Social security pains

Despite the impending presentation of its proposals on social security reform, the Socialist government appears to have finally succumbed to the temptation of indefinitely postponing a genuine resolution of the issue. Notwithstanding its commitment to act by the end of 2001, the government is unlikely to launch a dialogue before the end of January – a dialogue whose success would supposedly signal the resolution of this thorny issue. The government actually avoided sending invitations to its interlocutors because it is still in the phase of «assessing the costs» of funding its proposals. Time, however, is running out, as unfavorable conjunctures are approaching. The country is gradually entering a climate shaped by the coming local elections, whose significance is magnified as the New Democracy opposition and the ruling PASOK are both viewing them as a prelude to the next parliamentary elections. An additional distorting factor is skirmishing inside the two major parties. Given that the ruling party is in a worse position than ND, one would have to be extremely optimistic to assume that Prime Minister Costas Simitis will dare introduce the already unpopular social security measures as Greece heads toward municipal elections. Just two months after the local elections and before their full effect will have unfolded, Greece will assume the rotating EU presidency, its primary objective being securing Cyprus’s accession in an enlarged Union. It’s extremely unlikely that the government will choose to wage this difficult battle and at the same time promote reforms that could trigger mass protests. But even after the conclusion of Greece’s presidency, in June 2003, there will be only be a few months before what is expected to be a closely contested parliamentary election, which is likely to take place before the end of 2003. Needless to say, a radical solution to the social security issue when the electoral outcome will likely be determined by a very small margin is unthinkable. In short, if the government does not seriously tackle the issue now, the chances it will do this before the end of its term are minimal. There are clear indications that after its failure last year, the social security issue no longer constitutes a major government priority. This would be a grave mistake. The problem is a very serious one, and any further delay will cause the current situation to deteriorate further while also inflating any reactions. Hence the government’s ongoing vacillation will render this adventure even more painful for the country. Having dawdled for decades, Clerides and Denktash may now be two old men in a hurry to cement their places in history by achieving a settlement.

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