The government needs rowers

The government needs rowers

New Democracy secured a second term in Greece’s June general election by promising a systematic approach to addressing public issues. However, since 2019, the party has been facing significant security challenges, making it appear vulnerable. Incidents such as the Tempe railway disaster, the arrival of Croatian hooligans in Athens, the explosion of the ammunition depot in Nea Anchialos in July, and widespread wildfires have led to growing discontent among citizens. 

Its electoral dominance in the latest party system reconfiguration actually presents it with a challenge: The absence of a substantial opposition or a viable political alternative reduces the pressure for the government to deliver even better results.

We humbly urge the prime minister to demand more active involvement, or ‘rowing,’ from his ministers instead of acting like political CEOs

For both conservative administrations, a fundamental challenge revolves around a confusion between governance and government. Governance entails a collaborative and horizontal relationship between the central administration, private sector organizations, and civil society. There have been notable successes in this regard, including attracting foreign direct investment, providing digital public services, fostering privately funded projects, and utilizing Recovery Fund resources.

The government recognizes that involving nongovernmental entities in pursuing public interest objectives is more efficient. This is achieved by defining regulatory frameworks, providing funding, and monitoring progress toward objectives. According to governance theory, the government does more “steering” than “rowing.” 

However, the government’s responsibilities cannot be limited to merely sharing out responsibilities. Matters falling under its exclusive domain due to public interest and accountability must be addressed.

The government’s inclination toward governance methods is supported by the institutional design of the so-called “executive state,” which aids in monitoring and planning governmental work. Yet, achieving set goals doesn’t necessarily equate to effective governance. Unforeseen problems can emerge suddenly, not making it onto the radar until they strike.

Another potential weakness lies in the central control that hampers the autonomous role of ministers in overseeing their areas of competence. For instance, conducting a SWOT analysis, particularly for potential threats, is inhibited. The only area where the government has performed better in this aspect is Greek-Turkish relations.

It’s important to highlight that the management of government personnel appears deficient. The evaluation of government work lacks depth when selecting, relocating, or dismissing cabinet members. There’s also a tendency to promote lower-ranking government officials (such as general secretaries) to deputy minister positions, along with many figures from outside the parliamentary sphere. These individuals are not accountable to the electorate.

The future does not bode very well. Greek governments’ second terms tend to be less successful, as leaders experience a natural decline in their political capital. Officials’ strategies often revolve around the upcoming electoral contest and potential power reshuffles, indicating a drift from government planning. In essence, we humbly urge the prime minister to demand more active involvement, or “rowing,” from his ministers instead of acting like political CEOs. The citizens’ well-being is simply not gauged solely by abstract indicators. Nor does the electorate judge those who fail to earnestly serve the public interest as just another assembly of shareholders.

Manos Papazoglou is an assistant professor in the Department of Political Systems, Politics and International Relations at the University of the Peloponnese.

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