Leadership faced with scale of troika reforms opts to do nothing

Fri, Sep 7, 2012, 01:00

GREEK LETTER:There is no way that Greek society can be restructured without a collective lobotomy

IMAGINE THE Fine Gael-Labour Coalition where the Cabinet included no Labour TDs. Imagine the FG-Labour coalition in which Eamonn Gilmore was not Tánaiste. Yet that is the situation in Greece, where we have what is in effect a single-party government of New Democracy (ND) supported (or perhaps not) in parliamentary votes by Pasok and Democratic Left (DL), who have no place in cabinet.

In effect they are excluded from the government that they theoretically support, but to which their leaders have no direct ministerial input. The government consists of MPs from ND, and technocrats, drawn largely from the universities, some of whom, as a colleague puts it, have Pasok and DL DNA.

Given that there are defections from Pasok, and serious doubts on the part of DL about the stance of prime minister Antonis Samaras on renegotiation of the bailout, it’s amazing Samaras can actually continue to command a majority. Much of his success is due to the fears of Pasok and DL that they would suffer even more if they were to undergo a third election this year.

Meanwhile Pasok leader Evangelos Venizelos is in that extraordinary position of having responsibility without power, while presiding over an imploding party. He cannot disassociate himself from the austerity and bailout conditions, yet the Pasok old guard rejects his plea for rejuvenation and reform. He must have a lot to talk about with Micheál Martin when they meet at the Salon des Refusés.

There is a general feeling that “the end is nigh”, but no-one seems to know what the end will consist of, or what will follow it. The man in the street bemoans the paucity of political leadership, which is not unique to Greece, of course. There are many men in many streets who know that, worldwide, politicians have been joyriding their electorates, but have failed to deliver solutions due to the force majeure of extra-national consortia.

After the May 6th election, the interim prime minister, Loukas Papademos, is alleged to have had a phone conversation with EU chief José Manuel Barroso. Both men deny that the conversation took place, which seems to confirm that it did.

In the course of their talk, Barroso is alleged to have said: “If you don’t like the rules, get out of the club.” This seems to be the flip side of Marx’s remark (Groucho, not Karl): “I wouldn’t join any club that would have me as a member.”

It’s remarkable that no one thought of this when entry to the euro zone was being considered.

One example of lack of cohesion and direction will suffice: in 2010 Dora Bakoyannis, who might have become Greece’s first woman prime minister if she had played her cards differently, was expelled from ND because she voted for austerity measures, when party leader Samaras was adamant that ND would oppose them.

Samaras was then forced by international pressure to sign up to austerity and the bailout.

Shortly before the June. election, Bakoyannis and the members of her new party, who had failed to win any seats in the May election, rejoined ND, which cynics saw as a move not only to boost ND’s numbers (which it successfully did), but to ensure Bakoyannis’s personal return to political power.

Samaras had by this stage announced he would seek to renegotiate the bailout, but after the election he stated unequivocally that this was not the right time to do so. With so many U-turns, the electorate cannot understand what is going on. In fact nothing is going on.

We have had elections in May – inconclusive. We have had elections in June – inconclusive. In fact, absolutely nothing has happened in the past four months to indicate any resolution of the crisis, or Greece’s relations with the European superpowers. It’s as if the party leaders have taken a firm decision to be indecisive.

The reason is obvious: the reforms demanded by the troikato bring Greece into line with the economies of greater Europe would require a complete dismantling of Greek society. There are so many vested interests in Greece (protected professions being just the tip of the iceberg), there is no way that society can be reformed without a collective lobotomy.

The fact that the crisis is deepening rather than getting better suggests the remark in 1919 by David Ben-Gurion (later Israeli leader) about the emerging Arab-Jewish conflict: “Not everybody sees that there’s no solution to it. There is no solution!”

The crisis in Greece, followed by those in Ireland, Portugal, Spain and Italy, has been a huge learning curve for Europe, especially the architects and policemen of the euro zone.

There has been a gradual shift from the insistence that Greece could under no circumstances leave the euro zone, to today’s position where many member states are not only saying that a “Grexit” is likely, but are even considering strategies for survival in the event of the euro itself collapsing.

The Finnish minister for Europe, Alexander Stubb, has said that we must not build another Berlin Wall, this time between north and south, but that is precisely what seems to be in the offing.

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