OPINION

Ongoing conflict

The crisis over social security reform last spring did not leave the government unscathed. The aborted attempt to rescue the creaking institution of social security underscored rifts inside the ruling party, pushed the government to the brink of crisis, and led to an early PASOK congress. At the time, Prime Minister Costas Simitis hoped that by strengthening his hand inside the party he would put an end to dissent and shape the right environment in order to carry out government tasks unhindered. He thought that the clear victory over his party rivals would give him the time needed to implement the requisite institutional reforms before the beginning of a long electoral period that will open this fall with the municipal elections. But recent developments, the insurgency by the 45 deputies and the obstacles that these have raised to a mild reform of the social security system came to demonstrate that the government does not have a clear period of 7 to 8 months at its disposal. In addition, it highlighted that the causes of last year’s crisis run deeper and are not simply disagreements within the ruling Socialist party. That the specter of crisis re-emerged in such a short period of time revealed a deeper division in the foundations of the political, economic and social system. It is the conflict between the old, closed and protectionist establishment, on the one hand, and the new, pro-liberal one, on the other. This conflict is clearly reflected inside PASOK (as a party which draws its members from different political wings), the party which has stayed the longest in power and which has the strongest ties with the establishment that has come to dominate politics over the last 20 years. The reformist bloc is actually part of this establishment. The bloc has often enjoyed the support of the system, though it has had to yield to it at times, and has endlessly struggled, since 1996, to extricate itself from a suffocating and restrictive environment. This long conflict, sometimes overt, sometimes covert, generates crises, preventing attempts to open up to the outside world. And it will continue to apply pressure even if – and inevitably as a result of our eurozone entry – the process of adaptation is intensified. Given this, the government and the prime minister in particular have no other choice except for far-reaching reform. As for the time at their disposal, the least said, the better. Sofia’s former government, however, remained firm that it did not want to close down units 3 and 4 until 2008 or even 2010, while Brussels wants them shut down by 2006. The plant has two other, more modern megawatt units. The new government, which took office last July, appears ready to accommodate the EU. «Efforts are being made in this direction,» Saxe-Coburg-Gotha told AFP this week when asked if 2006 was the target date for the closure. The country’s press is concerned. «A scandal,» said the daily Dnevnik. «Simeon’s concession is almost a crime,» said Republica. «The price of electricity will shoot up,» said Standard.