Bruised credibility

The parliamentary debate yesterday on the management of the fiscal economy once again demonstrated that the prime minister does not hesitate to distort reality even when the picture is crystal clear. It is understandable that it is never easy to tell the truth in a pre-election period, but he should have spared himself expressions that taint his political credibility. Attack is not always the best form of defense. To put it differently, one does not win credibility by denying facts. Prime Minister Costas Simitis and National Economy Minister Nikos Christodoulakis have been at pains to gloss up the real picture – and not just in terms of fiscal figures. They have consistently projected a false picture in order to sustain the myth of a strong economy. But their efforts are doomed to fall through because citizens have first-hand experience of the economic woes. It is common knowledge that more and more households are finding it hard to make ends meet. The problem is that the government’s petty political rhetoric nourished a climate of relaxation among the public as well as among state officials, which eventually undermined those same government efforts. The cultivated impression that the Greek economy is healthy and thriving brought a loosening of fiscal discipline and legitimated the workers’ renewed promotion of chronic demands. The so-called social package consolidated this impression and the lingering wave of strikes is merely one of the side effects. It is an open secret that Greece’s fiscal condition is sour. The responsible government officials have exhausted all limits of «creative accounting.» Extensive book cooking helped summon the myth of a strong economy, but reality cannot be kept secret for too long, talented as the government’s spinmeisters may be. European Union funds have only in part been used to create a productive environment and, by extension, to bolster economic growth. The government is trying to buy time but its tactics do little to help the country and the efforts of the Socialist government to cling to power. The government is, no doubt, making a sincere effort to keep the situation under control, but this goal cannot be met with rhetorical flourishes and illusions. Rather, it is served best when the government keeps the public informed on the state of the economy and sets an example by keeping its own finances in shape. Only then can it demand self-discipline, more work and productive initiatives from the people.