It seems that whenever I turn on Greek TV these days, Deputy Minister of National Defence Panos Beglitis is there, waiting to enlighten me with his views on a vast range of subjects. Morning, afternoon or evening, I see him holding forth on the Stage programme, the national deficit, and the electoral system of Greece. In fact, I see him commenting on all subjects except the ministry for which he hold a portfolio: Defence.
Prime Minister George Papandreou, in his first, televised Cabinet Meeting, warned his Ministers to keep a low profile and work hard in the interests of the Greek people. How does the behaviour of a vast number of Greek officials since then measure up to this?
Instead of being “hard at work” in their respective ministries, they seem to spend a good deal of their day going from studio to studio. And don’t think they have anything specific to announce: rather than outlining any specific plans for resolving a vast range of problems Greece confronts, they bicker, kafeneio style, about who’s fault it is.
For instance, a major issue confronting the government is that of the Stage “crisis”. Under the EU-conceived Stage programme, young people were offered the chance to work on a temporary basis in government, semi-governmental and private sector organisations. This was conceived as temporary work, for a period of 12-18 months, at reduced salaries, in exchange for job experience.
Greece being Greece, this programme has apparently metastasized into a huge patronage programme for political supporters of the previous government. These tragic, though rather hapless individuals, have been screaming on television for the past 2 weeks about how they have been doing “real work” for a very long time (some have been working for over 40 months in their “temporary” positions), and are now threatened with the termination of their contracts, with no opportunity for favourable terms of recruitment as permanent public civil servants.
What is equally surprising is that no one in the Greek government can give a precise figure for how many people are actually employed, and under what terms. The Minister of Labour has held repeated consultations with OAED and other authorities to try to sort things out. For his trouble, he is under fire not only from the Stagiares, but even from the main trade unions, who refuse to countenance public sector recruitment under favourable terms for anyone except, of course, their own members.
Yet despite the absence of core data, politicians, reports and other commentators of every stripe have an opinion to offer, each one more strident than the last. But the public doesn’t need more confusing hot air: it wants solutions. PASOK was elected on the strength of its promises: now it’s time to implement them, in the face of a high public debt and a continually-declining economy. Political point-scoring on talk shows is not a recipe for this.
Mr. Beglitis, with all due respect, the next time I see you on TV, I hope you will be speaking authoritatively about Greece defence priorities and strategies, and not a subject outside your remit. I realise you are a Member of Parliament, and of course fully entitled to your opinion. But under your watch (and that of Minister Venizelos), Greece has to deal with strategic issues such as:
• Achieving air parity, or at least deterrence capability, in the face of overwhelming superiority from Turkey. This involves strategic decisions on future purchases of the F-16; resolving the issue of Greece’s possible commitment to purchase the Rafale; and decisions on the next-generation fighter, particularly given that Turkey is a consortium member of the F-35.
• Resolving the issue of the four submarines currently on order from the Skaramangas shipyard, and the eventual fate of the first of this series, which has serious problems. This issue needs to be solved among the wider issue of the competitiveness of the Greek shipbuilding sector, and Greece’s political relationship with Germany.
• Strengthening the ability of the Hellenic military and political forces to deal with a military crisis. The recent anniversary of the Imia crisis, and the publication of a major book on this subject, reveals a wide gulf between PASOK’s civilian elected leadership, its military generals and its forces on the ground. Has anything been learned from this?
• Resolving the general modernisation and professionalisation of the Greek army, including the future role of the conscript force in an age of electronic warfare and the integration of C3I into battlefield operations. What are the Ministry’s plans for real-time satellite or drone intelligence on the battlefield? Do we still have the capacity to hold Greek islands in a conflict given Turkish air superiority?
• Optimising the force structure of the Hellenic Armed Forces, including long-term strategic roles and offensive/defensive capabilities. A key issue here will be sustaining military investments in an age of growing deficits and total public debt. A further key issue is providing adequate salaries and living allowances for military officers and professional soldiers.
I look forward to hearing your—and PASOK’s—policies and ideas for these subjects. I’d prefer to hear comments about the Stage programme or the national debt from the relevant Minister. The election ended on October 4th: please use this window of opportunity to work on the crucial issues confronting Greece.