OPINION

Commentary

The first ruling PASOK party congress after the death of former prime minister and PASOK founder Andreas Papandreou, in mid-1996, falsely impressed conservative sentiment with comprehensive political discourse voiced by the delegates of a self-styled socialist movement. However, the 6th PASOK Congress, which concluded yesterday, was a dim reflection of the past. Prime Minister Costas Simitis was re-elected chairman by the 6,500 party delegates via a procedure reminiscent of the practices of the now defunct Communist parties. However, unity will not be restored, and there will be no clear mandate – the disagreements of Defense Minister Akis Tsochadzopoulos and the other stalwarts confirm this – but something has clearly changed radically since the congress was scheduled. The change stems neither from the decisions taken nor from the much-heralded government reshuffle, but from the tectonic global transformation since the terrorist assault on the United States on September 11. This strike rendered the PASOK congress, its decisions and government policy relatively meaningless. Simitis and his government reckon that the problem is a temporary one and believe that a rhetorical condemnation of global terrorism will be sufficient to convince the USA of its legitimacy. They also think that, by relying on the machinations of the past, time will simply pass by until the next elections. If they indeed think this way, they will certainly be disillusioned. Despite reassurances that market confidence will be restored – and despite widespread fears of a new terrorist strike, potentially more devastating than that of September 11 – several considerable changes are already visible. Expectations about the economy and the market remain unaltered, and successive interest-rate cuts and low oil prices in theory all encourage growth. But the US government has precipitously increased spending because of its war on terrorism and there is already talk about a transformation of the American economy into a war economy. Nevertheless, it seems certain that the USA will not undertake the economic strain of a global war on terrorism alone, because the problem is not exclusively an American one. It was the Arab countries that paid the economic price of the Gulf War. Now it is America’s NATO partners that will have to bear the burden of the anti-terrorist campaign. It is clear, therefore, that the government’s economic assumptions will change dramatically, because on top of Greece’s contribution to the war against terrorism the terrorist threat will have adverse consequences for tourism and will lead to dramatic increases in spending on domestic security. In effect, Simitis’s reassurances that the welfare state will carry the burden are ungrounded. Similarly, his slogan, Yes to a market economy, no to a market society, is both unrealistic and largely meaningless. But then, absurdities in a congress which only answers to partisan reality are inevitable.