Don’t underestimate opponents, don’t let power go to your head

You were one of the first party officials to make a dig at the government’s performance. You said that three to four ministers should go home. Do you think ND has met the expectations it cultivated before the elections? Not as much as the public would like and not as much as we could have. Our positive decisions definitely outnumber the negative ones and I believe we will win the election when our term ends. But I would like the ND government – so the criticism applies to me as well – to be more daring. A recent example was the statement by Federation of Greek Industries President Odysseas Kyriakopoulos. It bore no relation to the social liberalism my party believes in. Call me an anarchist of the right, but my view is that this gentleman should have been put in his place so that people understand that dear Odysseas, as George Papandreou called him, cannot dynamite social cohesion. So ND’s problem is not only one of communication but one of substance. There may be a communication problem, but it is more a problem of substance. It’s as if we are sometimes frightened of telling people the truth. When I came out of Maximos Mansion with the Cabinet’s unanimous approval of the bill for [increasing family benefits for a third child], I said: «It is not what we promised you before the election, because our economic situation won’t allow it. But we will try to give you what we promised by the end of the term.» There was opposition, though not the furor some had expected, because in that case we told the truth. Is it a matter of government coordination? Greater coordination is needed on central decisions that concern more than one ministry. That concerns the prime minister. It is so easy for individual ministers to profit from the good things the government does and to blame anything dysfunctional on the premier, saying, «They should coordinate us better.» In my two years at the ministry I only asked to see Karamanlis three times. Why? When a prime minister appoints a government, he obviously expects each minister to assume his responsibilities on his own and not call him up every few minutes to say, «Coordinate me with the rest.» I had lots of problems working with the Economy and Labor ministries, but I solved them on my own, through discussion with my colleagues. Do you blame this lack of understanding for the recent disagreement between Economy MInister Giorgos Alogoskoufis and Transport Minister Michalis Liapis on when the law about public utilities should be implemented? I don’t know the issue in depth, but I repeat that there must be full government support for our major decisions. On the issue you raised, some mistakes must have been made in handling the matter, but I don’t want to be categorical about it because I don’t know the issue in depth. On the other hand, it is wrong to attribute everything to journalistic exaggeration. No matter how hostile the media are, when you produce policies, they have to promote your work. Warning bell Are these problems to blame for the fact that ND now trails PASOK in some opinion polls? For a start, there aren’t very many of them, and second, even those ones do not question the government’s clear lead on quality issues. I was pleased when I saw two or three surveys showing ND 0.3-0.4 percent behind PASOK, because when you feel absolutely sure of the next electoral victory you don’t work as hard as you can. It is not a bad thing for the public to sound a warning bell, as long as you have ears to hear it. Many attribute PASOK’s recovery not only to the public’s dissatisfaction with ND but also to George Papandreou’s recent successful opposition tactics. I have never underestimated my political opponents. I have said in the past that regardless of how much George Papandreou is respected and valued in his own party, we, as the opposing party, must take him into serious consideration. It is a mistake to underestimate your opponent. I can tell you categorically that is not the case with Karamanlis. But some of us have got swollen heads.