OPINION

Political hypocrisy

The social security issue is an acute problem which is known to all. It is caused by the declining ratio between the working population and pensioners: The number of the former is constantly falling while that of the former is swelling. Furthermore, the high unemployment rate and rising health spending put more strain on the system. Greece is not the only country facing this problem. The crisis is common in all European states that consider social security to be the cornerstone of the welfare state and a primary means of redistributing wealth. Their governments are trying to find ways to prevent their social security funds from collapsing without increasing labor costs beyond the limits set by globalized competition – a parameter which cannot be ignored without harming the national economy and the labor force. The government of Costas Simitis summoned experts from abroad and set up special committees in order to study the problem. The diagnosis was always the same: Unless drastic measures are taken – painful as this may be – our social security system will collapse, plunging the entire society into crisis. Following these recommendations, the government produced a bill – drafted by former Labor and Social Security Minister Tassos Yiannitsis – which met with fierce political and social reaction. It then became clear for the first time that the outgoing premier lacked both the political and social wherewithal necessary to carry through the much-needed structural changes that were set out in his reformist agenda. Retreating from conflict, Simitis abandoned his reformist aspirations, effectively putting an end to his political career. Prior to Yiannitsis’s proposal on social security reform, and during the 1990-1993 conservative government, former Labor Minister Dimitris Sioufas drafted legislation that was milder than Yiannitsis’s bill but which still addressed the same concern: Saving social security funds from bankruptcy, even then said to be not too far into the future. An indirect reference to Sioufas’s reforms – which could well have been a reference to Yiannitsis’s proposals instead – was enough to prompt an orchestrated response from politicians, unionists, television channels, and media groups. This was, no doubt, a hypocritical reaction. Critics are turning a blind eye to the problem, even though they know that it is workers who will pay the price of a social security crisis in the future. These people turn their heads because they do not like what they see. Simitis’s leading role in this is the personification of political hypocrisy.