None of the parties that came to rule Greece after the country signed its first international bailout agreement have managed to hammer out a solid strategy to overcome the financial crisis and inspire a vision among the people.
George Papandreou, the former Socialist prime minister, saw the bailout deal as a great opportunity to see through reforms that were often pledged but never implemented by all mainstream parties for years. Papandreou’s ambitions were killed by his own executive weaknesses, by the old guard inside his PASOK party and vested interests.
His conservative successor, Antonis Samaras, adopted a rather bipolar policy. Although he did realize the need for far-reaching reforms, the New Democracy leader remained hostage to an old-party mentality. Meanwhile, pressure to enforce the bailout commitments so as to receive the various tranches left little room for creative thinking.
As for Greece’s current prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, he never really had a plan. He tried to export the leftist habit of sit-in demos to the European institutions, and failed miserably. Since then, he has been pursuing a short-term strategy. It’s now all about lowering the bar in every possible area: education, security, the institutions in general. The aim is to satisfy the whim of his political clientele and ensure his political survival. Any hopes that the SYRIZA leader could evolve into a so-called “Lula of the Mediterranean” were dashed.
However, there is very little that we can expect in the future unless we come up with a national plan to dig ourselves out of this hole. What we need is a tangible and realistic blueprint that will foresee radical changes across all sectors. The effort must involve the top Greek brains at home and abroad. The ongoing decline is eroding what is left of the foundations of the Greek state.
The plan will not succeed if the parties do not have the people on their side. If they want to convince Greeks about the need for change, they will have to bring together technocratic language and emotion – a narrative that will inspire a worn-down society. A campaign of this sort cannot be the business of a single party or political leader.
Regrettably, New Democracy, a party that ought to operate along the lines of a center-right European party, does not appear to be immune to the virus of populism. Its leader, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, will need a great deal of self-confidence and strength to tame that part of his party which is more reminiscent of the old PASOK. He will have to try to bring those people under control before it is too late. Greece will make very little progress if left to the devices of two populist parties interchanging in power.