OPINION

Hyperactive government

Back in the early 1960s, as Greece was swept by waves of massive political demonstrations, an annoyed Panayiotis Kanellopoulos, at that time a member of the National Radical Union (NRU), said that even the pleasure of enjoying one’s morning coffee had all but disappeared. Some forty years later, the leaders of Greece’s unions and opposition parties would probably agree that the pleasures of a summer vacation have all but disappeared. The reformist restlessness of the Costas Karamanlis government has allowed them no room to relax. In its latest step, the conservative New Democracy government late on Friday announced that it had signed a memorandum with York Capital/Olympic Investors, a Greek-American consortium, in the push to privatize troubled state carrier Olympic Airlines. Financial terms and other details were not made public but are expected to be discussed in the near future. Earlier in the summer, the government took steps to reform the banks’ pension funds, introduce flexible work-hours for private employees and readjust objective property values. Many voters are optimistic that the changes will work out as long as the government has enough political will to implement them. The government appears to think the same thing. Should it prove wrong, its reform drive could fuel chaos and social upheaval. Government officials seem relaxed, seeing no real threat in George Papandreou, the current Socialist leader. In any case, Karamanlis should keep in mind that he rode to power on the back of support from low- and middle-income groups who had suffered the most from former Socialist prime minister Costas Simitis’s policies. These same voters could well be prompted to turn their backs on New Democracy at the next elections in favor of non-mainstream or even extremist parties, notably the Communist Party (KKE). The conservative prime minister did not make his task any easier by his controversial decision to commemorate the victims of the former penal colony of Ai-Stratis. To be sure, this was just a tactical move, along with the prime minister’s ongoing attempt to expand New Democracy’s electoral catchment by playing down its ideological differences with the other parties. Such tactics may work with political opponents. However, the public at large is much harder to impress these days. The days when Andreas Papandreou could sign an agreement extending the presence of American military bases in Greece and then convince his cheering supporters that this was the best way to get rid of the bases are long gone. Voters may have matured and charismatic leaders disappeared, but the risk of fostering social tension remains. However, this seems far from the minds of a complacent leadership that treats politics as a question of day-to-day management.