A modernizer’s credo in print

Christos Verelis’s book «Me to Vima tis Evropis» (In Step with Europe), published by Kastaniotis last month, will likely not be read beyond a small circle of political junkies and some of the author’s constituents in the prefecture of Aitoloacarnania. Verelis, the minister of transport and communications, is an interesting study in contrasts, though, unfortunately, you will not learn about it by reading this compilation of articles, official speeches and interviews. It is these contrasts, precisely, that provide an insight into how the game of politics is played in Greece and why modernization is so difficult to achieve. On the one hand, Verelis is almost the prototype of the modernizing technocrat that Prime Minister Costas Simitis has sought to promote over the past eight years. Educated abroad – he has a PhD in chemistry from the University of Heidelberg – with plenty of experience in the private sector, he is in contrast with the party hacks, nurtured in, and by, the public sector that still dominates the ruling Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK). In fact, Verelis, politically aware since a very early age, did not join PASOK at its founding in 1974 but became a member of the social-democratic wing of the Center Union. He became a PASOK member much later. Even today, people with his background are regarded with suspicion within PASOK, where one is only really excused for not joining in 1974 on grounds of age. On the other hand, Verelis has become very adept at pork-barrel politics. He is known to cater well to his constituents and has opposed reforms when they hurt their interests. One recent example is the stalled privatization of the Postal Savings Bank, where he clashed with Economy and Finance Minister Nikos Christodoulakis. Bank employees, an excessive proportion of whom, it is said, hail from Aitoloacarnania, did not want to lose the perks of state ownership, including lifetime employment. Although the book showcases Verelis the modernizer, it is in the interviews that he appears more candid and aware of the perils of politics. To the question «What is the price of power?» he replies: «A total loss of dignity, in most cases… I believe that you can assess politicians more clearly by the manner in which they retire.»

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