NEWS

Premier’s vision of post-Olympic Greece

The day after the end of the Athens 2004 Olympic Games found Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis relieved. There had been masses of favorable comments from the international media, a wave of positive publicity for Greece, and above all, there had been no significant breaches of security, just a few days before the tragic events that took place in Russia. The premier is calm, freed from the responsibility of a major obligation toward the international community, and boosted by the capital that came from the successful organization of the Games, he feels fairly secure about the coming financial year, despite the significant economic problems it presents. Ready for solutions Karamanlis believes that, apart from the positive energy that has radiated about Greece, the Olympic Games period allowed the government to get to the bottom of problems, and offered a unique opportunity for cooperation and seeking solutions. It was a form of exercise, or a test of government forces under real conditions, which had to act under pressure and according to a strict timetable. Sources say the premier believes the government is now equipped and coordinated, is aware of the country’s problems and is able to act with due decisiveness. He does not appear to be concerned about the prospect of early elections due to the presidential election next March. He considers it unlikely, on the grounds that the current political situation would not favor the opposition’s taking such a risk. He responds easily to questions on the topic, letting it be understood that the opposition has little chance of finding a broadly acceptable candidate. He believes PASOK will need time to restructure. He guesses that the PASOK leader will face objections to his attempt to renew the party; that he will not be challenged directly but will face incidents that preoccupy him and prevent him from taking major or risky steps. Having made these political assessments, and in the hope that Turkey secures the commencement date for European Union accession talks that Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan wants and will enter into an extended period of obligations and observation by EU authorities, the Greek prime minister will shift his interest to the economic sphere and the reorganization of Greece in general. Sources say the premier is determined to proceed with changes that will open up the economy and permit the shaping of conditions for development beyond Athens, in the provinces, where distances and needs are great. Karamanlis believes the economy is sufficiently mature for such changes that can support the leap forward in quality which Greece needs. He takes every opportunity to point out that these changes must be implemented within the next two years, always on condition that public finances are under control and do not continue to represent a threat to the economy. He prioritizes the tidying up of state finances, and wants this to be implemented on a consensual basis, without pointless social friction, and, of course, without subjecting the public to violent adaptation, which does not suit his political approach and has at any rate proved ineffective. Among the prime minister’s priorities are resolving banks’ social insurance issues, decisively tackling the outstanding matter of Olympic Airways, expanding store opening hours, and numerous small steps at the micro-economic level that will make the economy more effective and facilitate investment. What may play a decisive role here are the unspent funds from the Third Community Support Framework, which are a significant resource for the future. Karamanlis believes the economy can be controlled. There are foundations for progress, the euro provides security from crises and infrastructure has improved. What is needed now, in the premier’s view, are steps to free the economic forces that can create a powerful wave of development. He has repeatedly said that he does not see politics as management but as a game of strategy that demands foresight and measures that have prospects.