Geopolitics

Greece: Why Europe Doesn’t Trust Antonis Samaras

Even if he was considered a “pro-Europe” option, the Conservative victor in Greece’s Parliamentary election does not enjoy a shining reputation around the continent.

Antonis Samaras, feeling victorious (Nea Dimokratia)
Antonis Samaras, feeling victorious (Nea Dimokratia)
Mirko Plüss and Stephan Israel


ATHENS - All eyes in Europe were turned on Greece this past weekend when millions of its citizens turned out in the boiling heat to cast their ballot in parliamentary elections for the second time in two months. In the early evening, the news was that the Conservatives and radical left were running neck-and-neck. But just before 10 p.m., Alexis Tsipras, leader of the leftist Syriza alliance, acknowledged his defeat and congratulated Conservative leader Antonis Samaras who is poised to become Prime Minister, and the most powerful man in the country.

Samaras had managed what only a few believed possible: putting his Nea Dimokratia (New Democracy) party back on the path to success. In his victory speech, Samaras reiterated what he was elected to do by stating: "The Greeks have voted for a pro-European course and for keeping the euro."

For a long time it had looked as if the Conservatives would lose. The Greek party landscape seemed too fragmented, and Syriza leader Tsipras too charismatic. Samaras, meanwhile, is a man of the old Greek elite whose party ran the government from 2004 to 2009 and bears some responsibility for the country's desperate debt situation.

Put simply, Samaras opponents see him as an opportunist, while supporters admire his ability to always bounce back.

Samaras had already played a major role on the Greek political scene in the early 1990s as a hardline Foreign Minister, before forming a party called Political Spring that was more right-leaning than Nea Dimokratia and enjoyed considerable if short-lived success. By 2004 he was back with Nea Dimokratia, a move that paid off: the Conservatives garnered the most votes in parliamentary elections and remained the leading party until 2009.

Samaras, who'd risen to party chief and leader of the opposition, spent much of the last two-plus years making life difficult for then Prime Minister Giorgos Papandreou, and the resulting domestic political standoff contributed to the worldwide financial crisis. Samaras was a bitter opponent of the severe austerity measures that the European Union, International Monetary Fund (IMF) and European Central Bank (ECB) troika wanted to impose. But in November 2011, when Papandreou resigned and the Conservatives regained a role in government, Samaras ended up accepting the measures.

The 18.85% of the vote that Samaras got during the first elections on May 6 were interpreted by many as a slap on the wrist for his surprising turnaround, but Sunday's victory for Nea Dimokratia, which received just under 30% of the vote, showed that Samaras was on the road to the prize he'd always longed for: the Prime Minister job.

Not the time for discounts

Following Sunday's results in Greece, European Commission President José Manuel Barroso was quick to announce that now that the pro-Europeans had won, there was no time to lose and reforms should be quickly implemented. In Berlin, an initial statement by Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle on Sunday evening seemed to suggest that the Greeks might be granted a little more time to meet their obligations to creditors. But that was quickly reversed, as a German government spokesman said this was "no time for any sort of discounts," with Westerwelle adding: "If I gave the impression that I was prepared to accept less stringency as regards to the need for reform in Greece, that is definitely a wrong impression."

An aura of mistrust hangs over European reactions to the new reality in Greece -- and it is linked directly to Samaras. His intransigence as head of the opposition on the issue of reforms and austerity still rankles. Indeed, the European Conservatives in Brussels are most diffident, having long tried to talk him into acceptance to no avail.

However, after making their point European partners will have to come around to some adjustments in the timetable. Between the early May elections and the ones last Sunday, hardly any progress on reforms has been made in Athens. As soon as a new government is in place, representatives of the purse-string holding EU, IMF and ECB troika will come calling.

The first thing they'll do is check the finances, and they will undoubtedly find that Greece in behind in both cutting costs and collecting taxes. The corrections and adjustments the euro countries then press for will depend on the results of those checks. One billion euros in European payments to Greece had been delayed pending greater clarity in the situation, and these funds could now be released short term.

The hour of truth will come by the end of August at the latest. That's when the Greek government has to pay back 3.8 billion euros. It can only do that of the troika attests that the country is on an austerity course and the euro countries agree to release the next big chunk of the second bailout package.

Read original articles – here and here - in German

Photo - Nea Dimokratia

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Future

7 Ways The Pandemic May Change The Airline Industry For Good

Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.

Ready for (a different kind of) takeoff?

Carl-Johan Karlsson

It's hard to overstate the damage the pandemic has had on the airline industry, with global revenues dropping by 40% in 2020 and dozens of airlines around the world filing for bankruptcy. One moment last year when the gravity became particularly apparent was when Asian carriers (in countries with low COVID-19 rates) began offering "flights to nowhere" — starting and ending at the same airport as a way to earn some cash from would-be travelers who missed the in-flight experience.

More than a year later today, experts believe that air traffic won't return to normal levels until 2024.


But beyond the financial woes, the unprecedented slowdown in air travel may bring some silver linings as key aspects of the industry are bound to change once back in full spin, with some longer-term effects on aviation already emerging. Here are some major transformations to expect in the coming years:

Cleaner aviation fuel

The U.S. administration of President Joe Biden and the airline industry recently agreed to the ambitious goal of replacing all jet fuel with sustainable alternatives by 2050. Already in a decade, the U.S. aims to produce three billion gallons of sustainable fuel — about one-tenth of current total use — from waste, plants and other organic matter.

