Where did it all go wrong for Papandreou?

George Papandreou Panadreou's international background went from being an asset to a liability

ATHENS - As the hours tick by before Friday night's confidence vote in the Greek government, there is a growing consensus that the country's prime minister will have to step down.

George Papandreou, 59, once embodied the hopes of the country's elite, combining a Western education with membership of a political dynasty that has ruled this country for three generations.

Now the opposition will not enter a caretaker government if Mr Papandreou stays. Furthermore his own Socialist party contains enough dissenters that he can probably only marshal complete support from its members if he can convince them that he is on the way out.

So it appears that either he will fall tonight, or he will survive for a short time while a coalition is formed that can approve the European Union bail out.

Many Greeks lampoon Mr Papandreou as either incompetent or corrupt. He is painted by critics as a man who fell sadly short of the qualities required to follow in his grandfather and father's footsteps as a successful prime minister.

Popular rumour has it that he was forced into the job by his ambitious (American) mother, who wanted to see one of her sons continue the family political tradition.

As for outsiders, Mr Papandreou's fate should be a warning to us about highly educated politicians who speak perfect English and therefore appear to be people the international community "can do business with".

During his family's long exile, Mr Papandreou went to school in Canada and University at Amherst College in the United States, as a result of which many suggest he can express himself more eloquently in English than Greek.

For a time his otherness, something that supposedly included his absorption of the protestant work ethic during his long odyssey abroad, appealed to some Greeks, people who wanted the country dragged out of its somnolent Mediterranean ways.

Now though, it is backfired against him, and the accusation is muttered, "he's not a real Greek".

Why did it all go so wrong? Miranda Xafa, a former IMF economist, argues, "he chose the wrong people, they made very little difference".

Perhaps he got caught between the devil - in the form of ministerial appointments from a party base that owed his family loyalty - and the deep blue sea in apparently being too ready to agree to such hard, internationally mandated austerity measures.

Whatever the building causes of his failure, the immediate trigger was his decision a few days ago to call a referendum on the EU's bail out package, agreed last week in Brussels. It produced such an angry reaction from France and Germany, threatening Greece's future participation in the euro, that the political class here was traumatised and Mr Papandreou's credibility as the best man to talk to the international community evaporated.

With this loss of credibility, the prime minister's ability to maintain his slender majority faltered. The opposition meanwhile has refused to offer any lifeline that involves Mr Papandreou remaining in power.

In an attempt to bolster his national political credentials, Mr Papandreou attempted his ill-fated quest to gain support for painful austerity measures through a national vote.

Europe's big players and the EU institutions took their revenge. The lessons, in terms of the power that they - principally Germany - now wield should be clear, and this country will have to find someone better able to sell bitter foreign medicine to its electorate.

Mark Urban, Diplomatic and defence editor, Newsnight Article written by Mark Urban Mark Urban Diplomatic and defence editor, BBC Newsnight

What else happened in Middle East as Gaza burned?

The Middle East is going through such turmoil that much has been happened during the month that Gaza has dominated the headlines. Here are five of the key events.

Read full article


Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    It takes two to tango. Greece was given money it didn't need, albeit loan-sharks thought otherwise, hoping for better returns than elsewhere! The rest is history!

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    Hi Mark,

    I wonder if the UK royal family are anymore British, than Papendraos is Greek? Or Winston? We have educated our sons and daughters all over the globe in recent times, and wedded into different continents. This has shown better results than nationalism, at least in my books. Hurrah for France and Germany, and the United States.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    Since when is "democracy" a dirty word? Since it is not good for the top 1%. Same goes for "socialism". If you haven't figured this out you're a bit slow and that consists of about 98% of the global population.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    Papandreou tells the truth, but the PM's do not want to listen. If he does not get the much deserved vote of confidence, it will be a huge loss for Greece and another win for the tax evaders and crooked politicians. Samaras has created problems that will only add to the complex issues already facing Greece. I hope Papandreou stays, otherwise Greece will suffer a lot more in the longer term.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    this article says nothing about the history of the decisions that he made that brought Greece to it's current situation - it speaks only of his 2 recent well known decisions - and then speaks of his character - misleading title for this article if one really wants to know about "Where did it all go wrong for "Papandreou".


Comments 5 of 14


This entry is now closed for comments


BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.