Gambling with a country’s future
When in last Friday’s post I wrote that the Greek tragedy is far from over I could not imagine yesterday’s developments nor could I predict that, despite the country’s political deficit, prime minister Papandreou would be willing to gamble with the country’s future by calling a referendum on the agreement of last week’s summit.
It is outrageous that in every single statement of government officials, including the prime minister in yesterday’s speech to his MPs, one hears arguments along the lines that the Greek people will have the opportunity in the referendum to vote for the country’s participation in the European community but at the same time need to take responsibility of their actions.
Before going any further, it helps to look back at certain milestones that reflect the evolution of Greece’s participation in the European Union.
Papandreou and his circle of advisers need to be reminded that in 1981 Greece became an equal member of the European Economic Community (EEC). Konstantinos Karamalis made the political decision that Greece is part of the European family without a referendum. In those days’ tense political climate there was a risk that Greek people’s judgement, considering the increasing momentum of PASOK under the leadership of the current’s prime minister’s father and his rhetoric that “EU and NATO are one the same syndicate”, could have been clouded and the country would have missed a historic opportunity.
In 1992, Greece signed the Maastricht Treaty, which upon going into force in 1993 created the European Union and paved the path for the creation of the European single currency, without putting the treaty to the judgement of the Greek people.
The Maastricht treaty was amended in Amsterdam in 1997, in Nice in 2001 and in Lisbon in 2007, which comprised the constitutional basis of the European Union. Despite the significance of those treaties that set the framework of rights and responsibilities of the member states, something that led to certain countries putting the treaties at the judgement of their people, Greece signed all the above amendments without putting them in a referendum.
In 2000, with the current prime minister’s PASOK in government but with Konstantinos Simitis as the leader, the country took her European Union membership to the next level by adopting the euro again without a referendum.
Since the re-establishment of democracy in 1974, all major decisions of Greece’s European future were taken without a referendum because with the exception of 1980, due to the political dynamics at the time, Greece and the majority of her people have made a clear and FINAL decision that the country is part of the European family.
The fact that Greek governments in the last 3 decades chose to abuse the membership rights and ignore their responsibilities is a reflection on the country’s political elite and not the Greek people.
Papandreou and his government do not have the legitimacy to pose dilemmas, even in an implied manner, asking the people of Greece where they want the country to belong and where her future lies because this matter is decided long time ago.
Aside from the objections stated above, last night’s announcement is in complete conflict with this government’s decisions in the last 18 months, does not have any political rationale in the current climate and lack of social cohesion in Greece and further pushes Greece to the margins of the European Union, if not out of it.
In May 2010, Papandreou took one of the most important decisions in the country’s recent history, handing Greece to the support mechanism and monitoring of the troika until 2013, without a referendum being a consideration.
In June 2011, with the initial programme having failed miserably, requiring a new agreement stretching the country’s austerity commitments until 2015, and the people on the streets around Syntagma he chose to tear-gas the protests and go ahead with the new Mid-Term Plan without putting it to the judgement of the Greek people.
Throughout his holding of office, as the extent and implications of the crisis were becoming apparent and while he was ahead of the developments, he had the opportunity to call for a unity government that would have the society’s backing and strengthen the country’s negotiating position but in reality he chose to go this alone. I do not consider the attempt of June this year as a serious and honest effort for unity as Nick Malkoutzis, deputy editor of the English version of Kathimerini, summarises in this post back in June in his blog Inside Greece.
Only last week, in his press conference after the summit he presented the new agreement as a major win for Greece and its people and reports from capitals around Europe suggest that he assured his European partners of his unwavering commitment to its implementation without any conditionality of a referendum. The country’s position that is already damaged by the historical shortcomings of previous governments, the inefficiencies and hesitations of the current and the lack of vision of current European leaders, is further reduced to a pariah, looking at an imminent exit.
Last Friday, scheduled parades across Greece in celebration of the country denying the Italians to cross our borders in 28 October 1940, had to be cancelled, including the major military parade in Thessalonika in the presence of the President of Greece, because protesters in a symbolic way wanted to declare a modern day NO to the turning of the country into a protectorate as suggested by the close monitoring of the implementation of the Greek government’s commitments for the duration of the new agreement until 2020.
In a poll from Kappa Research for the newspaper To Vima on Sunday, 58.9% of the people asked were against the new agreement primarily on grounds of sovereignty. PASOK only got 14.7% of the intended vote.
Starting this week, parliaments around Europe are supposed to vote for the adoption of the new agreement, something that after Papandreou’s decision is unlikely to happen given that this agreement is now conditional within Greece itself as a result of the referendum planned to be held in January.
Further, PSI+ negotiations are also set to start this week however considering that the deal is now subject to approval from the Greek people, with all the uncertainties that a referendum holds, is unrealistic to expect commitment from the private sector let alone completion of the process within 2011.
A prime minister by the constitution should be a factor of stability for the state. Papandreou with his referendum decision intends to put Greece in a period of political instability and uncertainty.
If the prime minister wants to plan his exit strategy, under the weight of the mismanagement of this crisis, he is not entitled to do so by shifting the responsibility to the shoulders of the nation and risk the long term future of the country. He has at his disposal the ultimate solution in a democratic state, the elections.
Thankfully, after this morning’s developments, and the reaction of the entire Greek political system inclusive of MPs of his party, it seems that it will be elections that will decide the future of Greece.