Consensus is still achievable

Nothing can change in Greece unless there is some consensus between the main political forces. The changes that need to be made are so sweeping and so fundamental – in the justice system, the state administration, healthcare and education, among others – that no single political force can realistically be expected to handle them alone. As long as the country is split between those who agree with the terms of Greece’s bailout agreement and those who don’t, and as long as there is no vision for the future, changes for the better will either come too late to make any real difference or will be mired in foot-dragging and useless reactions.

I look back on 2011 and 2012 and see so many lost opportunities. I wonder what would have happened if New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras and PASOK leader George Papandreou had figured things out together back in the summer of 2011 and had formed an effective unity government. It was a unique opportunity that was destroyed by self-interested players in both parties. I also wonder at the imbecility of those who insisted that the caretaker government of Lucas Papademos should last only as long as it took to complete the private sector debt haircut. They called for swift elections as though that would have changed anything in negotiations with the troika for the better.

So much precious time has been lost in implementing structural changes. We allowed the country to give in to conspiracy theories, discord and hate. The brutal cutbacks and the dramatic reduction of salaries may have led to the rise of hatred, social tension and some craziness anyway. But a lot more could have been done in the meantime if the main political parties had agreed to cooperate.

Over the past few months, Samaras has shown that he is prepared to carry out his mandate. He took on the responsibility given to him and is fighting a tough battle with old ammunition and weak allies, but with political bravery.

SYRIZA, meanwhile, is making all the same mistakes as leading opposition parties before it: new elections are its mantra even though it is in no position to govern and elections would spell disaster.

As utopian as it sounds, a government of national consensus, even at this seemingly impossible point, could still end Greece’s troubles earlier. Surely the main political parties could at least agree on some points, such as on the overhaul of the justice system or of healthcare.

The fact is that we need to rebuild the country from its foundations. The present coalition government cannot do this because on the one hand it is being pulled down by hands within its own parties and on the other it is faced with an opposition whose only demand is that everything stops. For Greece to move ahead, this rift needs to be bridged so that even a minimum consensus is reached.