chapter
19 Pages

Introduction: ‘Modernisation’ and the Structural Constraints of Greek Politics

Politics and policy-making in contemporary Greece display the tension between pressures for reform, on the one hand, and the structural impediments to their realisation, on the other. The Greek state has long suffered from problems affecting its institutional capability – clientelism and bureaucratic inefficiency, for example – but since at least the early 1990s these problems have been made more acute by a combination of reform pressures involving both domestic and European Union stimuli. The latter have been constituted by the internal demands for ‘modernisation’ and the increasing domestic consequences of the European integration process. The clash between the reform pressures and the structural impediments constitute a severe constraint on government in Greece, posing strategic dilemmas in how to tackle them. Moreover, Greek society exhibits a complex set of changes that challenge

both its traditions and notions of modernity (Demertzis 1994). As elsewhere, cynicism about the political process is part of a wider disenchantment with

established structures. The old ideological divides and the resonance of historic political conflicts – both of them felt intensely in the recent past – have abated. Leadership styles have adapted in parallel to these trends. In early 2004, the new leader of the then governing party sought confirmation of his position from a vote on the Internet. The number of Greeks educated at universities in the UK and North America is increasing, and Greek youth shows a strong embrace of European modernity in fashion and habits.1 New public infrastructure investment is transforming the Athenian landscape, with notable improvements in transport and public facilities.2 Despite earlier scepticism, Greece proved a highly successful host for the 2004 Olympic Games.3 Economically, Greece has become an importer of labour from the surrounding region – creating unprecedented pressures of adapting to a multicultural society – as well as a leading source of foreign direct investment in the rest of the Balkans. At the same time, the Greek Orthodox Church has in many ways grown in political importance. Its populist (and somewhat charismatic) Archbishop, Christodoulos, has a strong public profile, which he promotes by appearing in all manner of places. His cultural nationalism and opposition to ‘European-inspired’ modernisation strikes a chord, not least with a stratum of society that feels vulnerable and excluded. The politics of identity has become more central: with crises over Greece’s support for Serbia; whether national identity cards should bear an individual’s religious affiliation; and whether a schoolboy of Albanian descent should be allowed to front a local parade with the Greek flag. Alongside support for ‘modernisation’, old habits colour ways of doing things: clientelism, patronage and, on occasions, corruption. The culture of state administration continues to display a suffocating legalism, inefficiency and lethargy. The social contrasts are juxtaposed collectively, but often also individually. Greece is not unique in facing conflicts over the economic and social

reform process, but the character of the setting is exceptional in the intensity of the constraints. Both politically and socially, Greece faces a problem of governance that is being redefined by these changes. The problem circumscribes future political options and it raises a number of important themes. The political tensions attest to the institutional capacity of the state, the nature of leadership strategies, patterns of interest mediation, and the inclusiveness of existing structures of political participation. The capability of the Greek state to adapt to the obligations of European Union (EU) membership relates to the nature of Europeanisation processes and the capacity of the Union to manage transition across diverse domestic settings. Amidst the pattern of change and continuity, the overall picture is of

Greece moving away from the distinctive, impassioned and populist politics of the 1980s. The external image of Greece has thus shifted: from that of the ‘black sheep’ of European foreign policy and a lost cause in the European economy, to that of a more consensual partner gradually building a

‘stabilisation state’ at home (Pagoulatos 2003). Greek foreign policy has built a new rapprochement with Turkey, shown greater consensus with Western partners on the Balkans, supported the Anan Plan to settle the Cyprus problem, and attempted to build bridges between partners on Iraq. It is against this background that a particular focus on the impact of the

‘modernisation’ project is warranted. ‘Modernisation’ here refers to the package of economic, social and political reforms defined by their liberalising character, advocated by Costas Simitis whilst he was Prime Minister from 1996 to 2004. The explicit purpose of Simitis’ project was to secure Greece’s position at the core of the EU. The breadth and ambition of his project provides a framework within which to delineate patterns of change and continuity, but also to highlight the structural constraints on the realisation of such ‘modernising’ reforms. The present volume seeks to contribute to the discussion of both

these general and specific foci. In part, it is an assessment of Simitis’ record as premier: what he managed and did not manage to change. Yet it is not limited to Simitis or to the past. Rather, it is an analysis of political processes and policy-making structures that addresses issues of identity, social change, institutional settings, leadership strategies and external adaptation. By delineating patterns of change and continuity, the perspective is relevant to the new post-Simitis era. With its coverage of the modernisation project and its aftermath, the volume seeks to offer a more contemporary and focused coverage than that available in much of the rest of the literature. Moreover, the emphasis placed on policy-making is also exceptional: public policy analysis remains a relatively less developed part of the political science discipline in Greece and only recently has a relevant literature emerged (see below). Still, there is a need for more studies of agenda-setting, policy entrepreneurship, the role of expertise, and problems of implementation in the policy process. The purpose of the present paper is to provide an appropriate frame for

the rest of the volume. It seeks to do this by placing current issues of change and continuity in an historical context and to highlight analytical issues relevant to their assessment. The historical context is the contrast between the Simitis project and the inherited structures of Greek politics. The analytical issues to be addressed are those explaining change in relation to both domestic and external stimuli; more specifically, political leadership and the obligations of EU membership. The paper previews the later case studies. In doing so, it develops an

argument that relates to a problem of domestic governance in Greece: the limitations on the institutional capability of the state to deliver reform, and the blockages to reform emanating from the particular pattern of interest mediation and associated cultural attitudes.4 The problem of governance is systemic and the will to reform is to be seen in this context: agency structured by the existing setting. In some areas, the impediments to reform

appear much stronger than elsewhere: in certain sectors, Greece has displayed a character close to that of une socie´te´ bloque´, a political setting of stalemate between contending veto points. Convergence towards the nominal monetary indicators of EMU was much easier politically than, for example, structural economic reforms affecting pensions or labour markets. The case of Simitis’ modernisation project is thus highly relevant to these

issues of governance. It is a useful starting point to assess the contemporary character of Greek politics and policy-making.