Harmful acrimony

Yesterday’s agenda for discussion in the Parliament may not have added anything to the image of Greek foreign policy, but it did reveal an underlying malaise. While there is a convergence of opinion on fundamental issues, at least among the main parties, the tension has spiraled out of control. The opposition’s need to differentiate its stance from that of the government is understandable, but there are limits, which are set by the national interest. Verbal acrimony must not be deployed in pursuit of mere partisan advantage, especially when it has no political substance. It must be noted that both Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis and the Socialist PASOK leader, George Papandreou, avoided talking in depth about their policies on crucial issues. These include the imminent initiative toward resolving the Cyprus question, mounting Turkish provocation in the Aegean, working out an agreement on the definitive name of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), and determining the future status of Kosovo. The various comments on those subjects were more general and stereotypical than the specific circumstances demand. One may form an opinion of government policy judging from its actions. PASOK’s positions, however, can only be judged by the policies it exercised as a government until March 2004. Even so, such a judgment might not do justice to a party that is in the process of restructuring itself and reformulating its positions. This is why it would help if Papandreou were to speak more as the leader of the opposition and less as a former foreign minister with a tendency to dig up the past in order to defend his policy of that time, which he portrays as faultless. Greece is the only EU member state that is facing a genuine national security problem, so foreign policy is far more important to it than to other medium-sized EU countries. In this sense, it might be an issue only for the elite. The public cannot follow the tortuous twists of diplomatic maneuvers and it really does not need to. But it is certainly entitled to be informed of the substance of national issues and how they are being dealt with. This is why political leaders must express their views and proposals clearly. Unfortunately, yesterday’s discussion made no contribution in that direction.

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