OPINION

Theatrics

The debate ahead of yesterday’s confidence vote in Parliament produced the expected outcome of prompting party leaders to rally their fighting forces. In the House, deputies who normally spent their time at Parliament’s cafe or the corridors grumbling about their party leaders were now seized by enthusiasm. During the three-day parliamentary debate, conservative Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis and Socialist opposition leader George Papandreou both exhausted their rhetorical powers and the arsenals of their speech writers. Yet the whole confrontation was an exercise in a vacuum. The leaders of New Democracy and PASOK, Greece’s two mainstream parties, acted like they were energized by their own political forces. Instead, they were only trying to enhance the appeal of economic policies that have already been decided in Brussels – and with the consent of Greece’s political class. The PASOK government under former premier Costas Simitis was fortunate to run the country when the health of international economics was much more favorable. Yet this did not prevent Simitis and Co from bequeathing many hot potatoes to their ND successors. During Socialist rule, some public utility corporations and state banks were partly privatized on the stock market, while certain individuals seized the opportunity to pocket investors’ losses after the stock market bubble burst. Karamanlis is now left with the greatest challenge of all – turning them into full-fledged private companies. However, in implementing this unavoidable reform program, the conservatives picked a somewhat unconventional path. And in their bid to dismantle the PASOK-imposed network in public utilities, the government stepped on the toes of the lower-income groups in Greece’s production chain. «Downward leveling» was the method the late Socialist PM and PASOK founder Andreas Papandreou used after he rode to power in 1981, thus pitting the so-called have-nots against the remnants of Greece’s bourgeois class. But emboldening the less prosperous social groups can have a destabilizing effect by unleashing forces that cannot be controlled by political means. Furthermore, the political emancipation of the have-nots took place at a time when the Greek government had the power to devalue the national currency. The PASOK government attacked the old economic establishment and at the same time made genuine handouts to the less well-off groups in society. These days, the have-nots can protest all they want. But the national government can do little to satisfy their economic demands, since the central bank lies in Frankfurt. The conservative administration now hopes that the economy will soon be back on an upward track. But failure could trigger social turmoil. If the country’s political class had refrained from cultivating myths and delusions about the European Union and presented the block for what it is – not a welfare institution but a rigid bloc with a clear set of inviolable rules – then the current reforms would have already been in place. But local politicians are not capable of doing this. Naturally, at least as far as the campaign for structural reforms was concerned, the parliamentary debate was not much better than a provincial theater performance where the protagonists ad-libbed in the hope of getting the audience’s attention.