The bulldozer memorandum

It’s hard not to notice the change in the behavior of government ministers since the signing of the memorandum with the European Union, the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank. Before the deal, ministers did everything they could to preserve the status quo in their area of responsibility. An initial bill drafted by the Transport Ministry to open up the trucking sector – in theory – had been welcomed by truck owners – as it did not go far enough in practice. After that was rejected by the troika, ministry officials worked hard and in cooperation with the Economy Ministry produced a new bill, which introduces significant reforms but also provides for those who have invested a fortune in a license. Other ministers have made similar gestures. Labor Minister Andreas Loverdos shouldered one of the most important reforms in a very sensitive sector. One may have reservations about his agonizing and emotional appearances on TV but what matters is that he will leave something behind. Loverdos, like all other ministers assigned to make painful changes, know that the path of reforms is a lonely one. They cannot expect much support from their colleagues. And if they want to move forward, they must take their eyes off opinion polls for a while and simply hope that people will eventually reward their courage. In the past, such bold moves paid off for the late Constantine Karamanlis in the 1950s and Costas Simitis in the 1990s. The memorandum is like a bulldozer that knocks down unreasonable obstacles and perks. It has now reached the hard stuff, problems long viewed as unsolvable, like the role of the GENOP union in the Public Power Corporation or the yawning debts of Hellenic Railways (OSE). Only time will tell if the government can overcome these obstacles, given that, in some cases, the ruling party is itself part of the problem – not of the solution. For the time being, however, we ought to acknowledge that a lot is changing and, save for some big disaster, the country will look really different by the end of 2010. There is only one danger: that the government will pass all the reforms but will continue to misjudge the market and lead the country to bankruptcy. Then citizens will blame the recession on the memorandum and the government, forgetting all the substantial reforms made in its name.

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