Threats to stability

Two weeks after the European elections, the Greek political landscape remains volatile, in fact to a degree that is not justified by the result. Although Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’s decision to play the stability card was largely vindicated, he now gives the impression he is about to shuffle the pack and risk his ties with the troika. He either aims to rally New Democracy’s fighting forces ahead of a snap election or wants to show that he got the message of the ballot (which put ND between SYRIZA and Golden Dawn) and is in for some radical changes.

Perhaps the premier wants to restore stability through a series of well-designed initiatives which may cause concern today but will ultimately rejuvenate the government so as to meet the popular mandate for an exit from the crisis. However, difficulties in picking a successor to Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras and the forced resignation of general secretary for public revenues Haris Theoharis suggest a desire to break with the practices of the past few years and pursue a gentler fiscal policy rather than formulating a new plan.

The economy remains at the center of politics and, as the premier says, it’s important to keep both stable. Until now, recession and lack of liquidity, confusion and excesses in tax policy, and political uncertainty have put the brakes on investment that could propel growth and pull the country out of the crisis. The economy has recently started to catch up a bit while a large part of the primary surplus was thanks to the general secretary for public revenues. Unpopular as the reforms and overtaxation may have been, it’s hard to see how Greece can meet its targets without anyone in charge of the tax-collecting mechanisms. The fact that Theoharis is being replaced before even completing the second year in a five-year tenure speaks volumes about the shape of the economy.

The outcome of local and European elections did not put to question the political legitimacy of the ND-PASOK coalition. Meanwhile, the collapse of parties such as Democratic Left (DIMAR) and Independent Greeks has resulted in a decent number of independent deputies, which means that it’s not unlikely that the government will find the 180 MPs it needs to elect a new president in spring. If any threat to stability arises before mid-2016, when the government’s tenure comes to an end, it will likely be due to in-party developments at PASOK and opposition to the alliance with the conservatives.

As always, the old will inevitably pass away and the new will be born through a period of turbulent changes. What the political class must keep in mind is that when a ship is hit by storm, it’s one thing to get rid of extra weight but it is quite another to get rid of the crew. One mistake is enough to cost you the trust of the passengers or the vessel itself.