Simitis’s deadlock

The political demeanor of Greece’s Socialist prime minister has assumed near-metaphysical dimensions. Costas Simitis is riding on the back of his status as EU president, parading across the various European capitals, while the information leaked after the repeated meetings with his aides repeats the monotonous mantra that «the prime minister will alone decide» how to clear up the ill climate which has evolved following the shower of scandal allegations that Socialist party cadres have established unwarranted connections with business circles close to the government. Many Greeks approve of Simitis’s dedication to the European vision, but a leader’s paramount concern should be improving his country’s domestic condition. PASOK’s leader, however, is a politician not at ease with the unexpected and who prefers to function according to the schedule he himself has hammered out. This means that until the end of June the premier will not busy himself with anything else except completing the six-month EU presidency and that any measures to deal with the domestic crisis (such as a government shake-up) will be taken in July – regardless of whether Greece’s political system is in turmoil. Simitis is being held to ransom not only by pressure from the ranks of «old PASOK» stalwarts, as his reformist aides are keen to assert, but also by a network of powerful business interests that was formed during his rule – which he is unwilling or unable to tame. The only consolation for Simitis and his followers is his legendary success in foreign policy. True, Turkey’s refusal to allow transit for US troops across its territory during the Iraq campaign created some tension in our neighbors’ relations with Washington. However, it’s hard to see how that has helped Greece – a country that gave the Americans permission to use the Souda Bay military base on Crete and Greek air space. To create a rift with the US would have been wrong, but Simitis failed to formulate a clear perception of Greece’s national interests and to exploit the confluence of international events to Greece’s benefit. Simitis can at least be credited with reversing PASOK’s policy on bilateral relations with Turkey – mainly under the pressure of the government’s fiasco over Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan – and with (belatedly) revising the policy of previous Socialist governments as regards Turkey’s relations with the EU. However, the Socialist government has drawn all the political capital from this achievement even while the political crisis in Turkey casts a long shadow over Greek-Turkish relations and the Cyprus issue. As a result, Simitis is faced with what he dislikes most: the problem of cleaning up Greece’s body politic.

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