Floundering opposition

To be effective, an opposition stance must be sharp and accusatory. Clarity and persuasiveness are what count; when they are absent, it hurts the opposition. A typical example is the tactic PASOK has adopted on the issue of Olympic Airlines, whose economic and social significance have put it at the center of a political debate. Even the most uninformed Greek knows that the problem of Olympic reached its current impasse mainly due to the policies and handling of the past 10 years, on the watch of Haris Kastanidis, Tassos Mantelis and Christos Verelis, transport ministers in PASOK’s last three governments. The European Commission has just confirmed the duration and extent of the deterioration with accurate statistics, blaming Greece for illicitly subsidizing the debt-ridden carrier to the tune of 240 billion euros from 1998 to 2004 alone. In other words, the European Union is asking the current government immediately to solve a problem that ballooned because of delaying tactics, cunning and waste during the governments of Costas Simitis. This might explain the divergent opinions among ministers of what the premier must do within the next few days, in shouldering the burden of the decision about Olympic and its 6,200 employees. It also raises the awkward question of the stance PASOK, now that it is in opposition, should take if it is to be persuasive and above all not to insult common sense. There are two versions. One is that the three former ministers (Kastanidis, Mantelis and Verelis) should take responsibility for PASOK’s line so they can defend their policies as correct, necessary and unavoidable. The other, more indirect line is for PASOK to accept, even tacitly, its failure for 10 years of mishandling the problem and for its appointed representative to announce the new, clear, effective solution the party proposes. Instead, PASOK deputy Evangelos Venizelos spoke nebulously yesterday of an «honest privatization of the company.» This looked ludicrous a few hours later when PASOK announced that it had accepted a proposal for «joint militant action» from the Left Coalition, which says it is categorically and non-negotiably in favor of retaining the public character of Olympic. The party that made Olympic desperately inefficient and a huge economic burden for Greek society, the people who for years kept appointing more staff and overpaying them is now highlighting the social problem that will arise if the company closes. If, after 18 months as party leader, George Papandreou cannot criticize his predecessor’s actions and inaugurate a new policy, then his and PASOK’s political future look bleak indeed.