Cheap tricks over consensus

We?ve seen it all before: Prior to George Papandreou, the banner of consensus had been raised by Costas Karamanalis and before that by Costas Simitis. We know that when the going starts getting very tough for a prime minister he tries to put part of the blame — and, by extension, the political cost — on the opposition. This is always done with a call for consensus in the knowledge that to the ears of the public — tired and fed up with political squabbling — it sounds like such a positive thing.

In a democracy, the roles played by the government and the opposition parties are clear and specific. Obviously an atmosphere of consensus is achieved when the parties converge on a certain point or subject. On other subjects there should be some degree of conflict, which as a rule is more useful than consensus in the long run, first and foremost because it preserves an institutional system of accountability for the ruling party. The second reason why disagreement can be more fruitful than agreement is that it can generate new alternatives that allow voters to compare party policies.

In other words, throwing everything together, casting aside the differences between parties in the name of consensus can be just as bad as constant fighting and squabbling.

The government raised the tone of its demand for consensus when representatives of the eurozone suggested that New Democracy?s stance would in part determine whether Greece would get the next tranche of its bailout loan. The statements by Jean-Claude Juncker and Olli Rehn were a seriously anti-democratic slip, even if it is true that the idea originally belonged to Greek Finance Minister Giorgos Papaconstantinou. Brussels was annoyed by Antonis Samaras?s stance but it knows that it has no right to dictate what the opposition says. However, the fact is that ND has not stopped the government from implementing its program; the blame lies with the Greek government and with the recipe for recovery outlined in the memorandum.

The argument that the program will continue after the current government?s term and therefore should be supported by the opposition as well is flimsy, because the government signature on the memorandum is a pledge from the country, and, anyway, Samaras has said that he will honor it.

The government harping on about consensus is aimed at either neutralizing New Democracy politically, getting it to admit that agrees with the memorandum, or setting it up to take the heat if the plan fails. Either way, these are all cheap tricks.

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