Reforms require greater trust

The previous government had an excuse – in its first four-year term, it was faced with the difficult job of getting the country into the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU). It needed the social security fund reserves to make up the numbers, with the result that any thoughts of reforming the system were postponed until the next term. The present government has another excuse – they say they have learned from the mistakes of the Mitsotakis administration. They let the first term go by, deciding to talk about social security in its next term. But even that attempt at reform was to founder like the first. Governments in their second term have accumulated too much rust to achieve major changes such as those required for social security reform. There is no doubt that reforming this system calls for a major agreement. The social partners – those who are now admitting that the system is at a dead end – are being asked for some give and take in order to achieve a new point of equilibrium. Yet that agreement calls for a settlement of debts and, above all, trust. Workers are being asked to give up certain inalienable rights so that the system doesn’t go bankrupt. But if they are not reasonably sure that their interlocutors’ intentions are sincere, then they roll up into a ball like a hedgehog, seeing even small changes as the thin edge of the wedge. For better or worse, this administration has begun its second term with reduced credibility. Just as the Simitis government started out weighed down by the stock market scandal, the Karamanlis government has its bond scandal. Just as the previous government was corroded by real and imaginary scandals, this one is entering the fray with a broken wing. Opposition to the reforms does not need to be politically motivated. The people’s trust in its government has faltered and reforms are becoming harder and harder to introduce. Another factor rarely given much importance is the general feeling about the future. In times of optimism, changes are easier. The people’s optimism is currently at rock bottom. At times of general pessimism, however, they feel that tomorrow will be worse and so cling to the present at all costs. Every change is seen as a threat and the people become more conservative, trying to hang onto the «bird in the hand,» opposing even the thought of changes. So this attempt at reform is also bound to fall short, at least until there are better reserves of trust. And that is the politicians’ job – to inspire the Greek people to look ahead.