ECONOMY

Simitis’s domestic and European challenges

The important field of action for the government now is one and only: the economy. It has pinned all its hopes for political recovery on Economy Minister Nikos Christodoulakis; if he manages to stimulate movement on some of the many issues needing attention, Prime Minister Costas Simitis will no doubt feel much freer to devote more time to two other key pursuits. One of these pressing new interests is the party mechanism, along with associated communication aspects including media relations, in view of the next election, which is nine months away at the most. The other is the need to improve his chances of becoming the next president of the European Commission; this ambitious goal, of course, requires careful deliberations, a serious stance of the country on international issues, particularly purely European ones, and generally an image commensurate to this ambition. To be sure, Simitis’s chances of assuming the top Commission post are enhanced by his successful six-month term as EU president at a critical time, but are still rather theoretical and no discussion of the prospect has been of a binding nature. Simitis exudes a sense of realism; the image of a political figure who can balance differences and disagreements between the big countries without creating unforeseen problems. But beyond a European agreement, American «consent» will weigh decisively on the choice of the new European leader. Apart from the geopolitical orientation of whoever is ultimately chosen to lead an enlarged Europe, Washington will also be a strict judge of the «national» performance of candidates, particularly in the promotion of institutions favoring the consolidation of a climate of freedom and equal opportunities in the economy. This combination is also required for the real needs of the Greek economy. Only the speediest promotion of very important investments and the efficient use of investment subsidies under the European Union’s Third Community Support Framework could give substance to hopes for rekindling entrepreneurships which the country badly needs; the former can be achieved through the liberalization of the big domestic markets, like energy, and the latter by the spending of money that will go to the major companies in information technology and other sectors. Simitis’s next big step could be to secure a broader and more efficient framework for promoting entrepreneurship. Most Greek enterprises and, even more so, foreign companies feel constricted by the insistence of the ruling majority on business schemes that may have had a meaning in the past but today amount to strong obstacles to further progress. This last issue is also the most crucial even in the domestic political realm; a lot will depend on the successes which Simitis will be able to register in his own party. The removal of Costas Laliotis from the post of party secretary gave hope to all those experiencing daily the obstacles which the shadow of the party mechanism casts on the functions of public administration, the economy and society. However, the task of uprooting obstructive habits and alliances and dealing with the web of small-time vested interests that rely on and support the indirect enrichment of people in central and local government seems daunting. Such phenomena are based on a much bigger political-entrepreneurial web of illegitimate interests: The «secret» instrument of governance that blesses all big decisions. So far, Simitis’s initiatives have not touched the «racket.»