Tactics the day after

PASOK chief Evangelos Venizelos will be meeting with Prime Minister Antonis Samaras at the Maximos Mansion on Thursday with the air of a winner from last Sunday’s elections as he hopes to shape the cabinet that will emerge from the expected reshuffle and the coalition government’s new policy line.

Yet Venizelos is no victor. PASOK suffered a defeat in Attica, in the region that will be absorbing the lion’s share of funding from the EU-backed National Strategic Reference Framework, worth more than 20 billion euros. Venizelos knows this, and so does the prime minister. The PASOK chief’s victorious posturing is obviously his latest political bluff.

Venizelos trapped New Democracy in the idea that a defeat greater than the one it suffered in the elections for European Parliament would jeopardize the coalition and stability. If in May 2010 PASOK had acted on the belief that Greece’s weakness was also its greatest strength and that its downfall would also instigate the demise of the European banking system, the situation today would be very different. Samaras knows that Venizelos has nowhere to go outside the government. If he were to attempt to leave, he would end up like Shakespeare’s Coriolanus. Samaras is also faced with the challenge from SYRIZA’s chief, Alexis Tsipras, whose 4 percentage point victory over New Democracy has allowed him to make threats and set terms. However, there are two issues which Tsipras has introduced that could be dealt with immediately.

He insisted that a new governor for the Bank of Greece should not be appointed without SYRIZA having a say. Of course Samaras will ignore this implicit warning from the opposition chief, as he is currently leaning toward appointing Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras, who is already at odds with Venizelos and certain ministers. Stournaras has spent two years as Samaras’s closest associate and his services at the central bank could prove invaluable.

Tsipras also wanted to have a say in the nomination of Greece’s representative in the European Commission. On the one hand, who represents Greece in the mess that is the European Parliament is irrelevant, but the Commission is an entirely different story and the fact is that the best candidate is Dora Bakoyannis, who has the respect of the European People’s Party, which holds the majority in the EU Parliament.

That relations are strained between Samaras and Bakoyannis on a personal level is no secret but from the earliest days of the Kingdom of Greece – and later – rivals were sent as the country’s representatives to other European capitals, where they could have the greatest impact. And this is coming from someone who did not support Bakoyannis when she was running for the New Democracy leadership.

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