Evidently confused, the prime minister stated publicly that all the recent talk about reform is a «secondary» matter and should not be the focus of as much discussion as it currently is. He also said that the European Union presidency «is not a public affairs exercise» for the government (thereby disagreeing with the line being religiously followed by his closest aides). At the same time, the premier was obliged to follow the progress of negotiations behind the scenes (involving members of his ruling PASOK party) over the best way of «closing» the affair over Alter television channel, which has got the party and the government into a complete tangle. It goes without saying that Costas Simitis is particularly «troubled» (as are his aides) by the whole distasteful situation in which he now finds himself and which makes him appear incapable of handling the government’s current problems. The difficult thing for Simitis and the team of «modernizers» which is still loyal to him is that the unpleasant whiffs of scandal are creating an intense malaise in a society in which many citizens are already burdened with other problems. Greeks are reading reports about «entangled interests» and stock exchange gambles by PASOK deputies at a time when their country has the lowest social spending in the European Union, and, according to a Eurostat report, 22 percent of its population lives below the poverty line.