The vision thing

Antonis Samaras, leader of Greece’s conservatives, has exceeded expectations since becoming prime minister. He has deftly handled the balance of an unprecedented power-sharing coalition at a very difficult time. He is one of the hardest working politicians of the nation’s post-dictatorship era. He has shown a responsible stance in bargaining with his foreign peers, while following up with the pragmatic foreign policy of his predecessors. He has challenged some of the post-1974 taboos by placing law-and-order policies high in the agenda. Finally, Samaras has encouraged entrepreneurship and investment in Greece, defying critics who see them as twin evils.

The ND leader has found backing among an unlikely crowd. A large number of pro-Europe centrists, many of whom voted for PASOK or moderate left parties up until a few years ago, now support Samaras. They acknowledge his efforts and believe him to be Greece’s only hope at this time.

That said, every premier and every administration suffers from shortcomings, provocative attitudes and mistakes. In the case of Samaras, it seems that last summer’s transformation remains incomplete as he appears not to have closed the door firmly enough on old-style partisan staffers. You can almost hear them speak: “We need to find a place for this union guy who has been on our side all these years.” “What about this post? We should appoint one of our boys in case the country goes to elections.”

It is a paradoxical universe in which technocratic reformism and reactionary partisanship coexist. It is easy to see where the past has hijacked the future merely by glimpsing the resumes of officials in senior government posts.

A second element lacking in Samaras’s administration is what former US President Bill Clinton used to call “the vision thing.” It almost seems as if the country is governed on a week-to-week, if not day-to-day, basis. If one were to ask Samaras where he sees the country in 10 years, the response would most certainly be rather flat.

Nevertheless, stability has to a large extent been restored in Greece. Whether the country will make the necessary reforms and move on in the right direction depends on many factors including the future role of the “pimps” who for years have pulled the strings across state-dependent businesses at the expense of overall growth. If these barons manage to escape unscathed, growth will remain elusive.

If Samaras manages to rein in the old party hacks, keep powerful interests at bay and come up with a convincing narrative for the country, he will certainly go down as a very successful leader.