Appointing the former chief of the Hellenic Navy, who then led the armed forces and also served as defense minister, Evangelos Apostolakis, to head the newly established Ministry of Civil Defense was one of the most important aspects of Tuesday’s cabinet reshuffle.
The introduction of the new ministry – which has become so essential for Greece – as well as the choice of this particular person, a person who to a certain extent was above party lines and has served his country honorably in the past, were moves no well-meaning observer could possibly disagree with.
Was there also an element of PR in the prime minister’s choice? Naturally. However, what is more important than that – or should be, anyway – is to what degree this was the right move.
The retired admiral does indeed have the ability, knowledge, experience, know-how and, of course, the status to respond to the demands of this particular ministry as a result of his many years in the armed forces, both at the operational and administrative level, as government sources explained while discussing the prime minister’s choice. The opposition was wrong to react as it did, in such a negative, almost hostile, manner. It was completely off the mark to accuse its own defense minister of “apostasy.” Indeed, it did itself a disservice by turning its barbs against a person who served in the SYRIZA government.
Apostolakis, who had demanded the support of the opposition for his appointment and the freedom to run the new ministry as an independent body, turned down the prime minister’s invitation once it became clear that this cross-party consensus was not there. And an important opportunity was lost – not for him or the government, but for the country.
There were much better ways for SYRIZA to have reacted. It could have argued that one good choice does not mitigate the others that it could object to so strongly. It could have reminded the prime minister of the criticism he exercised as opposition leader against Apostolakis. Instead, it chose to talk about apostasy. There are possibly members of the new cabinet whose personalities, experience, track record and abilities can be criticized; Apostolakis was not one of them.
When informing SYRIZA head Alexis Tsipras of his nomination, Apostolakis reportedly told the ex-prime minister that he wanted to accept the position because it concerned “national” challenges like safeguarding the country against wildfires. He was right. The new minister of civil defense will have an enormous job to do and should have the support of every political party.
When we argue that what someone’s personal beliefs or which party they come from should not be the deciding factor in picking an official for tasks of national importance, that is exactly what we mean. Instead, these choices should be made based on how capable they are in dealing with difficult situations.
The government’s choice for this particular post – not necessarily how it handled the process – was right, in terms both of the optics and the essentials, while the opposition failed to do the right thing.
And at the end of the day, we all lost. At least that is what everyone who supports the principles of consensus when it comes to dealing with the national challenges thinks; and they believed Apostolakis to be the right man for the job.