NEWS

Karamanlis government is in a difficult position

Thirteen months since it took power, the government has still not yet hit its stride, a problem which becomes blatantly obvious in moments of crisis. As time passes, it seems that the shortcomings are inherent. Even party officials admit in private conversation that the government does not rise to the occasion. But they hasten to add that nothing has been lost, as long as Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis acts promptly and effectively, dispelling the widespread impression that political management is lacking. Sources who know Karamanlis note his inability to work with a cohesive leadership team that would enable him to control and coordinate the government’s task effectively. ND deputies are disappointed. Their certainty of a year ago that the party was sure to remain in power for two terms has dissipated. Economic measures The past few weeks have admittedly been the most difficult for the government. The issue of the law on shareholders led to a confrontation with the European Commission, but at least most of Greek society supports the effort to combat entangled interests. The same does not apply to the economic measures taken, and not only because such measures are unpopular by their very nature. The fiscal situation is so bad that the government should have taken steps in September. When the prime minister announced his economic policy, the inventory was completed. His government decided to adopt a policy of mild adjustment, which eventually had to be abandoned under the pressure of events and from the Commission. As if that were not enough, the government had to deal with trouble in the sensitive area of national issues. When Foreign Minister Petros Molyviatis announced that UN mediator Matthew Nimetz had proposed renaming FYROM «Republika Makedonije-Skopje» nobody was keen, but the spirit of realism prevailed. The opposition parties gave the government the green light, each in its own way. Ethical issue Shortly afterward, when the dubious side of the Nimetz proposal was leaked, not only did a problem of substance emerge but also a major ethical issue. It is inconceivable that the foreign minister should conceal vital information from political leaders in a briefing. The government scored a remarkable own goal, reinforcing the impression that it specializes in such gaffes. The incident brought back memories of its delayed response to the loss of the Chinook helicopter and its reneging on election promises to scrap LAFKA pension contributions. Before it could draw breath, the government was faced with the tense scenario that Ankara had set up ahead of Molyviatis’s visit to Turkey, rightly guessing that Athens would once again react under the influence of its phobias. What happened in Imia and Andros was not «an episode,» as the Greek minister stated. It was a planned provocation which effectively served the interests of Turkey’s coercive diplomacy. The Greek response was no more than a frantic attempt to buy a detente. As usual, the Turks tested the political reflexes of the Karamanlis government and drew some dangerous conclusions. Their whole approach revealed a wish to embarrass Greece, and they succeeded. During the standoff between the Greek and Turkish coast guard near Imia and while Turkish fighter planes were interrupting Greek exercises on Andros, Molyviatis was talking about confidence-building measures and improving bilateral relations. The picture would have been completely different if the veteran diplomat had publicly asked the Erdogan government to clarify whether those challenges had his approval so that Athens could decide on its position. That would have made the right political impression and also have sent a stern message to Ankara. Though State Minister Theodoros Roussopoulos states that the matter was handled personally by Molyviatis, it clearly had the premier’s approval. The events themselves should have brought Karamanlis down to earth as to the practical value of political agreement with his Turkish counterpart. It is not by chance that both the present and the previous government have been caught up in the crude theory of «good» Erdogan and the «bad» generals. It is a way of politically and psychologically dodging the harsh reality of Greek-Turkish relations and avoiding the responsibility of effective management. With the government in a difficult position, a Cabinet reshuffle looks likely. Sufficient time has passed for ministers to prove their ability and for the prime minister to evaluate them. And Karamanlis must convey the impression of making a new start. The sins of the Simitis governments will continue to influence public opinion for some time, but they will be less of a shield for the omissions and mistakes of the current government. The favorable political time for Karamanlis ends in June 2006. Then the battle will begin for municipal and prefectural elections that October, after which the government will have to turn its attention to the battle for power that will take place in spring 2008.