Karamanlis’s vision of Greece’s future

Pride of place on the desk of Costas Karamanlis, the main opposition New Democracy party leader, is held by a copy of «The Mystery of Capital – Why Capitalism Triumphs in the West and Fails Everywhere Else» by Hernando De Soto, the brother of UN Special Envoy to Cyprus Alvaro de Soto. The book tries to answer this question by posing principles and rules for what makes a free economy effective and capable of creating wealth and prosperity while also ensuring social benefits for the economically weaker sectors of society. Domestic problems Someone who met with Karamanlis recently explained that the ND leader was studying the book as a way of understanding Greece’s imperfections and seeking explanations for its problems. Karamanlis has taken particular note of De Soto’s observation that capitalism, the free market system that has proved so durable and effective for societies that have embraced and implemented it, is based primarily on principles and rules and, naturally, on an acceptable system of law, with obligations and sanctions that are strictly observed by all. This goes a long way toward explaining the ND leader’s theories, and perhaps best characterizes his thoughts regarding the policies he intends to follow. It explains his continuing allegations of corruption and entangled interests, his serious allegations against the government as well as in regard to the responsibilities of Prime Minister Costas Simitis. All those who have had an opportunity recently to speak with Karamanlis have come away aware of his faith in a system of values, principles and rules by which to create an appropriate environment for the economy to function effectively. Karamanlis believes that the country’s continuing misfortune is due to a lack of faith in the implementation of rules, loss of a sense of justice, the State’s inability to uphold the laws, the faulty meting out of justice, the loss of any sense of hierarchy in civil administration and the prevalence of special interest groups, large and small, in the country’s political and economic life, which has weakened the operation of the free market by means of a number of distortions. ‘Small’ revolution As a result, the system’s strengths have been sapped – along with equal opportunities – or else have been replaced by mechanisms that corrupt power. The country’s creative forces have gradually atrophied, with business activity becoming disoriented and dependent on support from the State. Society has become stuck in a state of dependency. It is true that whoever wanted to change these illiberal conditions would have to create a small revolution in Greece. And the ND leader is avoiding any sweeping statements and is not mouthing any slogans about sweeping changes being in the offing. He is even being reserved about his party’s positive performance in the polls. He reportedly regards the «day after» as a test and is attributing major importance to the way the party and its leader should behave, and the example they should set for society. Karamanlis is allowing no room for misunderstanding and is sending the message out, loud and clear, to all concerned. He himself has no illusions that things can change automatically. Major effort will be required and, initially, powerful symbolic deeds that will introduce the changing climate and mentality. Those who know Karamanlis well say he envisions an efficient State like those in Central Europe, with the rule of law, equal opportunities and and an environment in which the private sector can function in order to create wealth and support the needs of society. Specific plan The ND leader is not governed by neoliberal doctrines, nor does he necessarily believe that everything should be done by the private sector. For Karamanlis, it is more important that a major enterprise like the Public Power Corporation (PPC) or the Hellenic Telecommunications Organization (OTE) operates efficiently than for it to be privately run. In general, Karamanlis could be described as a moderate politician with principles, who does not have his head in the clouds and who has a specific plan to change the conditions in Greece. The question raised by any independent observer of Greece’s political life is whether these principles that form the nucleus of Karamanlis’s thoughts can be served by the New Democracy party and whether they can be embraced by a society that for decades has become accustomed to a completely different model. It is true that the ideological and cultural preparation for the campaign has not been the best and is no guarantee of victory. It does not ensure that the leader’s vision will become reality. It is precisely this uncertainty that has not allowed New Democracy to go beyond being a protest vote to becoming a positive force that can usher in major changes.