OPINION

Accord between EU Kosovo mission, Serbia causes stir

f the «don’t knows» in this election were a political party, they would be in third place right now. Yet, as in every previous election, the «don’t know» campaign will actually lose support as the election approaches. This is puzzling. After all, it seems that the «don’t knows» will not be the only political body going into the elections without a leader. But, more importantly, other parties may well try to steal some of the standard manifesto positions of the «don’t knows» in order to win votes. If asked what they would do in their first budget – an urgent priority – how many parties would pretend to give a precise answer but will instead emulate the «don’t know» position? Talking the talk In fact, the best course would be for more voters to join the «don’t knows,» unless the parties give clear answers to the most important issues. Too often in the past, the rhetoric has «talked the talk» on the deeper issues facing society and the economy but their commitment and planning has been too weak to deliver real change. Voters have been repeatedly told that the state will be reformed, for example. In reality, it has probably gotten worse: falling behind new challenges and stuck in politics of «rousfetti» – using the spoils of office to secure political support. To break with this culture, radical moves are needed. This week, a Manpower Inc survey found that Greek firms expected to lose as many job positions as they create in the coming months. So, the first radical change that the «don’t know» voter should demand is that a plausible candidate say very plainly that if elected, no voter could approach him/her to request any job in the public sector. It won’t happen, of course, but party leaders at least ought to impose rules. Public positions should be appointed on the basis of merit, transparency and competition in keeping with stable, national procedures. The new government could start by announcing a significant reduction in the number of posts available. A second area for reform should be the budget system. Allocating budget lines to particular items ossifies the expenditure process and stifles innovation. Ministries – zones of inefficiency and under-skilled labor plagued by corruption – should be required to be flexible and creative, while reporting all expenditures in a transparent fashion. This is all the more important at a time of budget restraint. Better government also rests on knowledge and monitoring. At present, ministers lack information on the effects of past policies or assessments of future likely effects. To avoid compartmentalization, groups of ministries ought to share an impact assessment unit to monitor current policies and identify problems. A parallel policy advisory unit ought to develop solutions. Both units need to have high managerial expertise but to contract out specific project research. These moves depend on the lead from the center. As I have argued previously, the Greek prime minister is constitutionally very strong but, in practice, institutionally very weak. The position lacks the ability to monitor, direct and control what happens across the range of vast, over-sized ministries. A stronger PM office should coordinate policy reviews, impact assessments and nurture key priorities. This is not to say that the PM should micro-manage. Not at all. By reputation, neither of the two main party leaders is suited to such tasks. Instead, as in any major corporation, there needs to be an efficient managerial hierarchy reporting to the PM. But the onus is on the PM to listen and to engage consistently in setting the parameters for action. These changes are but one sphere, but they are an important and neglected underpinning for good government – of whatever ideology. Indeed, these changes may be especially appropriate if a coalition government is needed. The «don’t know» voter is, in significant respects, a symptom of the failures of government to deliver change. The discerning «don’t knower» ought to watch how the parties prepare for government and judge their potential accordingly. The «don’t knows» could actually serve a very useful purpose. (1) Kevin Featherstone is Eleftherios Venizelos professor at the London School of Economics and the director of its Hellenic Observatory.