Margaret Thatcher, her “legacy” to Greece

Margaret Thatcher in front of journalists
Margaret Thatcher in front of journalists Credit © European Union, 2013

10 Downing Street’s official website mentions Thatcher as Britain's first woman prime minister and as the prime minister with the longest tenure in office in the last 150 years. However, another undeniable fact about Thatcher is her controversial political legacy, as presented here by Sotiris Zartaloudis (University of Manchester), an expert in labor market and employment policies in Greece and Portugal.





Could we find two positive and two negative measures of Thatcher?

The positive one was that she took a crumbling economy and put it again at the helm of the Continent and the world. The negative one was that the price for doing that was perhaps extraordinarily high: economic, educational, social, and geographical inequalities have been steadily increasing after Thatcher.


Do we see evidence today of the impact of Thatcher's employment policy (e.g. the abandonment of full-time employment) in Greece?

Sure. I would say that Greece in 2009 was like England in the 1970s (low economic growth, heavily indebted state enterprises, and strikes). Since there is no chance that we will ever elect a Prime Minister with the ideas of Thatcher, Troika had to come to the rescue.


Clement Attlee and Margaret Thatcher: Could we say that they are the opposite political figures of 20th century English politics?

Yes, they are, but mostly when we talk about matters of economic policy. On the one hand, Atlee, a leading figure in British Keynesianism, engaged in massive nationalizations of several companies and industries that were economically collapsing and he established a key pillar of the British welfare state: the National Health Service (NHS). In contrast, Thatcher introduced and championed Thatcherism / Reaganism — what is often called neoliberalism — which advocated privatization, reducing the power of unions, suppressing strikes, and deregulating the economy. However, their one significant similarity: they both imported a new modus operandi for future generations. Despite the initial reaction from their respective opposition parties, Keynesianism had bipartisan acceptance for 30 years after Atlee’s departure, while Thatcherism is well and alive both in Britain and abroad. It is no coincidence that not even David Miliband — a more left-leaning firure than Tony Blair —denies the value of Thatcher's key policies.

What Greece needs is something harder than what Thatcher did. We need evaluation, structural reforms, and more efficiency; in other words we are in need of qualitative reforms, not quantitative ones


 Andreas Papandreou had once said it would be a great relief if Britain withdrew from the EEC and Thatcher had once declared that the appetite of Greeks for financial packages posed a threat on the EU. So, eventually whose leader’s policies did the most good or harm to the EU and their people?

First of all I think that both statements were not serious but rather products for popular consumption. A possible exit of Great Britain would make Europe much weaker both as a single market and as a world power.  Furthermore, Britain would certainly be poorer since about 55% of its trade is with the European Union. Greece (but also all the countries which are poorer than Greece, such as East Germany, North Britain, and Scotland) do well to ask for further support from EU’s financially stronger countries. Maintaining cohesion is a recognized goal in the EU and, for better or worse, the poorer countries cannot converge with Europe’s economic giants without EU funds. Regarding the two leaders: both have had a positive impact on the EU. Thatcher promoted the ‘single market’ program, while Papandreou stressed the need for Community solidarity with the weaker members. I would also say that they both harmed their people. In summary, they both laid the bases for the current crisis in Britain and Greece (each one for different reasons).


Are there any common traits between Merkel and Thatcher?

Not much. Regarding their similarities: both of them are women who had to strike their own way in a male-dominated world and they belong to center-right parties. However, Thatcher was combative, she wanted to impose her views and she had an ideological commitment to liberalism. On the other hand, Merkel is condescending, always looking for consents and alliances and she behaves in accordance with what opinion polls say.


Thatcher made an attempt at dismantling the public sector. Is Greece in a need for dismiss its civil servants as well?

No, it is not. First of all, the vast majority of Greek state-owned enterprises are listed on the stock exchange market and act on market terms (in paper at least). Most of what Thatcher did for advancing privatizations, had already been done in Greece in the 1990s. Moreover, it is a common myth that Greece has a massive public sector. What Greece needs is something harder than what Thatcher did. We need evaluation, structural reforms, and more efficiency; in other words we are in need of qualitative reforms, not quantitative ones. That's why George Papandreou asked the EU to give us the know-how through Task Force.


Could we compare the austerity reforms in 1980s England to those in Greece and Portugal today?

Definitely yes. We could loosely say that Troika is southern Europe’s Thatcher. However, we should bear in mind that in the case of Greece and Portugal, Troika has employed several left-leaning policies such as increasing tax revenue, fighting tax evasion, further taxation in general and making an attempt at protecting the weak in society. Those are issues about which Thatcher would be rather indifferent.

Leave a comment