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What Greece needs: Longer hours, less public spending

By Marco Vicenzino
November 8, 2011 -- Updated 0302 GMT (1102 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Marco Vicenzino: Time for Greek officials to grow up
  • Germany must be ready to "tighten the screws"
  • The relationship between Greek citizen and state must change

Editor's note: Marco Vicenzino is an international affairs commentator and conference speaker. He is a regular guest on CNN.

(CNN) -- Despite agreeing to a coalition government, Greece's current political establishment remains unprepared to lead it into the 21st century.

A generational change alone will not suffice. A political culture in which public officials' short-term personal gain undermines the long-term collective national interest must be reversed. Failure to do so will only contribute to increased cynicism and disillusionment and continue driving most of Greece's best talent abroad.

It risks relegating Greece to a museum for foreign tourists.

It is time for Greek officials to grow up. It is long overdue. Rhetoric for a national unity government is inadequate. A government of national salvation is needed. Any further political gambling must not go unrewarded. In particular, Germany must tighten the screws when necessary to pre-empt erratic behavior, which can only accelerate Greece's bankruptcy and route to the euro exit door.

After all, it is difficult for any European leader or international financial institution to invest further resources into Greece. The German chancellor and French president broke protocol and for the first time publicly raised the prospect of Greece's leaving the euro zone.

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Unfortunately, the crisis' full impact is yet to be felt, particularly its social consequences. Providing as soft a landing as possible is crucial. A pragmatic course must be taken that avoids populist appeal and emphasizes greater technocratic expertise.

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Even achieving the most basic consensus on the lowest common denominator would mark progress for now. Public expectations for immediate actions and results must be restrained. Policy must be explained through clear and realistic rhetoric. Necessity determines firm action. The alternative is continuous foot-dragging and years of muddling through perilous uncertainty.

What is least needed at present is rash brinksmanship in the midst of deep global uncertainty. Shaking the euro zone's foundations as the world economy teeters on the brink of collapse amounts to reckless disregard for the European Union and international stability.

They must not be held hostage to internecine Greek squabbles nor irresponsibility in other European member states, particularly in the Mediterranean basin. Spain's upcoming elections must produce an effective government willing to tackle difficulties head-on, especially Europe's highest unemployment at more than 20%.

In Italy, Prime Minister Berlusconi's time is up. A technocratic replacement is desperately needed. Whereas some form of Greek default is not unexpected, Europe will likely implode should Italy collapse and potentially reel the global economy into the unpredictable depths of a vicious downward cycle.

Despite barely surviving a crucial confidence vote in Parliament, George Papandreou's eventual departure as prime minister was inevitable. After rattling global markets by spontaneously announcing -- and then suddenly scrapping -- a risky referendum on Greece's future in Europe, Papandreou's sense of timing could not have been worse. It further contributed to Greece's spiraling loss of credibility and irreversibly damaged his own legitimacy.

Read about Greece's move to announce Papandreou's successor

It was largely the result of dithering, posturing, ineptitude and a lack of vision across the political spectrum. Any referendum -- if ever viable -- should have been called months ago.

Papandreou's referendum fiasco underscored his failure to effectively deal with the crisis. European allies have struggled to provide a lifeline to keep Greece afloat through crucial economic and political capital. Papandreou's erratic behavior considerably squandered it and left European leaders exposed. This was further underlined by his failure to consult them or his own cabinet members about the referendum.

Fortunately, it was abandoned due to their combined pressure. At least for now, Greece remains on a European track.

Papandreou may justify his actions as the only way to save Greece, but it was also a careless act of political desperation designed to preserve his own survival and whatever remains of the dynastic Papandreou brand name. Unlike his father -- former Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou -- who cut his teeth in the trenches of Greek politics, George Papandreou arguably remains an American who thinks like a Swede and speaks Greek.

Ultimately, he inherited the family political fiefdom which includes the staff and servants, many of which still serve in the current Greek parliament.

However, Papandreou is not solely responsible. Blame must be apportioned. The legacy of economic mismanagement he inherited from his father and successors haunts any new government. In Greece, the problem is not partisan but systemic. It is undermined by a culture of acute patronage and accompanying ills.

Even replacing Papandreou will not change Greece's colossal problems overnight. At best, a new face could only buy limited time and provide some semblance of a new beginning.

No European grand plans, schemes or financial packages alone will yield dividends. Neither will a systemic overhaul solely suffice. Unless there is fundamental transformation in the public psyche over time, little will change.

The underlying relationship between citizen and state must be reassessed. Longer hours, less public spending, reduced privileges are among a few of the requirements which need revisiting. Ultimately, the realities of a new age of austerity must sink in.

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