Papademos, an early appraisal

Lucas Papademos?s term in office is reaching its end and this is a good time for an initial appraisal. To do this, we must remember where the country was last November, with its international credibility at an all-time low and with a clear danger of chaos in the streets. The political system was ready to commit suicide, appointing an old-time politician with zero credibility inside and outside Greece. Papademos was the solution to the problem after a period of dangerous instability which came close to destroying the banking system and de facto pushing Greece out of the euro.

When he undertook to govern the country, Papademos perhaps underestimated the strength of his hand and the support that the people would give him vis-a-vis the traditional politicians. He accepted their terms and instead of appointing a government the way Italy?s Mario Monti did, his included many burned-out political personalities. After this, however, he showed that he could drive a hard bargain at a high level with Europeans and other partners, who encountered, at last, Greek officials who meant what they said. The PSI negotiations and the avoiding of a catastrophe were the results of great efforts and the exploitation of personal contacts of many years.

There are many who would have liked him to be more of a fighter, to even confront ministers and party leaders. The response to this is that only a systematic, low-key person could have got the parties to agree to the tough measures voted through Parliament as part of the second bailout and to relieve the pressure of the public reactions so that a deal that was in Greece?s interests could have been secured. The parties themselves tried to undermine Papademos as much as possible, fearing that he might threaten their future. Thankfully, they did this in moderation toward the end of his tenure as they realized they were doing damage to their own fortunes. Papademos managed to rebuild trust for Greece internationally and he presided over the start of a new period of cooperation and consensus among political powers. He did this with dignity, without being provocative and while trying to keep happy all those who put him in the premier?s chair.

Papademos?s successor will inherit the best possible planning for the crucial months ahead. My guess is he will step down in the same quiet manner, hoping that the country?s politicians will find a way to avoid a fresh deadlock. If they fail, it will be good to know there are some people out there able to help out in a time of need.