Papandreou, as we wish he were

It’s hard not to imagine what Greece’s political scene would look like if George Papandreou, the leader of the Socialist opposition, treated domestic issues the way he has dealt with the Macedonia name dispute. Offering the government unconditional support is one thing, of course; adopting a responsible stance is quite another. In fact, the country’s political system would function a whole lot better if Papandreou were to launch constructive criticism of the ruling New Democracy party. More responsible posturing would also reinforce his image as a modern-day politician, an image that propelled him to the helm of PASOK four years ago. Back then, Papandreou had welcomed his election as PASOK leader with pledges to overhaul his fatigued party. Instead of rejecting changes to Article 16 of the Constitution, for example, Papandreou should have acknowledged the fact that private universities have for years been operating in the country, while pushing the conservatives to separate the good institutions from the bad. Similarly, PASOK’s leader would sound a lot more convincing if instead of defending some abstract notion of state-funded education, he rather pointed out the huge problems dogging Greek universities and technical colleges and, at the same time, proposed specified rules to ensure transparency and meritocracy (or even the abolition of the widely abused university asylum legislation). Imagine how embarrassed conservative officials would feel to suddenly see Papandreou shed his ambitions to «overturn the pension reform bill» and rather lash out against the government for failing to grapple with the structural weaknesses of the social security system. And how surprised Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis would be to hear Papandreou call him a «coward» for failing to introduce a distinction between welfare and pension spending, as occurs in virtually all advanced states. Moreover, instead of threatening to re-nationalize the public corporations included on the government’s privatizations list, Papandreou would definitely score more points by advocating the need to change the way these companies operate. He should, for example, propose motivating the notoriously idle civil servants by abolishing their permanent status (at least as far as the newly recruited are concerned) and drawing a link between income and productivity. Some readers may be tempted to interpret these proposals as a call on Papandreou to shift his party toward the right. They should ponder whether his decision to back the government on the Macedonia name dispute has been his most progressive initiative of the past four years.

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