November 5, 2011
Before the G20 meeting in Cannes, the unthinkable happened. To the utter surprise of EU and G20 leaders alike, Greek prime minister George Papandreou dropped the bombshell announcement about the referendum on the bailout package. Stock prices plummeted, the G20 agenda was undermined, and the leaders who had been working to save Greece from default were left with egg on their faces. This is no small feat for the premier of an insignificant European country, whose EU and euro membership bids were largely based on its achievements of some 2,500 years ago, when politicians like Pericles ruled in Athens and Greek philosophers were trying to decipher the mysteries of the universe.
The reality of Greek politics today is far removed from the country’s ancient roots. Papandreou himself is the third generation of one of the political dynasties which have led Greece since the seventies until the current disaster. If experts dug deeper into Greece’s current predicament, they would conclude that this duopoly of power, with leadership shared among the Karamanlis family on the right and the Papandreous on the left, is largely responsible for the situation the country finds itself in today. Strangely enough, Papandreou’s latest antics are reminiscent of those of George Bush Jr. with his despised unilateralism, who left the United States in a similar situation, gasping for economic survival. Few in PASOK, including the Finance minister, even knew about his intentions to call a referendum on the bailout deal.
The main tasks for the experts advising the EU’s political leadership are figuring out Papandreou’s hidden agenda and explaining why he took the Greek people and the international community for a ride that could end up in financial disaster. The problem with dynastic leaders is that they are largely ignorant of the effects of their political actions. Thus, while the world-class economist Papandreou Sr would have known what credit default swaps were, his son – by his own admission – has found out about them only recently, and the financial damage they can wreak still escapes his comprehension. In a similar fashion, George W unleashed a second war in Iraq without possessing his father’s political talent in winning consensus from US allies. Had George Papandreou been better educated as a politician, he would have found out long ago from the likes of Max Weber that politics is both an art and a profession, and that one should not enter the field unless fully prepared.
To the other EU prime ministers, Papandreou’s referendum call appeared as “bizarre”. That might be, but it is hard to believe that the Greek PM’s stance did not have some backers we are not yet aware of. Problem is, we should find out fast who these backers are and what their objective is.
If Papandreou “does not care” for his own political survival, what then does he care for ? If he is an honest politician, why has he played his EU colleagues for fools ? If he does want to serve Greece, then why is he torpedoing his country’s chances of solving the financial mess it is currently in ? If he is sincere about safeguarding the political stability in Athens, why doesn’t he come clean about abandoning his job in favour of a technocrat who could bring together PASOK and New Democracy in a broadly-based coalition government ? And finally, whose political interest is he really serving : his country’s, the Socialist movement’s he claims to be part of, or maybe that of a small coterie of neoconservative politicians across the Atlantic intent on seeing the EU implode ?
The answers elude us for now, but we should look for them in the right places before it’s too late for Greeks, Europeans and the international community alike. To be sure, Papandreou’s leadership has become toxic and highly unreliable for the Greek nation, as well as for the rest of the EU. The decent thing for him to do is to resign right away, making way for a broadly-based coalition government that can stabilise the country. The “new Greece” cannot truly emerge with a representative of old and discredited dynastic politics at its helm.Florian Pantazi