OPINION

Mrs Merkel and Nobody

Last Friday?s informal EU summit was billed by the international press as Angela Merkel?s big moment in shaping the EU, not as an issue that will determine the future of 500 million Europeans — all of us, in other words. We Greeks depend directly on the results of the negotiations in Brussels and the deal that will be signed on March 25 to know how much we will pay, for how long we will be paying and what we?ll have to sell off in order to get out of our debt trap. All this at a time when we have serious reservations about our political leaders. Evidently, we are entering a period of political nihilism.

There is no end to the bad news. In the last week alone, we learned that unemployment is at 15 percent, more than 1,000 businesses (big and small) are seeking protection from creditors and revenues for the first two months of this year are over 1 billion euros short of target. All this after severe cuts in wages and pensions, and significant tax increases. It is no wonder that about 80 percent of Greeks are unhappy with their lives, according to a Public Issue poll conducted for Kathimerini and Skai. The poll reveals great disappointment — fatalism even. A mere 34 percent of respondents believe George Papandreou is most suitable for the post of prime minister, with New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras even lower, at 22 percent, while ?neither of the two,? or ?Nobody,? tops the poll at 38 percent. Extreme right-wing LAOS leader Giorgos Karatzaferis is the most popular of all political party leaders, with 38 percent. Another interesting point is that whereas 71 percent believe there is no need for early elections, 53 percent believe they will be held.

It seems that citizens do not expect anything from today?s political leaders, whether we have early elections or not, whether PASOK or New Democracy is in power. The poll shows, for the first time, that there is a danger of neither of the two main parties winning a self-sufficient majority. And so, with the poll showing that it could win 9 percent of the vote, LAOS is developing, from a flag of convenience for extremists, into a kingmaker. This is just one more sign of the political entropy caused by the economic crisis and the endless series of mistakes committed by the major parties.

It is worth noting that just two months ago citizens had a more positive view of things. In January, 36 percent believed that the economy would improve within the next five years, while today only 25 percent believe this; those satisfied with the government dropped from 20 percent in January to 12 percent in March, while satisfaction with ND was flatlining at 9 percent in January and 7 percent in March. From February to March, the estimate of what PASOK would win in an election dropped from 38 to 35 percent, for ND from 30.5 to 28.5 percent, while for the Communist Party it rose from 10.5 to 11 percent and for LAOS from 6 to 9 percent.

These changes are probably due to the many months of hardship and fears caused by the reforms that the government is committed to carry out — and the reactions that these have provoked. But the abrupt drop for both PASOK and ND, for both Papandreou and Samaras, coincides with the farcical way in which the ?50-billion-euro? privatization plan was announced last month, with the troika?s members jumping the gun and going public with it, the government?s paralysis in the face of criticism and its late and exaggerated reaction — with the commitment that no state property would ever be sold. Also, over the same month, the government was seen to waver on a number of important issues — the opening of closed professions, procedures for granting residence permits to immigrants, toning down legislation limiting construction in protected Natura regions, etc. When we add to this the populist irresponsibility of ND, the country?s ?responsible? politicians appear spineless and evasive, unable to carry out what must be carried out, incapable of negotiating with our partners in the EU.

When citizens do not see leaders in whom they can trust, they act as if they do not have leaders. The vacuum will be filled. In Europe, Angela Merkel fills it by default. In Greece, who will?