Oversized bureaucracy a hangover from undemocratic times, serves political control

The big issue is why Greece has remained fixated on 19th century relations of clientage, Antonis Makrydimitris, professor of administration studies at Athens University Law School, told Kathimerini. «There used to be Venizelists and royalists,» he said. «Then came the system where public employees had to have a certificate verifying their political reliability, which was followed by the dictatorship. After the restoration of democracy, legislation brought in by one-time minister Anastassios Peponis was a serious attempt to introduce meritocratic criteria to the public service. «The ASEP exams have a serious drawback, however. Professional capability is determined by three factors: expertise (e.g. whether a lawyer knows the law), behavior (meaning communication skills), and analytical ability (attitude to emergencies, manner of dealing with serious problems). ASEP examines only the first factor, and so is unable to evaluate candidates properly. «There are tests in international use which can assess abilities in the other two fields. But they have not been adopted in Greece. Also essential is a face-to-face interview. «But the proposal was inevitably attacked recently because the personal element enters into it, and behind that lurks the traditional Greek notion of ‘connections.’» Leveling mentality «The other battle that traditionally occurs in Greece is that between so-called elitist and populist outlooks,» explained Makrydimitris. «We’re not talking about economic or social elites, but the selection of people by means of meritocratic procedures. This is a functional elite, not a class-based elite. But in Greece the leftist notion that defines the elite as the rich has prevailed. This is basically an anti-elitist, leveling mentality.» Makrydimitris sees the public sector in Greece as excessively bureaucratic: «Oversized bureaucracy permits central control and politicians prefer to control what is happening in Greece. This is the rationale behind the centralized system, behind which is the worship of power and even further behind which is a latent totalitarian logic. There is an anti-liberal attitude in Greek society. We have not learned to tolerate multiple choices and views. Clashes in Greece tend to become explosive and polarizing.» ‘Little gods’ The consequence of all this, according to Makrydimitris, is that «we have not managed to distinguish precisely between politics and administration. In this country, we have deified politics. Every political superior – from ministers to the mayors of small villages – thinks they are little gods who completely express popular sovereignty. They are used to yes-men and are repelled by the idea of a dynamic administration with professional independence, such as one that could exist under different circumstances if, for example, the National Public Administration Center was developed and utilized. It is not by chance that the majority of public servants declare their political affiliations and not their academic or professional excellence.»

Subscribe to our Newsletters

Enter your information below to receive our weekly newsletters with the latest insights, opinion pieces and current events straight to your inbox.

By signing up you are agreeing to our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.