‘leftist’ adoration. The means by which this is going to happen is by restricting the number of national-wide broadcast licences to an initial 3 (not counting the state ERT propaganda provider), and now apparently expanded to 5. His attempts to explain how all platform media will be ‘reformed’ has sparked international condemnation. He is even rumored to wish to ‘organise’ the internet, so, who knows maybe this will be the last of this blog. Erdogan, another pioneer of press freedom, seems to be making a fair job of it, so why not?

The ‘press’ itself is not uncooperative with Big Brother’s attempts at ‘progress’. The Greek Journalists Association (ESIEA) stroke off its register a number of prominent journalists for supposedly taking a position in favour of NAI in the summer’s farcical propaganda ploy that was the Greek Referendum. It had no problem with the OXI supporting journalists or the filth that streams out of ‘government’ publications on a daily basis. No issue with the ‘Syriza Journalist’ of Paul Mason’s fictional account of Tsipras first reign.

All this is dire, but you have probably heard it before. What is new?

The new thing is that after another bout of successful negotiating, Syriza seems to have helped the Europeans and the IMF untangle the Gordian knot of not being able to agree an appropriate balance of debt-relief, measures, targets for the next few years for Greece. The untangling came though the idea (not novel in fact) of legislating a string of additional fiscal measures that will kick into gear if Greece does not make the targets set. This bridges (elegantly, one might say) the disagreement between the numbers of the IMF and the Commission.

Prof. Tsakalotos went to New York at the IMF meeting to negotiate down the 5.5 billion austerity package he was offered, and came back with that plus an EXTRA 3.5 billion of contingency measures.

The Greeks must be horrified you would think. Actually the Greeks have hardly heard about it as the press is on strike to protest the very same measures (pension reform specifically). Since Thursday 21 April the press has been on strike, and yesterday this strike was extended till next Wednesday (and is due to be extended further). Take a breath and think this through.

What is the most annoying thing for a government? Silence you say?

Are we to stifle Mr Tsipras with a veil of silence? Are we to bother him, while he is busy legislating 9 billion euros worth of cuts by not telling anyone about it?

I think not. I think there is something fishy going on. I think the freedom loving, democracy adoring, pension resisting Journalists Association is taking us for a ride.

Thank heavens for blogging then. You heard of the death of the Greek press here first.




Public Interests, Private Disputes: Investment Arbitration and the Public Good

MJIEL cover

NEW PAPER at the Manchester Journal of International Economic Law, published April 2016

This paper seeks to investigate the bases for resistance to arbitration in general -and investor arbitration in particular- focusing on the way in which arbitral tribunals deal with notions of public interest and the public good. The paper hypothesises that while courts have within their terms of reference the capacity to consider notions of public interest, arbitral tribunals do not. It is this core difference in the scope of decision making between the two bodies that could render privately organised dispute resolution unsuitable for disputes that have public aspects, like investor-state disputes. The paper discusses the meaning of public interest and the public good as found in the literature. It then proceeds to consider how tribunals in the investment field have dealt with these concepts. This leads to a conclusion urging not abandonment of arbitration as a component of dispute resolution, but caution. It is argued that unchecked growth in private dispute resolution can threaten perceptions of legitimacy and democratic accountability. The paper adopts a socio-legal methodology in considering the effect of legal mechanisms on social and political phenomena. It is also informed by a law and economics methodology in addressing impacts of dispute resolution mechanisms on economic efficiency. The contribution of the paper rests on theorising motivations for resistance to private dispute resolution, a topical issue in light of the TTIP debate.

See also the recently published Lessons from the Great Recession by Emerald, containing my Chapter on Spain’s recent ISDS cases.


The railway to nowhere


The Channel Tunnel remains closed for the 4th consecutive week, as migrants from the Jungle refuse to remove their encampment from the railway lines.

French police distributed leaflets urging people to move on, arguing that France loves them, and asking them to fight together British demands for borders to remain closed.

The financial impact for both countries is severe, with businesses suing both state authorities and Eurotunnel for its inability to perform its contractual obligations. Eurotunnel itself is suing both governments. In the meantime tonnes of perishables are rotting away in railway platforms all over the north of France.


Exactly! Wouldn’t you be horrified if you turned on BBC Breakfast and listened to this? You would probably think the French have gone mad, and they are unable or unwilling to control basic aspects of security in their territory. You wouldn’t know which is worse, the inability, or the unwillingness.

Yet, this farcical situation is what Greece has allowed to developed in the border crossing of Idomeni, on the border with Macedonia. This village is the main railway crossing to the north. Tracks go from Greece through the Balkans to Europe via this route. Alternate railway crossings via Bulgaria necessitate a significant detour and cost an alleged extra 6000 Euros per wagon for freighters to reach Austria.

The Greek railways (state-owned) are suffering massive losses due to the line closure that has been going on and off for months, and has been continuously blocked for the last 3 weeks. Freighters are planning to sue the railway company, and the government. Many have diverted cargo through non Greek ports.

What is the problem you may ask? The problem is that refugees and migrants stranded in Idomeni, waiting for the borders to open, have camped on the railway line to put pressure on the Greek and Macedonian authorities to open the border.

