Greece needs a promoter of change like Turk PM Erdoğan

Greece needs a promoter of change like Turk PM Erdoğan

ATHENS - Hürriyet Daily News
Greece needs a promoter of change like Turk PM Erdoğan

The political scene in Greece will need to go through a lot of change before it settles down, Professor Loukas Tsoukalis (R) tells the Daily News at the offices of the Greek think tank ELIAMEP, located in downtown Athens.

The most recent general elections in Greece have illustrated the collapse of the old bipolar political system, which was dominated by two parties, according to a Greek academic. 

“The Greeks need a clear shift from the past,” said Professor Loukas Tsoukalis, the President of the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy (ELIAMEP). 

Turkish-Greek reconciliation will not be affected by the emergence of new political forces, said Tsoukalis. Unless the crisis spins out of control, the reconciliation is irreversible, he told the Daily News in a recent interview.

Q: Can you give us a snapshot of the current situation in Greece?

A: Greece is a country that is going through a serious crisis. You have an economy that will have lost almost 20 percent of its national income, and you have a society that is going through a difficult patch because unemployment is [around] 22 percent. You a have a situation in which the political order in Greece is changing dramatically. You may draw a comparison – albeit a limited one – with what happened in Turkey approximately 10 years ago when you had the IMF and you had a political system that collapsed and a new system that emerged. I think at the end of the crisis we will have a radically transformed economy and a very dramatic renewal of its political class. With the [May and June elections] you had the collapse of the old bipolar system.
Q: Has it definitely collapsed? 

A: Yes. The two parties [New Democracy and PASOK] together got 32 percent in the May elections as opposed to around 80 in the past. It is a huge change. I am convinced that the political scene in Greece has a lot of changes to go through before it settles down; this is the intermediate phase. 

Q: Why do you think the bipolar system has ended?

A: There is a large section of Greeks who think the two are largely responsible for the mess the country is in. The Greeks need a clear shift from the past. There will be new political forces coming out in Greece. The country finds itself in a deep economic crisis and with a political system that is crumbling. There are two countries one can draw comparisons with: one is Italy in the early 1990s and the other is Turkey. In Italy, the collapse of the system produced [Silvio] Berlusconi, in Turkey it produced [Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan. Both are our neighbors and they have gone through fairly similar experiences.

Q: Berlusconi is gone and Erdoğan is even stronger.

A: Greece has to find its way as well. What we have seen [now] is the emergence of a new bipolar system with New Democracy, which represents the old forces, and Syriza, which is a radical left group that is becoming an alternative power center. The trouble with Syriza is that it started as a small fringe group that has very little connection to European or international reality or even the economic reality of the country. For the time being, the political vacuum created has been largely filled by populists. The key thing for Greece is to create new political forces that will not be populist and will fill this vacuum. That remains to be seen. 

Q: How will the economy look in Greece?

A: Greece needs to recognize the need for major reforms, structural reforms which mostly relate to the operation of the state; that is the biggest obstacle to economic development. You are asking politicians that have been part of a clientele system to reform themselves, and they have been resisting. Greece has delivered much in terms of budget cuts but where it has delivered much less is [in terms of] structural reforms. You have to create an environment that is more propitious to investment, and you have to stabilize your finances – to some extent, you need a Greek Kemal Derviş [who led Turkish reforms after the country’s 2001 financial crisis] to stabilize the economy.

Q: In the absence of political renewal, there is a possibility of a populist takeover by Syriza or Golden Dawn. How do you see Golden Dawn? 

A.: Golden Dawn is different. It is not a party of power. It is extremely unpleasant to witness its emergence. But it is a party that draws on two or three things: one is the huge increase in immigration, which is also linked to the growth of criminality. It also [presents] itself to people on the right of the right who feel the state does not deliver the minimum of goods that they expect from it. Out of nowhere, they [won] 7 percent in two successive elections, and that is big, especially for a country that has the historical experience of a very terrible Nazi occupation.

If the present government fails to deliver and political renewal does not happen, the radical left will come to power. This is an unattractive scenario because I think these people have to cover a [a lot of ground] before they can actually govern the country without serious turmoil. The trouble is that the origin of many of them is in the Communist Party. They do not represent renewal and change; they represent ideas that come from the cemetery of ideas.
Q: I hear many Greeks making comparisons with Turkey all the time. Is Greece looking for its own Erdoğan? 

