OPINION

For Papandreou, no such thing as a la carte consensus

Next week, Socialist Prime Minister George Papandreou is set to summon party leaders to request their support for the tough times ahead. Papandreou will of course have to depend on New Democracy, the conservative opposition, as the country’s left-wing parties are reduced to blanket rejectionism, and the ultranationalist LAOS party is going back and forth. Dora Bakoyannis’s splinter Democratic Alliance grouping has already said it will join hands with the government. This author has repeatedly stressed the need for political consensus, particularly among mainstream parties, on key issues such as the economy. Ahead of the recent municipal elections, New Democracy chief Antonis Samaras said that should his party climb to power, he would meet the commitments laid out by the so-called memorandum signed with the International Monetary Fund and the European Union. His statement at the time was a signal of stability and continuity. Samaras is now expected to maintain a similar stance, adopting a responsible stand toward the daunting tasks facing the country, such as the streamlining of the public sector, a goal that cannot be achieved without a serious reduction in incomes and jobs. A fair number of experienced New Democracy cadres would like to see Samaras shed his sterile bashing of the memorandum. The mood is reflected in the discreet posturing of the party’s two vice presidents. After all, the conservatives agree with many of the structural reforms pushed by the government. But even if Samaras insists on attacking aspects of the memorandum, he could still assure the premier and the financial markets that he will back in Parliament the structural changes that Greece must introduce in order to receive the fourth tranche of the EU bailout loan in March. Also, he must pressure the New Democracy-affiliated unions to show restraint in their demands and public language. The post-memorandum era has no room for populism, which is, after all, one of the main causes of the current mess. Of course, it takes two to tango. PASOK cannot expect New Democracy to put its signature to all the Socialists’ policy decisions without at the same time showing at least some willingness to examine and possibly adopt some of the conservatives’ own proposals. Nor can government officials expect much support when they inject their language with vitriol about the «criminal» mistakes made during New Democracy’s five-year tenure and at the same time keep mum on PASOK’s role in the fiscal decline of the past two decades. The Socialists like to set up rather eclectic parliamentary committees designed to pick out New Democracy’s failures when it was in power. Furthermore, they tend to criticize the stance of Samaras, who has in fact been more responsible than Papandreou was as opposition leader when he turned down the calls by Costas Karamanlis, then prime minister, for some minimum consensus on basic policy areas like reducing the deficit and debt and keeping welfare spending within fiscal contours. The ball is in now in the government’s court. It’s up to Papandreou to prepare the political ground for consensus. If he decides to be honest about it, he will not repeat what he did last May when he signed the memorandum and then went to meet with Greece’s party leaders to ask their approval.