NEWS

Cyprus, terrorism, the economy…

Although New Democracy emerged the clear victor in last weekend’s municipal and regional elections, it did not gain the solid confirmation of its charge toward power which it had sought. The elections served to establish the opposition party’s supremacy in most parts of the country, although they also revealed the shortcomings of its leadership in effectively handling crises such as that resulting from its unpopular candidate for the super-prefecture and the subsequent rise in support for far-rightist Giorgos Karadzaferis. On the other hand, they demonstrated PASOK’s decline in the provinces and in northern Greece, but also proved its strengths and its ability to handle clear pressure from the electorate. PASOK showed once again that it is no easy prey and that ND will have to work hard to surpass the sophisticated and intricate machine which the ruling party has gradually built during its long stay in power. Predictably, the elections made an impression but heralded no major changes. So, now the country must turn back to its many significant problems, starting with Cyprus and followed by the international upheaval resulting from the powerful resurgence of terrorism whose anticipated consequences – crises in Iraq and the world economy – will almost certainly have an impact on domestic affairs. Uncertainty The talks on reunifying Cyprus are currently dominated by uncertainty as both sides await the UN secretary-general’s proposal for a solution to the political problem, which may provide the basis for a satisfactory settlement or may support the unworkable model of two separate states which would only prolong the current crisis. At the same time, we are hearing the first objections to European enlargement being voiced. Both these expressions of uncertainty require the use of diplomacy by the Greek government and its participation in decision-making on a European level. Cypriot President Glafcos Clerides’s recent visit to Athens indicates the critical nature of the current situation and demonstrates the need for alertness so that hurdles and problems can be effectively tackled. Beyond the Cyprus problem – which probably constitutes our most crucial challenge today – the possibility of an imminent war in Iraq adds to current uncertainty, as this would mean a crisis in our region that will probably coincide with Greece’s adoption of the EU presidency in January, and thus of greater responsibility. Furthermore, the economic impact of becoming embroiled in a war is hardly negligible, especially during these times of economic hardship and crises in the private sector. It is no coincidence that the national budget is under review. The amendments being made have probably accounted for the impact of a possible war, even though public finances are already suffering due to economic stagnation, which is not reflected in the growth rate but is a true reflection of inactivity in the private sector. Reforms It is also clear – and has been accepted by everyone, including Economy Minister Nikos Christodoulakis – that current economic policy needs to be significantly altered in order to boost the economy, which cannot rely on EU funds forever. The government now – and until the next parliamentary elections – must start pushing through reforms and developing markets with all the necessary speed and decisiveness if it is to score crucial points in the battle to remain competitive in Europe. Some are relying on cooperation with major European economies such as Germany, but no amount of foreign support would be sufficient to make the Greek economy viable in the long run unless Greece undertakes the necessary reforms and restructuring. Global threat In addition, the government is now facing a new wave of international terrorism, suggesting the problem is still very much alive and a constant threat to one and all. Greece must continue to be vigilant, despite its success in breaking up the November 17 terrorist group, as it has the responsibility of hosting the Olympic Games – a major international event which would be an obvious target for a terrorist due to the publicity it offers. Under such circumstances, this week’s visit to the USA by Public Order Minister Michalis Chrysochoidis is highly significant. Sources say that talks between Chrysochoidis and senior US officials would not just concentrate on terrorism in Greece but on broader security concerns and on the role Greece can play in curbing international terrorism and organized crime. The USA is aware that Greece can contribute to this undertaking thanks to its unique position at the crossroads of the Balkans and the Middle East – two regions which harbor many secrets as well as crucial links to the networks fueling international terrorism and organized crime. Drugs, arms, transit routes for illegal immigrants and international terrorism all form part of a larger picture whose surveillance can lead to the prevention of terrorist acts. Chrysochoidis, who defines the current climate as a prelude to international realignment and who is in a position to gauge Greece’s capabilities in this area, is attempting to secure a role for Greece within such an international security system, which can only be beneficial. It is apparent from the above that the government can leave aside the «Land Rover or Fiat?» dilemma of the election campaign now the results are in, and turn its attention to serious matters which really will determine its future.