Friday, November 11, 2011

Papademos must defy the omens

Financial Times
November 11, 2011

In ancient Greece, a general about to enter battle would ask a seer to read the omens. If they were not favourable, the seer would be told to try again – and perhaps again. Lucas Papademos, Greece’s new technocrat prime minister, has no such luxury as he takes up arms in the fight to keep his country from crumbling under the weight of its debts and its political stasis. But even he must have known as he took the oath of office that the initial omens were not auspicious.

Mr Papademos has just 100 days before an election to finish tasks that would challenge Heracles, never mind a relatively obscure central banker. In that time he must convince the old crows of Greece’s political elite to begin implementing radical reforms such as suspending 30,000 civil servants or confronting the vested interests that have sucked competitiveness out of the Greek economy.

So far, he has not made an encouraging start. Rather than imposing clear conditions for taking the job, he posed some tentative “suggestions”. These included the proposal that his mandate should last longer than three months, which would have given more time to ensure passage of certain tough measures. But this was blatantly shrugged off by Pasok and rival New Democracy.

His plea to choose his own cabinet was also ignored. The announcement of the new team was even postponed while the discredited parties haggled over posts. Both parties have their eyes firmly on the election set for February 19. While it is right to set an election date, such a short calendar gives little incentive to the parties to commit wholeheartedly to the interim government. After all, it will have to launch the highly painful austerity programme necessary to unlock Europe’s €130bn ($179bn) bail-out.


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