Thursday

2nd Dec 2021

Opinion

George Papandreou – the phoenix of Greek politics?

  • George Papandreou is no firebrand but has a better address book of progressive left politicians and thinkers than anyone else in Europe (Photo: PES)
Listen to article

As dynasties go there are few to match the line of Papandreous, who have been at the heart of Greek politics since before the first world war.

Now the latest in this long line, George Papandreou is making one the most audacious come-back bids in recent European politics.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

  • PASOK leader Fotini "Fofi" Gennimata died of breast cancer last month (Photo: Wikimedia)

While the mainstream left parties of the historic European left like the French Socialists or Britain's Labour party are down on the floor there is a spring in the steps of other centre-left parties in Europe.

They rule, usually in coalition, in Nordic Europe, in Spain and Portugal, and have claimed the chancellorship in Germany even if forming a coalition between 'red' social democrats, 'orange' liberals and 'green' greens is proving tricky.

Key ministries in Italy are held by the left and even Switzerland's most dynamic cabinet minister ('Federal Counsellor' in Swiss-speak) is Alain Berset, a 49-year old French-speaking socialist.

Greece was the first country in the EU to see its traditional 20th century left party - PASOK – being massively rejected by voters. Political scientists talked of the 'Pasokification' of European social democracy in the 21st century. Even the once-mighty German SPD could only muster 25 per cent of votes in the federal elections in September.

But in truth PASOK was never a true European social democratic party but was a left variant of the clientel-ist and family tribal politics that have run Greece in its modern democratic era.

The grandfather of the current George Papandreou, also called George Papandreou, was a left-liberal but anti-communist political leader who wanted Greece to become a European republic both after 1918 and again after the Nazi occupation ended 25 years later.

Winston Churchill wanted the restoration of the monarchy and British troops were used to brutally put down efforts by the Greek left to form a reformist government, as happened in Britain, France, and most European countries after 1945.

The American head of US intelligence operations in Athens worked with far-right monarchists and said Papandreou should be shot. In due course, Papandreou came back to power via elections - but then was hit by the military coup that turned Greece into a dictatorship between 1967 and 1974.

Meanwhile, his son Andreas and his grandson George were in Minnesota where Andreas Papandreou taught economics. The young George was born in 1952. He was brought up and educated in America followed by the London School of Economics and a stint in Sweden where the family sought refuge during the years of the military dictatorship.

Many in the Greek political elite are sent abroad for university education and young George Papandreou's politics were formed by progressive political intellectuals like JK Galbraith in America or Sweden's social democratic leader, Olof Palme and Germany's Willy Brandt.

The formation of PASOK as a leftist, nationalist, party in the 1980s helped propel Andreas Papandreou to power. Clientlist politics works well for the pork-barrel right. Leftist clientelism usually means allowing trade unions or regional and municipal governments to control sectors of the economy to serve their own ends not a wider public good.

Disastrous moment

George Papandreou became party leader of PASOK and prime minister in 2009 at a disastrous moment in Greek history. He had been an innovative foreign minister but Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy demanded Greece swallow harsh austerity measures to protect German and French banks and firms investments in Greece after the financial crash.

George Papandreou was a moderniser with record of bringing in much-needed reforms and trying to get Greek shipping and other oligarchs or rich professionals to pay a modicum of tax.

But Merkel and Sarkozy and northern European finance minister wedded to rigid fiscal orthodoxy forced him out of office in 2011 and handed power to their European People's Party affiliate in Greece, who obeyed their orders to impose the most savage cuts imposed on a European democracy since 1945.

Greece's GDP dropped 25 per cent, pensions were halved, and half a million of the best-educated Greeks fled the country as poverty soared under the EU's cruel and unusual punishment economics.

The result was the election of a hard-left Syriza government with its loudmouth populist finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis. George Papandreou continued his work as president of the Socialist International and was close to Clinton and Obama-era economists and the social democratic reformist thinking that brought the left to power in Sweden and other Nordic states.

