Rude awakening

The Thessaloniki summit marked the end of Greece’s six-month presidency of the European Union. At the same time, it also marked the end of a period of great, but ultimately defeated, expectations for the ruling party. With the headlines dominated by the acute crisis within PASOK which has been fanned by the recent resignations, it seems like ages ago that Greece took over the helm of the 15-member bloc on January 1. Back then, Prime Minister Costas Simitis’s aides were preparing a dynamic counterattack to restore the image of the ruling party. The trial of the November 17 terrorist group and Cyprus’s EU accession have resolved two of the major outstanding issues of the post-1974 era, and PASOK should have come across as a trustworthy force, having rid Greece of the burdens of the past. At the same time, the fortunate coincidence of Simitis having presided over two major steps in the process of European integration – EU enlargement and the drafting of the Constitution – should have reinforced the image of the premier, the man who is still one of the strongest cards in the hand of the ruling Socialists. The governing party was disappointed to see that though its goals for the first six months of 2003 were fulfilled, it still failed to capitalize on the successes. To some degree, the public saw these achievements as the product of favorable coincidences that the government did little to bring about. Most crucially, in the people’s minds, the successes have not offset the government’s failure to improve the economy. The controversy about unwarranted ties between government officials and businessmen was the catalyst that brought to the surface the underlying, structural crisis within PASOK. Despite its reformist cloak, PASOK has yet to decide whether it is a protest movement or a party for managing power, while it has still fallen short of setting up a durable, democratic structure. The party barons merely maintained a peaceful coexistence as long as power was enough to glue the party together. As the specter of an electoral defeat looms, internal divisions will intensify. Some crises in politics bring division; others are an impetus for full-blown revival. There are crises that bring down inactive political leaders and crises that allow them to shine, provided they have the willpower to make a radical break. Simitis’s status as the leader of the party and the country will be determined by his coming decisions.

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