‘There is no question of elections taking place earlier’
Last week Simitis reiterated that his government would serve its full term and that there would be no early elections. During his previous term, he had made the same promises before calling a snap election. Why would the government avoid early elections if the polls favored them? The government does not determine policy based on opinion polls. It takes them into account but it is not afraid of them. Our mandate is until spring 2004 and that is when elections will take place. There is no question of them happening earlier. I think that these rumors are damaging. I would also say that in some cases they are malicious as they are spread by those who want to present Greece as being in a campaign period and that, therefore, any government activity should cease. Many cadres, including senior officials, claim that the government handouts have come too late to help PASOK. The package of social measures the prime minister announced at the Thessaloniki International Trade Fair along with the Convergence Charter, are not designed to help PASOK but to bolster the more vulnerable income groups and raise the general prosperity index. They were not moves on a political chessboard but were dictated by commitments we made at the beginning of our term. We said that entry to the Economic and Monetary Union would not be the end but the beginning of an effort to bring about real convergence and that the growth surplus every year would be distributed more equitably. It is simply that this year there were more margins. I also would like to have seen these measures announced earlier on, but the question is not to set off fireworks but to be in a position to fulfill one’s promises. Costas Simitis has proved that he does what he says. How can the public be convinced that the promises in the Convergence Charter will be fulfilled, when, according to recent surveys, the gap between the highest and lowest incomes has widened in recent years? The answer is to be found in other surveys that have also come to light recently, for example, a European Union report showing that Greece has the highest growth rate in the EU and predicting that the rate will continue to be high. We have already reached the average in social welfare expenditure and are approaching the average (EU) unemployment rate. These are real steps and not just hot air. Of course, the question of implementing announcements involves more than just statistics. The main thing is the existence of political credibility. But it is precisely a lack of credibility that the opposition, particularly Karamanlis, is accusing the government of. Mr Karamanlis is trying to achieve power by being negative just for the sake of it but he cannot conceal the truth. People now know that Greece is steadily changing because there is a vision; there is a program; there is strong leadership. What is there on the other side? A spasmodic and negating opposition. This government has shown that it can achieve the goals it sets. In recent years, Greece has met all the major challenges it has set itself. The challenge of true convergence is the greatest one, as it concerns people’s quality of life. We are not magicians. We can’t achieve everything from one minute to the next, but we are clearly oriented, determined and have shown clear examples of effectiveness. Naturally, we will be judged on these issues in the next elections. There is a general feeling that for the past two weeks PASOK has been trying to fill in the gaps it has left in its policies over the past four years. How convincing can this effort be? I am the last person to claim that government policy has been complete on all levels, or that there have not been gaps, omissions or delays. But the balance sheet of our political action over the past two years is undoubtedly in our favor. We have achieved a considerable amount in that time. Terrorists are being brought to justice. Another major achievement was the presidency of the European Union, further boosting the country’s image. Cyprus is now a member of the European Union. We cannot only look at what is missing, overlooking the successes. After the end of the presidency, we said that we would turn our attention to the domestic front, with initiatives to boost the quality of people’s lives and social cohesion. That is what we are doing and continue to do at faster and faster rates, even if that leads to panic among ND cadres who have been rushing to have their ministerial suits made. Among the «dilemmas» the prime minister has raised in view of the elections is the successful organization of the Olympic Games. Isn’t it dangerous to involve this issue in the campaign debate? The organization of the Olympic Games will be decisive for the country’s future. Those two weeks in August 2004 are very important. The eyes of the entire world will be on us. So the dilemma regarding which government and which prime minister can manage this issue successfully is a very real one. We are not danger-mongering; we are not the ones who have said we will not finish the projects in time, or who question the quality of their construction, or who say that the country is about to be royally embarrassed. If you look around for those who are trying to include the Games in their campaign platforms, you will find them in the main opposition party. They have been exercising irresponsible criticism and now that they see that we are winning that challenge as well, they are changing their story. Simitis is also making a number of changes within the party. Is it expedient for PASOK to enter what is essentially a campaign period during such an introspective process? The need for change within the party is not sudden. Decisions were made at the party congress and directives have been given by the organizing conference. I was among those who claimed that changes in the structure of the party and a renewal of its political image were conditions of survival. In fact, since the early 1990s, I have personally been making proposals… for a radically different PASOK. We don’t need to make hasty moves, nor do we need an excuse to take steps to rejuvenate PASOK. The time is right. Despite what is in effect a campaign period, certain prominent party cadres appear to have distanced themselves from the party. Shouldn’t Simitis take the initiative here if these cadres are going to be part of the campaign effort? I do not agree with this view. If there is one thing one can be sure of, it is that PASOK will go to the polls united. Everyone is well aware of their responsibilities and of how crucially important for the country this next election will be.