Viewpoint: Greece's new route to suicide

Policeman fires tear gas at Athens protester, 19 Oct 11
Image caption Tear gas: Greece has been plagued by protests and crippling strikes as cuts take their toll

The order brought to the European chaos last week did not last long. Greek chaos replaced it, triggered by the incomprehensible decision by Prime Minister George Papandreou to call a referendum.

Instead of landing on Greek soil and starting to implement the harsh - in terms of its social consequences - Brussels agreement, Mr Papandreou is trying to recreate - in politics this time - the glorious "Exodus of Missolonghi" which left its indelible mark on the Greek War of Independence in 1821.

The announcement transfers directly to the citizens of Greece the political responsibility for dilemmas like, "drachma or euro", "eurozone or marginalisation", "poverty or hunger".

'Political immaturity'

It is, in other words, an attempt by Mr Papandreou to evade any negative repercussions from his own Socialist party (Pasok) and minimise painful criticism of government members at the hands of the opposition, while also securing a vote of confidence by reassuring Pasok MPs that the responsibility is no longer theirs.

The responsibility now lies with the streets, offices, businesses - with society at large.

The possible result? Short-circuiting of the government, endless political debates in the media, complete institutional paralysis and a huge upheaval in the rest of Europe which over the next few hours will, logically, pose the question: is the Brussels agreement still valid?

Will the voluntary procedure for the Greek haircut go ahead? Will we have to wait until the end of January after all?

Comments being heard include allegations of political immaturity, back-bending under the weight of the moment, and a strategic choice to stop governing.

The referendum will be a global oddity, not only because so far there is no question or questions, but there is also no outline or reference to its content.

It may even be invalid if fewer than the required 40% of voters take part.

Even if it were to climb over the 40% threshold, the result may be ignored. After all, anything approved with less than a 55% majority is not mandatory - just advisory.

And it highlights directly the likelihood of increased abstention, since voters do not know why they should vote.

The leader of the opposition New Democracy party, Antonis Samaras, met Greek President Karolos Papoulias, and stated that he would do everything institutionally possible to stop this "blackmail" and lead the country to elections - this being the only solution offering a legitimate outcome.

Mr Papandreou could revoke his referendum decision. He will most probably not do so though, as that would ensure he was as good as buried as a political leader.

Molotov cocktail

Besides, he believes that he may be able to secure a vote of confidence to guard his back with a referendum and, in so doing, to accelerate developments.

A referendum could have defused the tense atmosphere last May - it could have been used for the then pending agreement of 2 July.

Now, it is a Molotov cocktail which will explode in the government's hands before it has even been thrown.

Image caption Mr Papandreou's referendum call threatens to backfire on him politically

It seems curious now that the chairman of the Hellenic Federation of Enterprises (SEV), Dimitrios Daskalopoulos, received positive comments from Mr Papandreou during his speech at the Federation's General Meeting in May when he suggested a referendum. Today, the chairman of SEV made no comment.

If there ever was an opportune political timing for a referendum, that time has passed irreversibly.

The mistakes of this government, its amateurism and obtuseness, have legitimised the rhetoric of the Left, creating a climate of deep unrest similar only to the events of 1965 in Greek political history.

We may be nearing the end of the period defined by the Greek word "metapolitefsi" [transition]. The fall of the government appears to be a matter of a few days or even hours.

Milena Apostolaki, ex-minister and Pasok MP, has already announced her exit from the party to become an independent MP, thus reducing the government majority to 152 seats.

The conviction is now taking shape that elections are the only solution to guarantee the country's European perspective - and the implementation of the agreements signed.

The prime minister's high-risk political move is tearing down his cabinet. Referendum is a new way to suicide.

The European Movementis a pan-European research and lobby group advocating a united, integrated Europe.

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