Policy vacuum in the PMs shadow

The decision Friday to postpone talks between Greece and international inspectors, and the vague interpretation given by Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos afterward, have greatly increased the anxiety of the people in Greece, firstly because the new aid tranche appears to be in jeopardy, and secondly because this development comes as yet another sign of the socialist administration?s escalating paralysis.

Venizelos may be planning a heroic attempt to throw off the bonds imposed on Greece by the EU and the IMF, like an indignant who can no longer abide the weight of his yoke.

At the same time, the finance minister may be orchestrating his way out of the political deadlock that is dogging the PASOK government.

In fact, it seems that more and more of his peers are nourishing similar plans. After all, the government of George Papandreou is being increasingly defined by an endless exchange of criticism and accusation.

The head of a newly created parliamentary agency created to monitor budget progress has been forced to resign following the finance minister?s strong reaction to a grim report on the dynamics of public debt; the education minister has pointed a finger at three other ministers after news that some standard school textbooks will not be printed in time; legislation concerning the liberalization of the taxi sector has caused a spat between two of the socialist ministers; Cabinet is divided over the question of doctors, and, finally, PASOK officials have disagreed over the issue of introducing non-governmental organizations into the process of state hirings.

So, where is the prime minister in all this? With Papandreou still reeling from his political stroke on June 15, when in an unprecedented attack of histrionics he handed over his government to the conservative opposition leader Antonis Samaras before retracting his offer a few hours later, the country has effectively been without a premier. Instead, the helm seems to be in the hands of a verbose Venizelos, while an army of socialist apparatchik — both from the old and new guard — are fighting in his shadow.

The recession — the intensity of which appears to have been underestimated by our foreign lenders — has scuppered every conventional strategy, highlighting a policy vacuum and a legitimacy deficit.

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