The vicious cycle of vested interests


The history of vested interests in Greek politics goes way back. Marked by the ups and downs and peculiarities of each different period, it is essentially a vicious cycle.

Each new story begins with a party leader looking to boost his popularity and seeking other kinds of support. As elections near and his stock rises, he is approached by the well-known agents of vested interests, big and small. To avoid confusion, we are talking about businessmen who need politicians either because they are dependent on state handouts and favors or because they are under judicial scrutiny. Politician and agent then go on to become best buddies and the game of give and take begins.

The leader is elected, often with a mandate to crack down on vested interests and corruption. He is grateful, but he is also obliged to his buddies because he believes he would never have won without their support. But he soon discovers that this is a voracious and fickle relationship. One buddy wants an under-the-table loan, another wants to stop a judicial investigation and a third is looking to increase his profit margin. Now, because Greece is in the European Union and the state of law is somewhat in force, these favors are not that easy to grant, giving rise to complaints and then pressure. The politician is now cast as an ingrate who needs to learn to pay his dues.

It is this loss of favor that generates the insecurity so many politicians suffer from. The politician’s next step is to frantically look for other businessmen with whom to become friends and create new spheres of influence. It goes without saying that these buddies aren’t always angels. People who are prepared to play such games are normally shady types who are accustomed to shady dealings. The new lot is even more voracious and brutal than the last. Every so often, they may even end an argument by placing a gun on the table.

The storm inevitably breaks. The seasoned players of the game of vested interests start getting nasty, make new friends and become anxious for the next scene. The greenhorns usually end up seeing their sins exposed by the spotlight of publicity and go scampering into hiding. This makes them mad, so they lash out at their erstwhile friend. This is usually the part that sees all these buddies going after each other so that the prime minister feels like a powerless sheriff in a saloon shootout. He is not powerless, of course, because he has the authority of the state to impose rules and laws. For that to happen, however, he needs to have a clean record without shady friends.