What has the Greek government’s response been? To ask them politely to move. Leaflets have been distributed (there and in the port of Pireaus) asking people to move on, stressing the good will and brotherly love of the Greek authorities. The police has largely been absent from the chaotic camp in Idomeni, which is run by charities and NGOs with minimal help (or even the presence) of the Greek state.

Why don’t the Greeks do anything about this you ask? The answer is revealed in the statement of Mr Mouzalas (minister for migration) yesterday in Parliament. Residents of the camp are intentionally left in dire conditions, “so that their desperation leads to positive outcomes for us (Greece)”. Yes, this is what he said. People are left to suffer, in the cold, in the mud, with children catching deadly diseases so that they are convinced by their own suffering to move on. Move on to what? To the ‘reception centers’ where conditions are hardly better (but where is at least food). Mouzalas added that “order will come to chaos”, on its own apparently. Very philosophical for a Parliamentary session.

I described in a previous post why Greece might be sliding towards a Failed State. Syriza and their partners ANEL are doing a good job getting her there.

abandoned train


Academic Podcasting


We spend a lot of time lecturing about exciting subjects to a captive audience, that may or may not be interested, but one that certainly pays a lot to be there.

Lately there is emphasis on free, open-source content, both in terms of articles and in terms of freely available lectures or podcasts.

I am doing my bit for universal enlightenment by making my older papers available on SSRN and Academia.edu

Also, I have prepared a few podcasts, the latest of which on the Rule of Law, Development and the role of Dispute Resolution, which you can access here. It is a talking prezi, that I hope is easy to navigate.

See also previous podcasts on the financial crisis and Investor State Dispute Settlement.


Is SyrizAnel turning Greece into a Failed State?


There is a sense that the situation in Greece is deteriorating rapidly, not only in an economic, but also in every other sense. The combined pressures of the migrant/refugee crisis, economic stagnation, diplomatic torpor and internal strife created and promoted by the government of Tsipras/Kammenos are leading things to the edge. In the summer of 2015 European officials voiced concern that Grexit could lead Greece to degenerate to a failed state. People are beginning to question whether Greece is heading there anyway, Grexit or no Grexit. The following discusses the proposition that Syriza and their far-right partners are turning the country into a failed state. Is this outlandish? Judge for yourselves.

Three elements can be said to characterize the phenomenon of the “failed State” from the political and legal point of view.

Firstly, there is the geographical and territorial aspect, namely the fact that “failed States” are essentially associated with internal and endogenous problems, even though these may incidentally have cross-border impacts. The situation confronting us then is one of an implosion rather than an explosion of the structures of power and authority, the disintegration and de-structuring of States rather than their dismemberment.

Secondly, there is the political aspect, namely the internal collapse of law and order. The emphasis here is on the total or near total breakdown of structures guaranteeing law and order rather than the kind of fragmentation of State authority seen in civil wars, where clearly identified military or paramilitary rebels fight either to strengthen their own position within the State or to break away from it.

Thirdly, there is the functional aspect, namely the absence of bodies capable, on the one hand, of representing the State at the international level and, on the other, of being influenced by the outside world. Either no institution exists which has the authority to negotiate, represent and enforce or, if one does, it is wholly unreliable, typically acting as “statesman by day and bandit by night”.

From a legal point of view, it could be said that the “failed State” is one which, though retaining legal capacity, has for all practical purposes lost the ability to exercise it. A key element in this respect is the fact that there is no body which can commit the State in an effective and legally binding way, for example, by concluding an agreement.

Let us test the above elements against the situation in Greece at the moment.

Does Greece retain sovereignty over its territory? Greece spends more than 2% of its GDP on military expenditure, yet it is unable to patrol the Aegean, in the short-distance crossings between Turkey and the Greek islands that migrants use to come over. NATO and EU’s Frontex is now tasked with securing the sea border. It is unable to patrol its land borders to prevent people smugglers operating, and is absent from the northern border with Macedonia (Idomeni) where there are now daily clashes between stranded people and the Macedonian forces. Yesterday Macedonian police is alleged to have crossed the border and fired upon migrants on the Greek side, sending rubber bullets and tear-gas into the Idomeni camp, which is well within Greek territory.

Is there a collapse of internal law and order? With courts frequently closed due to strikes by judicial staff and/or lawyers there is a significant problem with the administration of justice. Roads are frequently blocked, first by striking farmers, then by migrants. There are violent scenes between police and residents, migrants and police, rival political factions. There is a sense of lawlessness and desperation, especially in areas where welcome centres for refugees are being built.

Finally, is the state adequately represented? Can it conclude and enforce agreements? This is perhaps the area of greatest weakness. If anything Greece in the crisis years has proved an intransigent partner to its creditors. It is even more so now. Mr Tsipras and Mr Kammenos have betrayed every single electoral promise they ever made to the Greek people. They are no better with their promises to foreigners. They are insincere in their dealings with the country’s partners and creditors, discussing on the one hand, denouncing them as occupiers on the other. The latest farcical episode with Tsipras’ insurrection against the IMF proves beyond any reasonable doubt that there is no genuine negotiation going on. It is games, political subterfuge and personal interests.

What is the conclusion? Is Greece a failed state? Not just yet, but the continuation of the current course, and the current government is charting a path to failure. As Syriza’s own ministers proclaim: There is worse to come.