Kyriakos Mitsotakis, Greece’s conservative prime minister, managed to unseat SYRIZA following a tough battle. He must now win the battle of uprooting New Democracy’s old-party DNA.
It will not be an easy task. Mitsotakis was bold enough to fill certain key government posts with officials from outside his conservative party, with the exclusive criterion for their appointment being whether they fitted the job description.
His move generated grievances from the usual suspects who, whenever New Democracy is in the opposition, hang out at Kolonaki cafes, head up to the annual Thessaloniki International Fair, and join in the gossip at party conferences.
Unlike the volunteers and most local officials, the aforementioned folk tend to see New Democracy’s rise to power not as a chance to change the country, but rather as an opportunity to land a job in the broader public sector.
This mind-set regrettably cuts across party lines. And it comes with a real price tag for the country. It’s the taxpayer who, at the end of the day, supports this incompetent hospital manager or that pointless transport agency.
The truth is that very few successful entrepreneurs would be tempted to leave the private sector for a low-paying position in the state sector plus the legal and other risks it involves. This however cannot be an excuse for perpetuating the perception of the state as a resource to be plundered – a perception that SYRIZA popularized at a level not seen since the cursed 1980s.
There will be a lot of pressure, as manifest in the case of the prime minister’s office in Thessaloniki, an institution that the conservatives criticized while in the opposition but eventually chose to maintain as government. But the arguments against hiring state officials through open competitions do not hold much water.
Efforts to set up a registry for suitable MP candidates showed how difficult it is to renew the political staff in a closed society such as Greece’s. Failed candidates expect to get a state sector job because they feel “betrayed.”
There’s very little chance Greece will ever come close to resembling a “Denmark of the South.” However, it’s worth striving for a model of governance that will be at least 30-40 percent Danish-inspired, leaving the rest in the hands of Greece’s die-hard habits.