Mr. Papandreou’s next step

In News on June 16, 2011 at 7:00 pm

For the past twenty-four hours, the Greek political arena was the scene for a soap-opera. It all started yesterday with Mr. George Papandreou’s effort to create a “national unity” government, his offer to even step down if needed, and his change of heart later on that evening. The drama continued today with the emergency convention of the Socialist MPs, who were reported to challenge the leadership of Mr. Papandreou. Sure, there were two resignations (George Floridis and Hector Nasiokas), but as the two Socialist MPs also stepped down from parliament, the Socialists’ majority in parliament was not jeopardized. However, the rumours went as far as to predict party elections for a new Socialist leader on the same day.

Meanwhile, the opposition party was holding its own emergency meeting, while the smaller parties (Greek Communist Party – KKE,  Coalition of the Radical Left – SYRIZA, People’s Orthodox Rally – LAOS) were criticizing the two large parties for lack of initiative and leadership. Naturally, the Greek media – not really known for their sober and analytical news reporting – were magnifying every little statement made by Greek politicians, while frequently referring to the “disaster” which was looming for the “ungoverned ship” (Greece, that is).

By late afternoon, the ship had not sunk (at least not in political terms) and Mr. Papandreou reiterated his will to form a new cabinet. Was Mr. Papandreou playing some kind of poker game with his European partners? Maybe, given that on Tuesday the Eurozone ministers had not decided on the details of Greece’s next bail-out, while the path seems (more) clear this afternoon (See BBC news). Was he orchestrating some sort of communication show to increase pressures on his party to accept the austerity package? Maybe, given that by this morning there were talks of elections within the socialist party, while by this afternoon he was announcing the new cabinet and the government’s leading ministers were giving him their support. Was he just doing bad politics? Probably. The answers to these questions are unclear but also unimportant.

Greece’s debt problems are not only present but urgent. The medium-term programme which foresees privatizations and public spending cuts remains a condition for the next IMF-EU payment, which is due on 29 June. And the protesting Greeks are still on Constitution Square opposing it. They may be fewer today, after the riots which took place yesterday, but there will definitely be more over the weekend.

Mr. Papandreou could attempt to go to Brussels and try to renegotiate the terms of the austerity package. However, it is highly unlikely that the IMF-EU will accept anything less that was has already been agreed upon, especially given the IMF’s bias in favour of liberal economics and the EU’s recent obsession with fiscal discipline.

What he could try to do, is get the Greek citizens on his side. And there is only one way to do this: to stop the discrimination between Greece’s political elites, their surrounding journalists and businessmen (the “mainstream”) and average citizens vis-a-vis the rule of law and the burden of the austerity package. He should prosecute ministers and members of his party who have abused their position and used public funds for their own personal gain, press charges against all those businessmen and professionals who systematically evade taxes, freeze their Swiss bank accounts, and confiscate their assets.

Then maybe, he will have some chance of going through the austerity programme without further alienating the Greeks and increasing the chasm between Greece’s political elites and citizens.


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