Greece’s technocrats must win legitimacy if they are to succeed

By Peter Apps, Reuters

LONDON — In Italy, Eastern Europe and elsewhere, technocratic governments like the one expected to take the reins in Greece have a relatively good record of pushing through reforms seen as tough but necessary. But, experts say, former bureaucrats and policy specialists-turned-rulers have the greatest chance of success when there is national consensus, however reluctant, on what needs to be done. There is relatively little sign of this in Greece at present.

Greek politicians look set to choose former European Central Bank (ECB) deputy head Lucas Papademos to replace Prime Minister George Papandreou at the head of a unity government. He would inherit the thankless task of pushing through the harsh measures required as conditions of Greece’s latest bailout, further cutting spending, privatizing and firing public sector workers. Any new prime minister will still have to work within a deeply dysfunctional political system only months from elections, amid growing popular unrest and anger. “This is only a short-term fix for Greece,” wrote Ian Bremmer, president of political risk consultancy Eurasia Group. “The new unity government has a temporary mandate, with early elections coming in February or March. The longer-term capacity of an eventual coalition government to adhere to fiscal austerity mandated by the European institutions and core European states is low indeed. “And, as always, the Greek notion of timeline remains very different from that of the core European states.” With Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi also on the ropes, some suspect Italy too might be heading for the kind of technocratic rule it saw in the 1990s and early 2000s under Lamberto Dini, Massimo D’Alema and others. Those governments are remembered as among Italy’s more effective, able to push through reforms. In Central and Eastern Europe, technocratic governments often run by former bureaucrats have helped countries recover after periods of crisis. Popular Mandate Perhaps unexpectedly, some of these administrations have won much more public support than more populist, electorally focused governments reluctant to take tough steps. The technocratic unity government that ran the Czech Republic from 2009-10 was one of the most popular in its brief history, analysts say. Papademos’ challenge will be to turn the Greek political mood to view further austerity as necessary rather than unfair whilst keeping the two major parties — each of which will provide a deputy prime minister — from indulging in damaging short-term political games. The new leadership will be taking power amid ever worsening street unrest and growing anger at the demands of the “Troika” of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), EU and ECB.