I hope and believe that Prime Minister Antonis Samaras will not start displaying the kind of behavior that we have repeatedly witnessed on the part of the country’s leadership these past few years. Every few months or so, a government would make a bold and unpopular decision, Syntagma Square would be flooded with protesters and Parliament would ratify – often by a nose – certain measures. Once the hullabaloo died down, ministers, MPs, unionists and party officials would scramble behind the scenes to ensure that the measure was never implemented.
The only measures that have been implemented are those that required nothing more than a few calculations at the State General Accounting Office: cuts to pensions and salaries. The liberalization of closed-shop professions, the reduction in bureaucracy and the overhaul of the public administration and justice systems are among the reforms that are still just on paper.
And so, here we are, in a cycle of fiscal adjustment by impoverishment.
Competitiveness cannot be improved by slashing salaries alone, because however low you push them, no one will invest in a country where the state, legislation and bureaucracy are hostile to business, nor where the justice system works at a snail’s pace and the tax code is full of gray areas and loopholes.
Unfortunately, even at this point, most ministers and politicians lack the courage to take that extra step and fix these problems. But such changes cannot be brought about with half-measures and a few quick fixes to give the appearance that the state is being put in order. Someone – and that someone can be none other than the prime minister – needs to grab the ministers by their lapels and give them a direct order to do their jobs, making it clear that pensioners and civil servants can no longer pay the price for their lack of scruples and guts. He needs to tell them to stop scrounging for more money because the jig is up.
A lot needs to be done over the next few months and the troika is unlikely to give Greece more than a short time to get its act together. But, the things that need to be done are not for the benefit of our creditors; they are for the benefit of our country, as a whole.
There are those who doubt whether Samaras is the man for the job at hand. I understand their concerns. However, I can’t think of many politicians – young or old – that could get this difficult job done while being buffeted by the troika, vested interests, the coalition partners and all the others that make up the Greek madhouse.
Whether we like it or not, the prime minister in this country is also the CEO of a collapsing company and the warden of a lunatic asylum.