A: Of course a Greek Erdoğan would be very different. I suppose that first he is unlikely to be very religious. 

Q: A more secular Greek Erdoğan?

A: Greece needs somebody who can inspire people for change and who can help restore the self-confidence and dignity of Greece. 

Q: Is this the portrait of Erdoğan? 

A: To a large extent this is what he did in Turkey. Erdoğan inspired change, became a guarantor of stability and promoter of change. He made many changes. Of course some of them you or I may not like. But he was an agent of change. 

But let’s not exaggerate of course; we are not talking about a Greek Erdoğan. We are talking about new political leadership. I used the example of Erdoğan because he came out of the collapse of the old order.

Q: What is your view of the current state of Turkish-Greek reconciliation?

A: The good news is that the everyday climate in relations has improved substantially. This is manifested by the number of people visiting, the number of cultural exchanges and the growth of trade and investment. If countries are about to come to blows tomorrow, they are not going to exchange hundreds of thousands of tourists or [conduct] trade. 

Greeks teach in Turkish universities. Some people learn Turkish in Greece. My mother watches Turkish TV series. The bad news is that virtually all the outstanding problems have not been resolved. The problem in the Aegean has not been solved, nor has the Cyprus problem. But at least we are much more polite to each other; we have reached the conclusion that it is much better to talk then to threaten. 

The improvement is noticeable but it’s not enough. 

Q: But these issues are frozen; how much does their existence impede progress in bilateral cooperation?

A: There is still an element of mutual distrust and suspicion. 

Q: But increased contacts between nations might help [produce an] easier solution. There will be less warmongers on both sides.

A: But there are also other reasons to cooling. Both sides are preoccupied with other issues; Greece with its internal problems, Turkey with what happens in Syria and other places. If you have a Turkish government that has a more direct control over its military, the chances of having initiatives on behalf of the military that are not politically sanctioned and can create problems with Greece are reduced and have been reduced.

Q: So you claim that the civilianization of politics has helped reduce the tension?

A: Absolutely. When you have state visits of Greek officials and, on the same day, Turkish military planes fly over Greek islands [one wonders]: Is it sanctioned by the political authority or is it on the initiative of the Air Force?

Q: The impression we have in Turkey is that the willingness of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) to solve problems were not reciprocated; New Democracy was shy, whereas PASOK found itself in the midst of the crisis.

A: Not really. Although, one of the unfortunate things in our bilateral relations is that every time one of the two sides has an internal reason for not being able to walk the extra mile. We have failed to synchronize our political cycles. 

Q: To what degree is it to Greece’s strategic interest to have Greek Cypriots block Turkey’s EU accession?

A: Cyprus is not the main obstacle. The negotiations are not advancing because Berlin and Paris do not want [them to advance], and Cyprus is used as an excuse.

Q: How would a different political landscape in Greece affect bilateral ties – if populists filled in the vacuum, for instance? 

A: They are populist on other things but not nationalistic. 

Q: You don’t expect the new political system to reverse the gains in Turkish-Greek ties?
A: Only if the crisis gets out of control, [leading to the rise of] nationalism. If it is not out of control, any renewal of the political landscape will be with people who believe not only in the European project but also in very peaceful cohabitation with our neighbors. So I would not worry. 

Q: So you think it is irreversible.

A: It is irreversible because it is deeper down. It’s on the population level. You cannot sell an article to a newspaper bashing the Turks as easily [as you could] 15 years ago.

Who is Loukas Tsoukalis?

Loukas Tsoukalis studied economics and international relations at the University of Manchester, the College of Europe in Bruges and the University of Oxford where he obtained his doctoral degree.

He taught for many years at Oxford before later becoming professor at the European Institute of the London School of Economics and Political Science. He is a former special adviser to the president of the European Commission. Tsoukalis is presently professor of European Integration at the University of Athens, president of the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy (ELIAMEP). Tsoukalis is the author of “The New European Economy” and “What Kind of Europe?” which are both published by Oxford University Press and have been translated into several languages.