Exercising power

The Greek presidency of the EU came to a close in a climate of praise for Prime Minister Costas Simitis. Given the endemic pomposity of parliaments around the world, Greece received an unprecedented amount of gratitude that stemmed from across Europe’s political spectrum. The Greek presidency deserves our credit because it managed «with great leadership skills to hold the rudder on a course that was no cruise but an Odyssey,» said Baron Crespo, leader of the Socialist Group in the Euro-parliament. Hans Gert Petering, president of the European People’s Party, characterized the Greek presidency as «enlightened,» while the Green Party had as much praise in store: «A small country proved that it is able to guide the EU. I congratulate you because you proved that a six-month rotation enriches [the EU] and is, in fact, a creative element for the Union,» said Johannes Voggenhuber, an Austrian MEP from the Greens. Carlos Lage, a Portuguese MEP, stressed that «the Greek presidency must constitute a point of reference for future presidencies.» The Euro-deputies’ compliments, which followed similar remarks by European leaders, were joined by the congratulations of European Commission President Romano Prodi. «In these six months, the Greek presidency has steered us safely through the most troubled waters with that sure touch and gift for debate that has characterized the Greek people since the dawn of our civilization,» he said. Addressing Simitis, Prodi said that «man is proved by exercise of power… You have proved yourself worthy of exercising power.» True, «man is proved by exercise of power.» However, Simitis’s power should be exercised first and foremost at home. Unfortunately, while the premier is overwhelmed by rightful expressions of gratitude in Europe, at the same time he is faced with his worst domestic political crisis so far. This crisis is less a result of criticism from New Democracy or Simitis’s own party rivals than of public disenchantment with the government impasse – a grievance that overrides any other government achievement. To the anxious and, at times, humiliating everyday life of the vast majority of citizens and the economic woes of the lower strata are added the provocative profits of our «national» contractors and suppliers at the expense of the public purse. This is also an aspect of Simitis’s rule, in the light of which he will be judged at the polls.

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