June 16, 2013
Rumors have been growing since last week after the decision of the head party of the coalition government New Democracy to shut down the public broadcaster ERT and proceed to massive layoffs. This decision brought continuous and harsh demonstrations from the labor unions of the country, while stirring up the existing concerns regarding the homogeneity of the coalition government as well as a series of other major issues that have been dealt inefficiently by the government the last couple of weeks.
The decision of New Democracy and its President and PM Mr. Samaras to shut down ERT last Sunday was a strategic move that encompassed a huge political risk. In fact, Mr. Samaras endeavored to present himself as the one and only “reformer” that was not afraid to assume the burden and the political cost of such a decision. He clearly wanted to show to the Greek public that he is determined to bring Greece to the path of development and combat phenomena of corruption in the Greek public television. In addition to that, the 2,700 layoffs of ERT correspond to the clause of the troika for massive dismissals in the public sector so that Greece can increase the possibility of receiving the next amount of the bailout plan. Nonetheless,, there are several questions triggered in this respect:
a. What “reformer” means, and how can we define a “reform”?
b. What is the short-term and long-term effect of such massive layoffs in a period where Greece is encountered with 27% of unemployment rate?
As I wrote in my last analysis, the unilateral decision of Mr. Samaras was a great strategic move that put in the corner the other two parties of the coalition government, PASOK and Democratic Left, both considered as losing significant ground in exit polls due to their commitment to adjust their policy into the framework of austerity politics. The interesting part of this issue is that PASOK and Democratic Left went against the odds deciding to increase the polemique against Mr. Samaras after the latter’s decision to shut down ERT.
The ERT issue is of paramount importance from every respect, but along with this major topic there is another one stirring up the debate: the withdrawal of interest from Gazprom to participate in the international competition for the privatization of the Greek Natural Gas Company. Gazprom was considered to be the next owner of Greek Gas, but in a sudden decision the Russian giant decided to withdraw its interest. This shift in the competition provoked a series of allegations that the Greek government, and especially Mr. Samaras, did not protect transparency in the bilateral discussions with Gazprom and were pressed by the European Commission to block the Russian candidacy for reasons of competition ethics. In fact, there is growing concern that the European Commission did not want Russia to get involved in any manner into Greek reforms and the privatization process as influence balances would lean towards Russia.
The issues of ERT and the privatization of the Greek Natural Gas Company are regarded as the biggest failures of the last months for the government, but the minor coalition parties are condemning New Democracy for acting against their will and policy. Accusations have gone public these couple of days, and on Monday (17.06) the three leaders of the coalition government, Mr. Samaras, Mr. Venizelos, and Mr. Kouvelis are supposed to meet each other and define the next steps. The current conditions show that the three leaders will not possibly reach an agreement. In this scenario, as PASOK and Democratic Left decide to withdraw support from the coalition government, elections will be announced. The less possible scenario is that the three leaders will re-define their political guidelines and move ahead in a more consistent manner, but with power being more balanced and split amongst all three leaders in equal terms.
In this context, the leader of the front opposition party SYRIZA Mr. Tripras is giving on Monday evening a public speech in Syntagma Square in order to prepare the conditions for the actions ahead. Whether the outcome would be elections or not, Mr. Tsipras is determined to assume an even more acute rhetoric and bring into surface a parallel and deep concern of the Greek society: the level and quality of democracy and the correspondence between austerity politics and the will of the society for political change.
It goes without saying that Greece is faced with a growing dilemma that is still pending since last year: even if we had elections last May and June, is the electorate finally inclined to assume more sacrifices that seem to push it towards more political extremism and less of social state?
I personally believe that as long as Greece is keep shrinking, there is always room for radical shifts. And this is not only applicable in the Greek case, but in any other country in Eurozone that is faced with a string of failed policies.Dimitris Rapidis