OPINION

Powerless

Greece’s political establishment has, in recent years, lost whatever clout it once had. A corollary of this unhappy trend is that the pledges and commitments undertaken by the various prime ministers and government officials rarely materialize. Before the 2004 elections, New Democracy leader and subsequent Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis vowed to launch a war on corruption. But the business cronies tied to the previous government were unfazed. Calling on the massive economic strength that they amassed during PASOK’s tenure, they staged a counterattack on the conservatives’ campaign. Despite the political changeover, these economic interests continue to exercise unduly strong influence in domestic politics. A great deal has changed in the three decades or so since the late conservative prime minister, Constantine Karamanlis, turned against Olympic Airways, then owned by business tycoon Aristotle Onassis, and the Andreadis group. None of the two barons was able to resist the political pressure. Since that time, however, politicians have increasingly caved in to business and financial interests. Morally and politically speaking, the prime minister was surely right to declare a war on corruption. But, in practice, Karamanlis failed to deliver. The Socialist government of Costas Simitis became discredited because of its ties to business interests. However, failure to clean up the sleaze-ridden system has begun to damage the image of its conservative successors as well. According to a recent opinion poll, 80 percent of voters believe the government has made little progress in combating the scourge. Developments in foreign affairs also signal a reduction in political clout. Greece is supposed to be the strongest and most stable country in the Balkan region. However, its moderate approach to the FYROM name dispute has met with intransigence from Skopje. A crisis seems possible. The government has threatened to block the neighboring country’s path to NATO and the European Union unless the Slav-Macedonian government agrees on a compromise settlement to end the name issue. Again, Skopje officials appear unfazed. There is little doubt that a national referendum on FYROM’s NATO and EU ambitions would show most Greeks massively rejecting the idea of Skopje joining these organizations. The government in Athens had no choice but to comply with the verdict. A Greek veto would spark international outrage against Greece and the Karamanlis administration would come under severe outside pressure to change its stance. It would be a big surprise if the government refused to yield ground on the name issue and push things all the way to a veto on FYROM. The problem is that the New Democracy administration has shown no signs of determination that could intimidate the other side into action. Accordingly, despite Athens’s backing of Turkey’s EU membership bid, Ankara has refused to alter its long-standing policy on Greece and Cyprus. Greece will not exit this hazardous juncture unless Karamanlis restores the country’s political leverage.