Time for a reality check

After the whirlwind of media commentary surrounding last week’s cabinet reshuffle – a move whose momentum was exhausted almost before it was even announced – it’s time for a reality check. The political routine is gradually being restored. Dora Bakoyannis, who had a soft spot for political innuendos during her tenure as Athens mayor, is well aware that foreign policy is the exclusive prerogative of Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis. The new foreign minister will certainly travel a lot, but the two major issues on Greece’s foreign policy agenda – Cyprus and Greek-Turkish relations – will remain the exclusive responsibility of the PM. The Greek-Cypriot government in Nicosia will keep a cocked eyebrow toward Bakoyannis, largely because of her clash with Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos during the referendum on the reunification plan proposed by United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan. A sweeping majority of Greek Cypriots rejected the blueprint. As regards relations between Greece and Turkey, the prime minister has established what he considers a personal and workable relationship with his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and outside intervention is unlikely to have any substantial effect. Bakoyannis’s entry into the conservative government eclipsed the replacement of Spilios Spiliotopoulos by Evangelos Meimarakis at the National Defense Ministry. Spiliotopoulos attracted media criticism from the moment he took over. Nevertheless, his career in Greece’s air force has made him conscious of the special role of the country’s military forces and the issues troubling Greek officers. Spiliotopoulos was a member of the conservative New Democracy party, while Meimarakis was conservative party secretary and served for years as New Democracy’s high commissioner. Given these connections, any decisions affecting the armed forces could well be seen as driven by partisan criteria – a touchy matter in a country where most families have someone in the armed forces – even if the problems stem from the symbolism, not the reality, of Meimarakis’s decisions. Karamanlis is a rather conservative person – although not so much politically, where he is more of a liberal – and he is not willing to take risks without special reason. The PM believes his government’s economic policy is correct and that the reforms will finally deliver. But then, politicians are optimists by definition. There are signs that macroeconomic figures are perking up. But the success of a government is not judged by statistical data or European Union reports but by the well-being of Greek households. Greek people are now paying the price of corruption and squandering of public money under the former Socialist administration of Costas Simitis. However, as PASOK was swept out of power, and if the alleged improvement of macroeconomic indicators does not improve the standard of living of the average citizen, no amount of public relations policy will do. Regardless of the content of (little-read) party platforms, New Democracy came to power thanks to the votes of sidelined groups that will not hesitate to turn their backs to the ruling party next time around – particularly given that New Democracy’s lack of clear ideological content renders partisan loyalty virtually meaningless.

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