Prime Minister Yiorgos Papandreou's opening speech to his cabinet on October 7 was like the opening of a window in a stuffy hospital ward. He told his ministers to collaborate, following up on a pre-election promise to avoid feudal departments. He told them to pre-emptively account for their actions to parliament, the media, independent authorities and the justice system, following up on a promise of accountability. He told them that one of the first new rules being prepared by the interior minister will mandate the publication of their acts online, following up on a promise of transparency. And he told them to dismiss every committee convened under the auspices of their ministry and hire administrators on the basis of ability, to make good on a promise of meritocracy.
Of course only actions will determine whether the Papandreou government will come through on its promises, but the reminder of them in the first hour of business is encouraging.
Competence and functionality are also top Papandreou priorities – a refreshing change from the past administration if achieved. The prime minister invited the ombudsman, Yiorgos Kaminis, to address the cabinet on the nature of the complaints he receives about every level of administration. He also announced the creation of an 'innovation office' in each ministry to promote e-government, retrain staff, generate ideas and help ministers plan new strategies and policies. Both of these moves are unprecedented.
Four days later, roughly half the cabinet declared from Olympia that the prefecture of Ileia, devastated in the forest fires of 2007, will be a test case for the Papandreou administration's model of green development in bureaucracy-free payment of compensation, remodelling agriculture around quality, high-value goods, re-establishing forests, selling Greek culture and ensuring security.
All this points in the right direction. The Papandreou cabinet is at least trying, from the outset, to stake its future on its promises. However, Pasok is, at the same time, emitting a less encouraging public visage. In an interview to Ethnos newspaper on election Sunday (October 4), Papandreou reminded voters of some of his more populist promises – the partial re-nationalisation of the Hellenic Telecommunications Organisation (OTE) and Olympic Airways, and the repealing of New Democracy's education and social security laws. The first would put in doubt Papandreou's commitment to smaller government and a more competitive private sector. The second would risk refocusing his energies on demolishing the past rather than building on it.
It was a reminder that while this Pasok administration may distinguish itself from previous ones, there may be a substantial enough residue of old socialism left in the party's bowels to produce a conflicting agenda in fact. That is somewhat understandable in every culture (Britain's Conservatives, for instance, are only now weaning themselves off the anti-European mantras of Margaret Thatcher), but in the strongly leftist culture that is Greece the need now is for a stridently reformist agenda. Old socialist populism may undermine that, and re-create the deadly compromises of New Democracy.