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Monday, 25 November 2019

European elites’ discourses of the Greek crisis

On 20 November 2019, Dimitris Papadimitriou (University of Manchester) gave a talk on European elites’ discourses of the Greek crisis, tracing their evolution in a ten-year period: from the collapse of Lehman brothers in 2008 to the end of Greece’s 3rd bailout program in 2018. His aim was to explore the key messages of this discourse and identify junctures of change over time. Othon Anastasakis (St Antony’s College, Oxford) acted as the chair.

Based on the analysis of 1,872 direct quotes on the Greek crisis by 83 senior European and IMF officials which were drawn from a dataset of 22,533 news wires from Reuters, Papadimitriou highlighted the significant volatility characterizing the European elites’ discourses of the Greek crisis in the period under examination. The quotes were coded in five categories in terms of their tone on Greece and the proposed solutions for the Greek financial crisis. Those five categories were, Grexit’, ‘hard conditionality’, ‘neutrality/neglect’, ‘soft conditionality’ and ‘strong support’. The distribution of the codes varied considerably in time thus leading to the identification of six distinct narrative frames: ‘neglect’, ‘suspicious cooperation’, ‘blame’, ‘reluctant redemption’, ‘conflict’ and ‘accommodation’. Those frames were punctuated by five discursive junctures in 2010, 2011 and 2012, 2014 and 2015, all marking significant events on the Greek crisis and reflecting the content of the changing communicative discourse of the Greek crisis. Papadimitriou highlighted four key findings which challenge conventional wisdom on the subject matter and provide new insights in the literature. First, the analysis showcased a significant ‘cacophony’ on part of the European elites in terms of their opinions mirroring a significant discord amongst the Troika institutions on the Greek crisis. Interestingly and contrary to the literature on discursive institutionalism no clearly discernible ideological or geographical cleavage is observed. Second, Germany appears to be dominant in terms of share of quotes as well as other core Eurozone countries, and politicians positioned in the centre-right. However, the increased volume of quotes does not signify discursive leadership. This was the third key finding highlighted by Papadimitriou: no consistent correlation was found between the position of Germany and those of other major stakeholders of the crisis, and similarly a weak discursive leadership by the Troika was also found. In addition, the findings did not provide support to ‘Europeanisation effect’ thesis. The fourth key finding concerned the impact of elite narrative on borrowing costs for Greece. Findings show the lack of a conclusive correlation between opinion scores on Greece (weekly aggregated) and the spread of the 10-year Greek bond yield against the German Bund. However, correlation between the number of weekly quotes on Greece and the evolution of the Greek spreads was found to be statistically significant.

Othon Anastasakis praised Papadimitriou’s presentation for the breadth of its analysis and the novelty of the findings and opened the floor for a very engaging discussion that followed. It focused among others on the character of elite narrative as a carefully scripted discourse and the methodological choices in conducting discourse analysis on elite narrative and their implications. Finally, the impact of elite discourse on the market was debated as well as Germany’s lack of dominance in the discursive realm despite its hegemonic role in steering the actual policy.

Manolis Pratsinakis (SEESOX-Onassis Reserach Fellow)

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