Turf wars

«If [National Economy Minister Giorgos] Alogoskoufis wants my ministry, he can have it. But as long as I am here, he will not ignore me.» Transport Minister Michalis Liapis’s words echoed Spartan King Leonidas’s response to the Persian request to surrender arms at Thermopylae: «Molon lave,» or, «Come and get it yourself.» Liapis’s determination to keep the troubled public utilities under his ministry’s responsibility underscores a «guarding Thermopylae» attitude. Greek politicians tend to see their ministries as private fiefdoms. Each feels they must defend every inch of their sovereignty and, if possible, claim their neighbors’ territory. The campaign for structural reforms was launched 10 years ago. Privatizations, the restructuring of public utilities and the abolition of useless committees has met with fierce reactions from vested interests. But these interests were pre-empted by the tiff between the two ministers. The government has been sluggish – a failure that the conservatives often attributed to their predecessors. New Democracy vowed to dismantle the so-called PASOK system, seen as an outgrowth of a flabby and disorderly state sector. Voters naturally fear that conservative ministers, who have tolerated the PASOK system for 20 months, do not plan to demolish it but to restore it instead. For the past 25 years, political leaders have declared their intention to establish a small and flexible Cabinet but have persistently failed to deliver once they come to power. Even if we accept that slashing the number of civil servants would create a social problem, it’s hard to see why successive governments have failed to merge ministries or reduce the number of government officials – a move that would trim the oversized state, reorganize public administration and contain state expenditure. It’s the prime minister’s call.

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