While greening the world's road transport has long been at the top of the climate agenda, aviation is not even included under the Paris Agreement. But with air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel.

Fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund.

In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials. Energy is supplied through wind turbines from the surrounding area, while the fuel's main ingredients are water and waste-generated CO2 coming from a nearby biogas plant.

Farther north, Norwegian Air Shuttle has recently submitted a recommendation to the government that fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund aimed at developing cleaner aviation fuel, according to Norwegian news site E24. The airline also suggested that the government significantly reduce the tax burden on the industry over a longer period to allow airlines to recover from the pandemic.

Black-and-white photo of an ariplane shot from below flying across the sky and leaving condensation trails

High-flying ambitions for the sector

Joel & Jasmin Førestbird

Hydrogen and electrification

Some airline manufacturers are betting on hydrogen, with research suggesting that the abundant resource has the potential to match the flight distances and payload of a current fossil-fuel aircraft. If derived from renewable resources like sun and wind power, hydrogen — with an energy-density almost three times that of gasoline or diesel — could work as a fully sustainable aviation fuel that emits only water.

One example comes out of California, where fuel-cell specialist HyPoint has entered a partnership with Pennsylvania-based Piasecki Aircraft Corporation to manufacture 650-kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell systems for aircrafts. According to HyPoint, the system — scheduled for commercial availability product by 2025 — will have four times the energy density of existing lithium-ion batteries and double the specific power of existing hydrogen fuel-cell systems.

Meanwhile, Rolls-Royce is looking to smash the speed record of electrical flights with a newly designed 23-foot-long model. Christened the Spirit of Innovation, the small plane took off for the first time earlier this month and successfully managed a 15-minute long test flight. However, the company has announced plans to fly the machine faster than 300 mph (480 km/h) before the year is out, and also to sell similar propulsion systems to companies developing electrical air taxis or small commuter planes.

New aircraft designs

Airlines are also upgrading aircraft design to become more eco-friendly. Air France just received its first upgrade of a single-aisle, medium-haul aircraft in 33 years. Fleet director Nicolas Bertrand told French daily Les Echos that the new A220 — that will replace the old A320 model — will reduce operating costs by 10%, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 20% and noise footprint by 34%.

International first class will be very nearly a thing of the past.

The pandemic has also ushered in a new era of consumer demand where privacy and personal space is put above luxury. The retirement of older aircraft caused by COVID-19 means that international first class — already in steady decline over the last decades — will be very nearly a thing of the past. Instead, airplane manufacturers around the world (including Delta, China Eastern, JetBlue, British Airways and Shanghai Airlines) are betting on a new generation of super-business minisuites where passengers have a privacy door. The idea, which was introduced by Qatar Airways in 2017, is to offer more personal space than in regular business class but without the lavishness of first class.

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

commons.wikimedia.org

Hygiene rankings  

Rome's Fiumicino Airport has become the first in the world to earn "the COVID-19 5-Star Airport Rating" from Skytrax, an international airline and airport review and ranking site, Italian daily La Repubblica reports. Skytrax, which publishes a yearly annual ranking of the world's best airports and issues the World Airport Awards, this year created a second list to specifically call out airports with the best health and hygiene standards.

Smoother check-in

​The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.

Data privacy issues

​However, as pointed out in Canadian publication The Lawyer's Daily, increased use of AI and biometrics also means increased privacy concerns. For example, health and hygiene measures like digital vaccine passports also mean that airports can collect data on who has been vaccinated and the type of vaccine used.

Photo of planes at Auckland airport, New Zealand

Auckland Airport, New Zealand

Douglas Bagg

The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less?

At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel in particular is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.

Trying to forecast the future, experts point to the years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks as at least a partial blueprint for what a recovery might look like in the years ahead. Twenty years ago, as passenger enthusiasm for flying waned amid security fears following the attacks, airlines were forced to cancel flights and put planes into storage.

40% of Swedes intend to travel less

According to McKinsey, leisure trips and visits to family and friends rebounded faster than business flights, which took four years to return to pre-crisis levels in the UK. This time too, business travel is expected to lag, with the consulting firm estimating only 80% recovery of pre-pandemic levels by 2024.

But the COVID-19 crisis also came at a time when passengers were already rethinking their travel habits due to climate concerns, while worldwide lockdowns have ushered in a new era of remote working. In Sweden, a survey by the country's largest research company shows that 40% of the population intend to travel less even after the pandemic ends. Similarly in the UK, nearly 60% of adults said during the spring they intended to fly less after being vaccinated against COVID-19 — with climate change cited as a top reason for people wanting to reduce their number of flights, according to research by the University of Bristol.

At the same time, major companies are increasingly forced to face the music of the environmental movement, with several corporations rolling out climate targets over the last few years. Today, five of the 10 biggest buyers of corporate air travel in the US are technology companies: Amazon, IBM, Google, Apple and Microsoft, according to Taipei Times, all of which have set individual targets for environmental stewardship. As such, the era of flying across the Atlantic for a two-hour executive meeting is likely in its dying days.

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