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May 29, 2017

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Greeks indifferent to EU Nobel Peace Prize

ATHENS -- A surprise decision to award the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize to the EU has been shrugged off in Greece, the union's most indebted member facing a sixth year of recession and more austerity pain ordered by the bloc.

Hours after the announcement, the Greek foreign ministry issued a somewhat bland statement, calling the award an "incitement" to Europe to continue in the footsteps of its "visionary creators."

Mainstream media buried the story in the inside pages on Saturday, focusing instead on the agonized negotiations between Greece and its EU-IMF creditors on a fresh round of austerity cuts needed to unlock access to badly needed loans.

But comments posted on social media were scathing, while more than seven in 10 people polled by the news portal said they disagreed with the decision.

"I don't understand why the EU merits a Nobel Peace Prize," said Eleni, a 33-year-old communications manager.

"When so many people are suffering under brutal cutbacks that will affect their lives for decades, such an award is hypocritical — maybe bankers should get it next year," she told AFP.

Twitter user Costas Liakopoulos tweeted: "A Nobel prize for inflexibility and conservatism will come next. An Old Continent indeed, we're lucky not to be still at war."

"A Nobel peace award for the EU, whose countries waged war on Libya? It's ridiculous," said another user, Punisher13.

Greece has benefited from millions of euros in support aid since joining the bloc in 1981 but opinion here has soured during the last three years after ballooning national debt led to tight budget supervision from Brussels and waves of spending cuts.

While most of the anger is directed at Germany, the eurozone economic powerhouse that zealously guards fiscal orthodoxy and is seen here as the instigator of ever-tougher austerity, the EU's image has also taken a hit.

In a Eurobarometer poll in June, over sixty percent of Greeks said the euro was the most important element of European identity.

Only 31 percent associated it with democracy and freedom.

In response to another question, 45 percent said EU membership was a good thing for Greece, 35 percent were unclear and 19 percent were opposed.

As many Greeks see it, fiscal monitoring imposed by the European Commission last decade failed to spot blatant government overspending that brought the country to the brink of bankruptcy in 2010.

Alongside the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank, the EU is also accused of ignoring evidence that the economic overhaul currently applied in the country is plunging the country into a deepening recession spiral.

Since 2009, Greece has trimmed its deficit from 15.6 percent of output in 2009 to 9 percent in 2011 and is trying to reduce it to 4.2 percent this year.

But this has been achieved at the cost of heavy sacrifices for pensioners and taxpayers who are paying the penalty of the state's failure to crackdown on tax evasion and corruption.

The government thought that extra cuts of 7.8 billion euros (US$10 billion) this year would be enough to persuade its international creditors to unblock 31.5 billion euros in blocked loans.

But the so-called troika of creditors is now demanding 9 billion euros in cuts according to the finance ministry.

And still, the effort seems in vain. Despite recent efforts to trim it through a write-down, Greece's debt is expected increase from 169.5 percent of output in 2012 to 179.3 percent in 2013 according to next year's draft budget.

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