PM seeks to push reform as solution

Prime Minister Costas Simitis, worried about the navel-gazing that has absorbed his PASOK party recently, is placing great store in the round of meetings with senior aides that he began on Monday. The political conflict that has broken out with Jean-Marie Le Pen’s surprise success in the first round of the French presidential election has caused other European governments and parties to take a hard look at themselves and to try and transform politics from coalitions of vested interests back into a vehicle for collective action undertaken in the public interest. These ripples have been felt in Greece as well, and the ruling PASOK party is bracing for a protest vote in the October elections for local and provincial governments. This has prompted old rifts to reopen. Simitis’s flurry of meetings with senior ministers is thus aimed at approaching troublesome areas and mobilizing the State machinery on a number of issues, including speeding up absorption of funds from the EU’s Third Community Support Framework. Simitis, who met with Economy Minister Nikos Christodoulakis and Defense Minister Yiannos Papantoniou on Monday, indicated that he is determined to push ahead with all the reforms to which his government has committed itself, starting with the reforms of the social security and tax systems. Simitis is also determined to portray the conservative New Democracy party as lacking in political proposals, claiming the opposition party is fuelling the growth of extreme right-wing thinking in some voters. Sources said the defense minister had spelled out the «political fallout» that could follow if Athens gave in to the demands of its EU partners and agreed to a plan that would allow Turkey to have a say in the EU’s nascent defense force. Papantoniou is reported to have said Greece could go as far as vetoing a decision based on this plan. Papantoniou and Public Works Minister Vasso Papandreou, another PASOK heavyweight, met on Monday and agreed that the current «model of government» needed to solve a number of problems if the party is to have a prayer in elections.