Shadowboxing with Olli Rehn

When the Socialist government of George Papandreou signed the so-called memorandum about a year ago without first engaging in any serious bargaining, Greece?s three international lenders — the European Central Bank, the European Commission and the International Monetary Fund, collectively known as the troika — did not set the consensus of opposition parties as a condition. And they were right not to, since international organizations are meant to negotiate with governments, not with a country?s entire political system.

Meanwhile, it soon became evident that the memorandum was not working — at least not every aspect of it. However, the people who drew up the memorandum — basically a set of remedies for the Greek disease — are not prepared to admit that they may have made some mistakes. That would damage their credibility and, to some extent, their usefulness. As a result, they insist that Greece swallows every last bit of the medicine.

It has also become evident that Papandreou?s administration is unable, or simply unwilling, to enforce what has been agreed upon and the laws it itself has signed. This prompted European Monetary Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn to claim recently that it is crucial for Greece to have bipartisan support for the austerity measures. In other words, Rehn was expressing the Commission?s skepticism regarding the Greek government?s ability to carry out the necessary reforms.

Rehn does not care whether Samaras himself proposed the sale of state assets months ago, only to backpedal later on. He does not care if the conservative opposition would in fact like to see more privatizations than the ruling Socialists. What Rehn sees is a political deficit — and he believes that this can be overcome by consensus from New Democracy.

He is wrong. Because 62 percent of Greeks believe that the memorandum has damaged the country and the percentage is set to increase when the new measures are announced.

Greece, of course, will not challenge the European Union. The bloc is not trying to destroy Greece but is actually attempting — in its own way — to prevent the country from defaulting, even if that is in order to serve its own interests. The best Papandreou can do is to fulfill the duties he has undersigned and use all the help he can get from Samaras on issues like privatizations. That should keep Rehn quiet. Perhaps it will also make him realize the shortcomings of the proposed remedy.

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