Lost opportunities (Greece)

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Alexis Papachelas is a guest editorial writer to The Business Thinker. He is currently the Executive Editor of the long standing and highly respected daily Greek newspaper “Kathimerini”.

One of (the Greek prime minister)George Papandreou’s strongest cards to date has been his good connections with foreign officials. I am not referring to the rather insignificant Socialist International but to the international political and economic establishment which, whether we like it or not, plays a crucial role in shaping our future, both now and in the foreseeable future.

Some people, particularly self-styled right-wing patriots, are not very happy about this. They obviously choose to ignore the fact that Greece’s biggest national wagers have been won not only thanks to courage and brave battles but also due to the fact that our national leaders enjoyed the support of those who mattered — such as Eleftherios Venizelos following the First World War and Constantine Karamanlis when Greece joined the European Economic Community.

Once again, it is crucial that Greece has backing in centers of international power.

Sadly for Papandreou and the country, the premier’s political capital is shrinking. One can see this in the articles published in the foreign press. The praise Papandreou enjoyed during his early months in power has vanished. It can also be seen in the body language of foreign leaders and players. The congratulations and encouragement of yesteryear have given way to grumbling about Greece’s stymied reforms.

Similarly, international officials criticize the Greek premier over the failure to impose his will on ministers and his overall lack of determination.

A key point in the changing attitudes was Papandreou’s poor handling of the privatization deal aimed at bringing proceeds of 50 billion euros into the state coffers, when he showed signs of indecisiveness and even panic. There is more to make things really complicated. First, the absence of a solid foreign policy. I cannot think of any time in the past when Greek diplomacy was more demoralized and unplanned than it is now.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is still active thanks to the efforts of some veteran diplomats while Greece’s foreign policy has been largely reduced to the unimaginative management of day-to-day affairs without any signs of true initiative.

Secondly, the government has failed to publicize abroad even its two or three achievements. Giorgos Papaconstantinou, Greece’s finance minister, is still the country’s best export, as it were, but his honeymoon period too seems to be over as the financial markets, the European Union and the International Monetary Fund want to see results — and nothing short of that.

Foreign observers are losing their patience because they realize that they cannot invest politically in the reform of Greece’s problematic economy. They see that the Greek state is in a mess and it cannot shoulder the burden. At the same time, the stance of the conservative New Democracy opposition is raising concern and insecurity.

Over the coming weeks, foreign officials are expected to put pressure on Papandreou to change the way he rules the country — and if that does not happen they will naturally think that the only hope can come from a big coalition government.

For the time being, they continue to hope that Papandreou will overcome himself and his obvious shortcomings and make decisive steps to build a more solid administration animated by clear and common goals. He can feel the pressure and he is not too happy to see his all-too-precious foreign capital being squandered.

I assume that he too will have heard some of the comments being made, like the one heard when Papandreou wanted to mediate in the Libya crisis: “Before getting himself into international problems, George should rather try to find a solution to the big international problem that is burning us all: the economic crisis in his own country.”

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