The death at the age of 56 of the leader of the successor social democratic party in Greece, Fofi Gennimata, has opened up the possibility of a return to top table politics for George Papandreou.

The current prime minister of Greece also hails from one of the two families – the Mitsotakis and Karamanlis clans who have dominated the Greek right, much as the Papandreous have held sway on the left.

George Papandreou is no firebrand but has a better address book of progressive left politicians and thinkers than anyone else in Europe. Like Joe Biden he has lived and breathed politics for half a century. His inquiring, courteous, solution-searching style is far from the 20th century Greek populist demagogy which Syriza adopted.

If he emerges as leader of Greece's slowly-reviving social democratic tradition his father and grandfather will look down from Greece's political equivalent of Mount Olympus and wish the last Papandreou luck.

Author bio

Denis MacShane is a former UK minister of Europe. He writes on European policy and politics.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

The overlooked past of the 'next PM of Greece'

Kyriakos Mitsotakis is the likely next prime minister of Greece. But most media abroad have ignored his wife's exposure in the Paradise Papers, his Siemens gifts, and his party's former advisor's fine for tax avoidance.

Papandreou pulls back from referendum

Greek PM George Papandreou is readying himself to step down, according to reports, and is likely to be replaced by a former vice-president of the ECB. A referendum on the new bail-out deal for Greece appears to have been shelved.

The worst of Greece's crisis is over, Papandreou says

Greek prime minister George Papandreou said Tuesday the worst of the economic crisis is over for his cash-strapped country and the euro area, and that the EU reaction to the challenges proved apocalyptic prophecies wrong.

My 6-point plan for Belarus, by former Lithuanian PM

The suggestions below were put on paper after the inspiring and intensive consultations held in Strasbourg last week with the exiled Belarus opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, her team and MEP friends of democratic Belarus in the European Parliament.

Column

The EU's 'global gateway' - an answer to China, or a dead-end?

Will the Global Gateway become yet another dead-end? If the Green New Deal, projects to secure supplies of important minerals, the Open Strategic Economy and now this are put together, then the pieces of the puzzle could fall into place.

News in Brief

  1. EU commission unveils proposal to digitalise justice systems
  2. German ICUs expected to peak at Christmas
  3. Report: First Omicron case found in the US
  4. US urges Russia to pull back troops from Ukrainian border
  5. Ukraine president calls for direct talks with Russia 'to end war'
  6. Renewable energy saw 'record year of growth'
  7. Dutch coalition talks aim for Christmas breakthrough
  8. Poland curtails media access to Belarus border

This 'Black Friday' is a turning point in corporate accountability

Much supply-chain abuse remains hidden from plain sight – not only to consumers but to the companies themselves, who have built increasingly longer, more complicated, and more opaque supply chains, which have become harder to monitor, control and account for.

The South China Sea should be of concern to Europe

If China is allowed unimpeded to break the law of the sea in the South China Sea, think about the repercussions elsewhere. It could ricochet into Europe's High North. In the Arctic, Nordic nations have overlapping claims with Russia.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew report reveals bad environmental habits
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersImproving the integration of young refugees
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNATO Secretary General guest at the Session of the Nordic Council
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCan you love whoever you want in care homes?
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNineteen demands by Nordic young people to save biodiversity
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersSustainable public procurement is an effective way to achieve global goals

Latest News

  1. EU mulls mandatory vaccination, while urging booster for all
  2. EU unveils €300bn reply China's infrastructure programme
  3. Current global financial system is a 'dance with death'
  4. EU skirts pushbacks, suggests people seek asylum in Belarus
  5. EU warned against making 'Future EU' conference a one-off
  6. My 6-point plan for Belarus, by former Lithuanian PM
  7. No obligation to defend Ukraine from Russia, Nato chief says
  8. EU agency: 'Omicron vaccine' approval to take 3-4 months

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us