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10° Nicosia,
21 November, 2019
 
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Singing from the same hymn sheet

There are two main types of ministers and officials in the recently elected Greek government

Alexis Papachelas

Alexis Papachelas

There are two main types of ministers and officials in the recently elected Greek government. On one hand, there are those who were picked by voters or have long served the conservative party and, on the other, those who were not elected but instead recruited by the prime minister because he believed that they were best suited for the job. I feel that the success of the New Democracy administration will largely depend on Premier Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ ability to strike a balance between the two camps.

It won’t be an easy task. When a technocrat gives an order to an elected official he is likely to be met with skepticism or resistance emanating from the fact that the latter was elected to office after garnering the support of thousands of voters. It is not a new phenomenon. It will take a great deal of emotional intelligence, particularly on the technocrats’ side, to avoid arguments and tension. For better or worse, the country’s progress does not depend solely on the politicians or the technocrats. Were it not for the technocrats, politicians would be busy with political favors and election campaigning. Similarly, the technocrats would achieve very little were it not for the politicians who have the power to sell ideas and break the deadlocks at the heart of the country’s public administration.

The prime minister needs to move deftly when tension arises. He must not simply adopt the views of his unelected ministers and officials, but carve out middle-of-the-road solutions. Some of the technocrats have developed surprising political instincts, such as the new digital policy chief who invited each and every one of New Democracy’s deputies to inform them that his door is always open if they wish to be briefed on an issue or make suggestions. Others can be accused of arrogance, which can be expected to some degree at this early stage, or of Swiss-style sang froid that does not always play well in this corner of the world. However, they too need to understand that no reform will succeed on the ground unless the responsible minister throws his weight behind it. Radical reforms without political ownership will have the same fate as the bailout agreements that were voted by MPs in Parliament only because of pressure from creditors and went on to be completely ignored.

It is very positive that after many years we have a government that comprises officials from the private sector, technocrats and unelected officials. Public surveys indicate that this is welcomed by voters who are fed up of Greece’s political class. But they expect to see concrete results, and these will only come if technocrats and politicians learn to sing from the same hymn sheet. Success is really up on the conductor.

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