Two steps back
Fierce reactions by university students and teachers eventually forced the conservative government to back down on its reform proposals. The New Democracy government was also forced to retreat on the banks’ collective labor agreements. These reactions were not a sign of weakness but of prudence. A proper leader must be decisive in pushing for radical change but must also be flexible to compromise when he must, as long as he gets his way most of the time. Compromise is one thing but walking away from fundamental pre-election commitments is quite another. IOBE, the Federation of Greek Industries’ foundation for economic and industrial research, recently warned that the specter of local and general elections threatens to put the government’s reform plans on the back burner. They are two different things. If it’s a case of the premier wishing to correct the hardline approach of an education minister who tried to pass a major reform overnight and of a labor minister asking the National Bank’s governor to return to the negotiations table, then we’re talking about legitimate concessions that may mar the administration’s image but do not undermine Greece’s future. But if the impending ballot has made the government less keen to crack down on profiteers and tax dodgers, less keen to curb the various deficits and keener to offer lavish handouts, then we’re not talking about mere compromises but rather a reversal of basic government policy. It’s the notorious «political cycle» that beset the Greek political and economic system in the post-1974 period. Successive administrations have tended to undo the beneficial policies they implemented in the first two or three years of their term by making thoughtless handouts before the elections. Karamanlis should not give in to pressure from his populist cadres to take back his promising reforms.