Papandreou’s balancing act

Prime Minister George Papandreou is about to hit a brick wall over a simple question: Can he spare the country from bankruptcy without losing his hold over his party. The reality of the numbers is ruthless, showing that his economic policy has failed for a thousand different reasons: a combination of inexperience, reform delays and ignorance over the way the markets work. It is not the fault of one minister; it is Papandreou’s fault for failing to put together a well-organized staff with clearly defined tasks, opting instead to work in an environment of chaos and polyarchy. Good public relations abroad have been valuable and have played a positive role in the past few months, but international relations are not enough, however many trips Papandreou makes abroad, because someone needs to do the dirty work here at home. No one was put in charge of the daily grind of governance and now Papandreou is faced with several tough decisions. After being elected in 2009, advice to immediately adopt reforms, slash the salaries of civil servants along with funding to state-owned enterprises, and to adopt measures to boost growth were scoffed at because it was believed that they would harm the government’s popularity in the runup to local elections. So, here we are today. What will Papandreou do? Will he face off against the old guard in his PASOK party and the sacred unionists who have supported it? What if this face-off leads to thousands of civil servants losing their jobs? Could the party handle that pressure? Papandreou would like to adopt these measures, see his party remain intact and then approach the European Union and the International Monetary Fund to demand an extension to the bailout repayment plan. That would give him a carrot to wave before the people of Greece and allow him to call early elections for March. These changes, however, require an almost impossible combination of factors: an iron-willed administration with experienced people who know both how the state works and how life works outside government buildings, skillful management of the party to keep PASOK united and tactful negotiation skills when it comes to talking to the international players. How does that sound as a balancing act in these crazy times?