NEWS

Back to dealing with internal impasses

The grand days of the Greek EU presidency are over. Prime Minister Costas Simitis has a few procedural details to deal with in the European Parliament, then it’s back home to the agonizing problems of domestic politics. This will be a tough return for the premier, as difficulties have accumulated in many areas of the economy and social life, which the government seems unable to resolve, especially in this transitional period. Asked in Washington why Greece was doing well abroad but woefully at home, Simitis gave no answer. It is true that recently Greece has had some good moments in the field of foreign policy. Its choice of a European outlet for the Cyprus problem was vindicated, as was its insistence on drawing Turkey into meeting European obligations, the only ones that could bind it and bring its actions under ongoing international supervision. And one could say that the Greek stance on the war in Iraq was correct. Greece uncomplainingly facilitated the Americans as requested, and at the same time adopted a low profile in the Euro-American dispute, keeping communications channels open. Furthermore, the overall stance of the government and that of the prime minister in particular on European affairs – always conciliatory, consultative and in search of the middle road – paid off, as it helped the powerful to find common cause. But all these positive outcomes are based on something quite specific. The Greek EU presidency and the premier had a chance to act and to implement the compromise formula in an environment where rules apply and where procedures have value, in a controlled space and a secure area. By contrast, the situation on the home front is terrible, as the premier himself noted bitterly, precisely because the scene is still anarchic. Principles are trampled on and rules are changed to suit the circumstances. Simitis’s first term as leader is accredited with Greece’s entry into Economic and Monetary Union, which was also based on European rules, in a prearranged framework determined by others and which we had to keep to and implement. The government did everything, using legitimate and illegitimate means, to operate within the European rules and join the EMU. And it succeeded, for which it deserves praise. But from then on, in areas where the rules are set locally so that they don’t exist, everything was dominated by the usual Greek approach. The bureaucracy, the foundation of the state’s operation, was conquered by party officialdom, and became weak-willed and unproductive, without structure or a hierarchy, all fertile ground for corruption and illegality to develop. Trade-offs It has become a tyrant, another nightmare for the public, an area of trade-offs which has raised costs and sets obstacles in front of any activity. It is this weak state administration that reproduces the wretched everyday conditions that so infuriate the public. It is the same ill-starred administration which has lost the prestige of control and has handed everything over to the politicians, who in their turn have trampled on principles and rules so as to nourish the «national» contractors and to allow scandals like that of the stock exchange to flourish in its midst. In earlier years, as part of this crooked administration, an equally crooked system of managing public finances had been established which allocated funds to serve other purposes at will. Nowadays the health system cannot perform as expected because the National Health System came to create deficits on the order of 1.2 billion euros every two years. Social insurance funds cannot meet the needs of the insured. The same framework created a problematic educational system, which is free in name only, since acquiring an education requires endless funds from every family. And the economy was based on the same cycle of connections and dependencies, unable to meet the demands of the times. Most companies operate in connection with the state or depend on it for their prosperity, unable to develop or to provide the jobs that society needs. Agriculture has been left to struggle for a few subsidies in an unproductive and pernicious environment. Whichever way you turn, you see a wave of corruption and unreliability, the curse of government, which deprives Simitis of the pleasures of glory. Weak side This is what the prime minister is up against. This is what has nullified any international prestige he gained, and this is what makes his rule problematic. The things that have exhausted his party and its officials are the weak side of the past eight years of government. These are the things that make him feel wretched and which demand radical solutions, even at this stage, just months away from the elections. They are the source of the political crisis which he had to deal with on his return to Greece. Simitis doesn’t have many options. In order to win back the cheated and suspicious public, he must act in decisive fashion, without hesitation and the usual concessions. If he does not, he will be left wondering why he does so well abroad but woefully at home.