Yannis Stournaras has already started bidding his farewells to the Finance Ministry, possibly sooner that he expected. The truth is that he held his own in an exceptionally volatile environment and from an extremely difficult position. There is nothing easy about surviving the joint pressure of the creditors and the domestic political system, and especially of those who are often pulling strings behind the scenes. If you are also the kind of person who speaks the truth with courage and without factoring in the political cost and the effects your decisions have on your party and your government, this only makes your job (and that of your superior) that much harder.
What has kept Stournaras standing is his unwavering optimism and his focus on the goals he has to reach. He is obviously a man who relishes a good challenge and who needs almost unachievable goals in order to really hit his stride. What’s impressive is that he does this with an icy indifference to what is being said about him. And there is no doubt that his demeanor angered a lot of citizens. It’s not easy to be stuck in the quagmire of taxation or to see your home at risk because of new measures while listening to someone telling you, again and again, that while your anger may be justified, achieving a primary surplus is the ultimate goal.
Stournaras skillfully and ably played his dual role of good guy and bad guy – a role that all finance ministers have to play. He did it with a sense of humor even when the barbs leveled against him hit their mark and hurt. In one sense he knew that his dry technocratic style, without the usual antics of political management, could only take him so far in a country with the kind of idiosyncrasies Greece has. He ultimately struck a combination of styles that delivered, both abroad and – to a lesser extent – at home.
His Achilles heel is perhaps his ignorance on practical aspects which are extremely important to the rest of us. It’s not that he fails to share people’s pain, as it were, but maybe that he is not that interested in issues such as the tax system, which are key to millions of people. All that might be of little importance if Greece had a traditional economy minister dealing only with spending and revenues.
In any case, there are many outstanding issues that can only be dealt with by a streetwise politician with a fair share of common sense. Greece is near the end of a chapter which will be concluded with the big discussion on debt restructuring. The anger and pain from the austerity measures runs deep, but Stournaras’s role in restoring stability and steering the nation back to normalcy has been neither small nor easy.