Bad timing

George Papandreou’s government had better get in step with the time quickly, or else its efforts will be in vain, as will the sacrifices that it is demanding of citizens. Having repeatedly delayed taking serious measures, the government caused even greater damage to the economy and to Greece’s standing in the world; then, acting spasmodically, it undermined the relationship of trust between government and citizens that is crucial for the success of reforms. After proudly making declarations that PASOK would honor its election promises (in conjunction with the unbelievably amateurish way in which the government handled the dockworkers’ strike), the Socialists were forced to make one retreat after the other when they came under the markets’ relentless pressure. This led to Tuesday’s announcement of sweeping changes in the tax, wage and pension systems. The government’s refusal to change tack early on damaged the country’s credibility and resulted in dangerously high interest rates on our debt. The delay damaged PASOK as well: The government managed to make the economy’s problems its own, whereas it could have burdened the previous one with them if it had acted quickly after the elections; PASOK undermined its own credibility by making loud noises that it would not take the measures which, in the end, it took. The damage to the credibility of both Greece and PASOK has been done. But the way in which the austerity measures and reforms were finally announced may, paradoxically, cause even more damage. The pension system changes were made public without being part of an actuarial study, so no one actually knows what the changes mean to each one of us, what cost they will have and what we will gain from them. Everyone wants to know how and when we will emerge from the crisis. Only the government can answer this. Until now, though, it swung from saying that sacrifices were not necessary, mistaking delusion for hope. Now it demands sacrifices without presenting a vision of victory. No war was ever won this way.

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