COMMENT

Problems on many fronts

By Costas Iordanidis

The situation in Greece is looking very bleak indeed. On the one hand, the relationship between Athens and its international lenders is becoming increasingly tense, though the blame does not lie exclusively with the troika representatives, who have vastly differing opinions over how the Greek debt pile should be managed. Under pressure, the government has decided to act alone on a matter of different issues, expressing resistance toward reforms and processes whose necessity had already been agreed upon. Examples include the ratification of the 2014 budget, the reduction of VAT on food service and changes to property tax without taking the troika’s considerations on board. Changes can be made only when they are agreed upon. Unilateral decisions are unacceptable because they set a precedent that may be imitated by other countries in future bailout programs.

The government probably thought that the country’s lenders would show more leniency when presented with the argument that without some slack Greece will most likely end up with a SYRIZA government. This political argument did not receive the anticipated response, just like political arguments on economic matters have failed in the past, such as when PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos was handed the finance portfolio. Fiscal changes for bailed-out nations are made according to the terms of economics rather than politics.

Beyond what is going on in the eurozone, the government is also facing problems on the domestic front as SYRIZA continues to gain increasing influence among voters. As a result, the confrontation has shifted focus and more recently has centered on the issue of terrorism. There is no doubt that some members of the leftist party hold unconventional views regarding what constitutes domestic security, but the escape of November 17’s Christodoulos Xeros was obviously not orchestrated by SYRIZA, which demanded, with some delay, the resignation of the responsible ministers.

The other problem is that PASOK is fading gradually from the political scene and New Democracy still faces the major challenge of how to hold on to its traditional conservative voters. The crackdown on ultra-right Golden Dawn was not the glorious success anticipated and Greece’s assumption of the EU presidency has not improved the government’s image as it had hoped, but, rather, has been absorbing energy and focus from economic matters.

The result of all these factors being in play at the same time is more jitters and polarization, which have reached such a degree in Parliament that they may pose a risk to the democratic system.

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