Veteran minister presents a blueprint for future reforms

Few people have the inside knowledge of the Greek economy that Yiannos Papantoniou has. He has served as deputy national economy minister twice (1985-89 and 1993-94) and as minister from 1994-2001, while in the last five years of that tenure, he also held the Finance portfolio. A spell as defense minister (2001-2004) may have diversified his resume but he remains, above all, an economics expert and sees the economy at the center of government policy. Now two years out of office, along with the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK), Papantoniou is enjoying a revival of sorts. A parliamentary committee has found no evidence that he unlawfully tampered with defense procurement contracts. The French newspaper Liberation, which published a foreign manager’s charge that Papantoniou was bribed in order to accept a major contract, was recently forced to make amends and pay a fine. Above all the so-called «audit» of public finances, conducted by the present government which inflated several years’ budget deficits and exposed Greece as having fraudulently joined the European Monetary Union in 2001, increasingly appears to be a cynical fraud perpetrated in order to blacken the previous government’s record and allow the present government to weasel out of its extravagant pre-election promises. Pilloried as the minister who presided over the stock market’s major boom and bust cycles, Papantoniou was also considered untouchable by the present Socialist party leadership in its effort to distance itself from the past. Papantoniou made good use of the more leisurely pace of an opposition MP’s life to return to familiar ground, universities in the UK and the US – he is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin at Madison and the Sorbonne in Paris, and earned his PhD in economics from Cambridge University – and debate new policy ideas. He presents several of them in a slim volume called «The Next Step» (published by Kastaniotis, in Greek). The book serves three purposes: It is a defense, mixed with some critique, of his, and the Socialist government’s, record, an indictment of the conservative government’s policies, and an outline of a new government program, which covers not only the economy but also public administration, education, health, defense and foreign affairs. The space is too limited for specifics, but as someone remarked at the book’s presentation last week, it is a program which the present government could also adopt. Papantoniou remains a resolute modernizer and has not lurched leftward in opposition. He does, however, endorse the notion of a minimum guaranteed income for the very poor. Papantoniou’s proposals could become the blueprint for a new, genuinely reformist government. The trouble is, he fails to explain to some of his Socialist allies, such as the unionists, the sacrifices that this will entail, although he does defend the Simitis government’s aborted attempt to reform social security in 2001. As one of the presenters of the book, the outspoken PASOK MP Mimis Androulakis, said, too many politicians are tiptoeing around reforms, defending their rationale but falling short on specifics.