A political void

Both Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis and opposition PASOK leader George Papandreou find themselves continually targeted for criticism over their inability to conjure up a political vision capable of mobilizing citizens, acting instead in a manner that is, at best, inconsistent. Public disappointment is only to be expected from such a state of affairs, but the problem is somewhat more complex than this. Better fiscal management and the reduction of public debt have been highlighted as key governmental aims, egged on by a wide variety of economic experts. But even if this is the correct policy focus, the way it is being sold on the citizens is truly schizophrenic. After all, it makes little sense to give a huge thrust to tackle the deficit while simultaneously pushing citizens to consume and borrow excessively, especially during a period of economic slowdown when the notion of job security has essentially disappeared. Under such circumstances, appeals for a reduction in public debt cannot be taken seriously and do not enjoy support from society at large. Indeed, if the state’s excess indebtedness is so damaging then school pupils should be made to write essays on «The benefits of saving,» as was common practice in the 1950s and 1960s, instead of being trained to believe that irresponsible borrowing is somehow a good thing. In the US – widely considered to possess the ideal economic model and one which has been imitated, unsuccessfully, in the EU – overindebtness at consumer level parallels the country’s massive public deficit, while there is no discord between the state’s and the individual’s perception of the economy. When a high-ranking economic adviser to former US President Ronald Reagan dared to suggest that the country’s public deficit was too big, Reagan quipped: «I’m not worried about the deficit. It’s big enough to take care of itself.» Needless to say, given our poor debt and deficit situation, no Greek government could be a pivotal player in crucial decisions influencing the EU’s economic policy. Similarly, Greece has a fundamental conflict between the government’s attempt to reduce public debt and the trend toward pushing consumers to borrow excessively. The country’s political leadership does not appear to have any scope to take new economic initiatives, while pursuit of any independent economic policy within the eurozone is virtually unthinkable. In all other aspects of domestic policy, all European governments adapt their legislation to that of the EU. There may be no common European foreign policy, but even in that area a constant search is under way to reach common ground for European states to tackle international problems. Greece’s prime ministers of the past 30 years undoubtedly had more room to maneuver, and more choice than is now the case. Costas Simitis, who was fanatical about adapting to European standards, was lucky enough to be in power at a time when the decline of communist regimes created the illusion of perpetual economic development and prosperity, which, it was expected, would reduce and even eliminate former ideological and political differences. The misfortune of Karamanlis and Papandreou is that they must operate during a period in which the EU appears to have lost its direction; and even if they were in a position to form a new political perspective, it would have to be unconventional – something which is hardly fitting for someone heading a major political party. The result is a void in the circles defining our country’s political outlook.

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