Looking to Europe for bold initiatives rather than aimless handouts
It is true that Costas Simitis, during his seven years as prime minister, has succeeded in redirecting our attention toward the activities of fellow European Union member states, in making us compare ourselves to them, even imitate their measures and policies. However, a few days ago – in contrast to all his declarations and to the initiatives undertaken by his Social Democrat friends in Germany, he presented a «social package» of 2.3 billion euros, reminding us of the generous handouts marking the era of PASOK’s founder Andreas Papandreou. And perhaps in the 1980s, this type of handout – lacking any specific aim or justification – had a positive effect on people that were still waiting to get anything from society, albeit just a few extra drachmas. Things, however, are somewhat different today. It is indisputable that the weakest social groups need support, especially in a country like Greece with an inadequate welfare state – with health and education ostensibly offered for free but which, in practice, we end up paying for, and with under-the-table payments necessary for swift progress in public administration. But these groups cannot be safeguarded by a country which unfortunately does not produce enough and whose coffers are always empty as a result. There are certain tactics that a government can use to offer real services to those who need them (and pre-election moves and petty party political expediency are not among them.) It is worth looking to recent measures implemented by many European governments as examples. What is needed is the consolidation of development and of the business sector – especially companies’ turnover and export activities. In short, we need to improve domestic production so that we can become more competitive within and outside the EU. This is the only way that domestic income can be increased so that the have-nots can really be helped while new jobs are created and existing ones protected. It is on this level that governments should be doing their utmost – and certainly the majority of citizens applaud such policies. But Simitis’s administration – held hostage to vested interests and corruption – will find it difficult to break the network of alliances that have supported it for so many years. And so it is obliged to either keep things as they are or concoct much simpler social packages. But the way things are now, there is a need for the acceleration of those procedures which will boost development. Stable laws, increased competitiveness, transparency and structural changes on many levels will all be needed. In simpler terms, there is a need for boldness – which Simitis’s government has shown that it does not possess.