NEWS

A hot July is in store for Costas Simitis as his plans to reorganize PASOK meet new obstacles

On Friday evening, Prime Minister Costas Simitis happily welcomed the leaders of the European Union to the Greek presidency’s farewell dinner in the outdoor reception area of the Porto Carras Hotel. He seemed to be enjoying the evening and there was no sign of the bitter moments that have marked the past six months, nor of those that have agitated the ruling PASOK party over the preceding two days, sparking one of its most serious crises in recent years. For those in the know, however, the clash with party General Secretary Costas Laliotis could not leave Simitis unaffected. The premier had future events on his mind, not European urbanity or elegant hand-kissing. The domestic political game is tough and relentless; it is not governed by rules or courtesy. And the players are experienced, forward-looking veterans, with good noses for politics. Grasping opportunity For some time, Laliotis had been aware of a growing distance between himself and the prime minister, and he asked for an explanation, which was not forthcoming. As the crisis developed and nothing was done about it, he concluded there were plans afoot to overthrow him and he took the first opportunity to clear the matter up. The chance arose following the resignations of State Minister Stefanos Manikas and PASOK Executive Bureau member Michalis Neonakis, when some officials at Maximos Mansion blurted out that the premier was preparing for major changes in the party and the government, and government spokesman Christos Protopappas dropped some hints. Seizing the opportunity, Laliotis attacked Protopappas. The Simitis entourage took the bait, promptly announcing that the prime minister alone decides on any changes and their extent. This in turn sparked an even more vehement response from Laliotis, who put an end, at least for the moment, to the question of a change of party secretary for PASOK. If Simitis had in mind a scenario of a general reorganization of the party and the dominance of the reformist trend in PASOK, then it was nipped in the bud, and any such moves on the part of the government have probably been curbed. Simitis now knows that any attempt to update the party will meet with strenuous opposition. He will come up against the old forces and powerful mechanisms of the party, and he should have no illusions about the fact that that the people surrounding him will be hurt and will come under unbearable pressure. From now on, the work of his close colleagues, such as Economy Minister Nikos Christodoulakis and Public Order Minister Michalis Chrysochoidis, will meet obstacles. The question is whether, after what has taken place in the past few days, the premier will want to rule again or, more likely, whether he will have the strength to try and transcend events. Those involved in the running of the State and the broader public sector know and have told him that the problems of the country and of the government spring from the prevailing climate of irresponsible waste. The State is run in such a way that it serves the needs of a culpable 2,000-3,000 families, whose only aim is to earn wealth unhindered and to impede any attempt at regeneration. In large hospitals and other foundations, in the railways and telecommunications, in the State itself, this same climate suffocates any attempts at creativity. Some 30-40 percent of state expenditure goes directly into the pockets of third parties, to those same circles of decay and corruption which support and are supported by an imperfect system of monitoring expenditure, the lack of rules and objectives, and a system run without principles or responsibility. If this climate is not reversed, if some money is not spent in order to save the rest, there will be no progress, and no government will be able to escape from the vicious circle which is heading for disaster with mathematical certainty. Last chance Simitis has one last chance to attempt to escape from the usual binding compromises, and he has the means to do so. He has achieved one of the longest prime ministerial terms of the past 100 years, and his term of office has been linked with great and decisive events in a time of peace. Logically speaking, he has no need of the systems of political protection that grew up in previous years, and one would expect him to think of his later reputation and nothing else. Sources say that at the moment he is weighing matters up very carefully. At present, it is not known what he will do. In any case, he has to act, and as swiftly as possible. Now that the lights of the EU presidency have dimmed and he has made it clear that he is staying on, he has no choice but to act. It is up to him whether he will go against the flow or strike a compromise with the established forces which hold the country hostage and keep it too weak to face the challenges of the times.