Will people benefit from Greece’s interim solution?
Provided there is no further twist in the political maneuvering we have been witnessing in Greece during the last few days, Lucas Papademos, an American-educated banker, academic and former vice president of the European Central Bank (ECB), will take over as the head of an interim government which will lead the country to fresh elections, probably on Feb. 19. If that schedule is kept, it will be only two years since the last elections which brought the Socialist party of PASOK into power under George Papandreou.
The solution of an interim government of “national salvation” was the result of last-minute consensus on Nov. 6 between Papandreou and the leader of the main opposition party of New Democracy, Antonis Samaras, following the political chaos that was caused by Papandreou’s announcement that he would take a loan agreement secured in Brussels to a referendum.
With a technocrat at the helm of a team which includes ministers of the Papandreou government (including Economy Minister Evangelos Venizelos) and some from the main opposition, Greece has now been assured by its European partners that it will not be kicked out of the eurozone, provided that it abides fully by the provisions of the strictest package of austerity measures ever adopted in the country. The provisions are a recipe for economic and social reforms that will “restructure” the administration of the country and the living standards of its citizens for at least the next decade.
There is no doubt that Papandreou’s referendum announcement on Oct. 28 precipitated the beginning of the end of his government. Apparently, it was a move to placate the opposition in his own party against him and the frustration of his electorate against the impact of the measures, but it caused political and economical turmoil stirred by the eurozone leadership, which blatantly threatened Greece with possible expulsion from the eurozone and the cessation of any future international funds to stave off bankruptcy if the vote went through.
Face with this ultimatum, Papandreou offered to step aside after securing a unanimous vote of confidence from his party. He then asked President Karolos Papoulias to mediate for a solution. Papoulias then turned to Samaras, who after securing his party’s commitment to abide by the provisions of the austerity package and blurring his apparent policy retreat of stubbornly insisting on Papandreou’s prior resignation, agreed to the formation of an interim government under a new prime minister.
In spite of months of political bickering and bitter exchanges, Papandreou and Samaras, once classmates in Harvard but now political enemies and, above all, descendants of two of the most powerful political families in Greece’s modern history, agreed to form a platform of political consensus as required by Greece’s foreign creditors.
The political turbulence in Greece sent shockwaves not only through the eurozone but also throughout the rest of the world in this globalized market environment.
However, it is doubtful whether this dramatic change of guard will change anything in the everyday life of most Greek citizens. Caught in a nightmarish spiral of increasing taxation and decreasing income, they have little hope of any improvement to their life or their children’s future. And although some would argue that the last-minute consensus was the ultimate, self-sacrificial move that saved the country from becoming the pariah of Europe, there are more who think that this alliance was more convenient for Greece’s creditors than its citizens.
Still, the shock of this political drama may have further political consequences in the political landscape in Greece. Given the coming elections – regardless of whether these are held in February or later – dissenting voices within PASOK are challenging the prerequisite that Papandreou should remain in his place as a leader. Dissenting voices are also heard from the ranks of the main opposition party of New Democracy against the style of Samaras’ handling of the recent crisis. And the leftists parties, who chose to stay away from the whole debate about whether to hand power over to an interim government, are asking the people to go back to the streets to protest