Cabinet reshuffling: a favourite Greek pastime

by Antonis D. Papagiannidis

Greek politics is an interesting, bustling, at times magical menagerie populated by various species engaged in intense survival=of-the-fittest rivalry. This in no way constitutes some sort of Greek particularity, much less an oddity: such is the normal course of political confrontation in a parliamentary democratic system, albeit one tinged with shades of excessive prime-ministerial power in the case of latter-day Greece.

This translates in systematic reset of the game on part of the central players – be they Prime Ministers of heads of major parties – through reshuffles of the Cabinet (and of the shadow Cabinet whenever the Opposition feels close enough to power). The dimension of Greek particularity kicks in just right here: the major aim is not to provide for better administration of current affairs (for nowadays Greece: arranging for the vaccination to proceed in an orderly manner; facing the challenge of third-wave-Covid in the economy; setting up an efficient mechanism so as to make efficient use of the much-awaited finance from the Recovery and Resilience Fund as 2021 proceeds). Nor for a less hesitant approach to the quintessential worry of Greek foreign policy: finding a way to manage Turkish rambunctiousness and revisionism in face of a less than-concerned European/international audience.

The main objective of any Cabinet reshuffle in Greece is to affirm the authority of the Prime Minister over his flock. In the case of the Government in place, the fact that three factions run the business side by side makes for increased need of such discipline as the one provided by an “iron hand in a velvet glove” approach to Cabinet reshuffling. Such moves are of the Prime Minister’s remit, but his own faction within the ruling party has to be balanced with traditionalists of party founder Karamanlis (who have a sense of ownership over the party proper) and with firebrand, former Prime Minister Samaras’ own faction, with his hardline positions over Greek=Turkish relations.

So, while suspense now reigns supreme over the Prime Minister’s choices and deliberate omissions, the normal course of Government business is coming to a halt. The only solace to those who think the country has to be governed efficiently is that the lock-down tightening decided to pre-empt a flare-up of the Covid-19 pandemic gives the impression of a strong hand on the till – while the Opposition remains in disarray, in ever more splintered condition.