Not dodging the tough decisions

For the past three-and-a-half years, the Greek political system has been dragging its feet and hemming and hawing over a relatively simple decision: which state organizations are needed, how many employees they need to have, and what to do with workers whose posts are made redundant by a civil service overhaul.

At the same time, politicians have managed to take some very tough decisions in regard to slashing the pensions and salaries of most Greeks. The political system has even acted as a mere bystander as hundreds of thousands of our compatriots have lost their jobs.

Every single person in this country has had to make some very tough decisions on a day-to-day basis just to make ends meet. But the political system has failed in the simple task of agreeing on the closure of even one single state entity. It digs up legal arguments to prevent such a thing from happening, drawing on the fact that the constitutional and legal framework it has designed itself leaves little room for radical changes. At other times it targets some state entity that has no real reason to exist, announces its closure, and then realizes that it was staffed almost exclusively by its cronies.

And so we come to Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’s death leap over the closure of the state broadcaster ERT.

His cabinet – even those who are members of his New Democracy party – have stubbornly refused to draw up a list of entities, military bases and other such bodies that are defunct and can be shut down. Even when they appear to be making progress, you will often see that they are merely pretending to have done something – for example announcing the merger of two hospitals when in fact they have simply abolished one of the two boards.

Coalition partners PASOK and Democratic Left are also set against anyone being fired from the civil service, making the task that much more difficult.

ERT’s shutdown was certainly carried out in the worst possible way from the point of view of public opinion and political symbolism. But the problem is still very much apparent. Someone had to break the taboo and take the decision to overhaul at least one public service.

Greece’s three political leaders will face the same dilemma again, and very soon, just as anyone who is in government will have to deal with the issue. The country needs to learn to live with such changes, and on a practical level this means that its politicians need to finally take the decisions that so many thousands of Greeks have already had to take at great cost over the past few years.