In yet another first for the Athens Fellowship, the Athens Fellows entered the new headquarters building of Greece’s main opposition party, PASOK, for a meeting with its press spokesman, George Papaconstantinou.
Young, handsome and articulate, Mr. Papaconstantinou has been compared to “Sam Seaborn” the character of the White House Communications Director played by Rob Lowe on the American television show West Wing. A PhD in the economics of technology from the London School of Economics, and a recently-elected Member of the European Parliament, Mr. Papaconstantinou introduced himself by describing his duties as press spokesman for PASOK (beginning with “feeding the beast” that is the news media) and his role as the “voice of the party” which has made him a daily presence in the Greek press (which has its liabilities — he was recently attacked by left-wing students on a nearby street in Athens).
Mr. Papaconstantinou went on to outline the issues which define the differences between the two major parties — an emphasis on public vs. private investment, the need for health reform, the failing education system (demonstrated, in his words, by the fact “the entire political class has their children in private schools”) — as well as those issues which they are relatively close in their positions: foreign policy towards Turkey and Greece’s neighbors in Southeastern Europe, dissatisfaction with the endemic corruption that has plagued the Greek bureaucracy as well as ensnared elected politicians from both major parties, and one thing that Greeks on both sides of the spectrum seem to agree on: “We love Obama!”
Noting that neither PASOK nor the current governing party, New Democracy, are “monolithic” parties, but made up of their own competing elements, Mr. Papaconstantinou pointed out that the overall two-party dynamic “adds stability to the system” as both parties end up competing for voters in the center of the spectrum.
Discussing the national elections which are slated to be held in Greece no later than next March (but may come earlier), Mr. Papaconstantinou quoted polls which show that if the elections were held today, ND would lose its razor-thin one-vote majority in Parliament, and PASOK would return to power. What will make the difference in those elections? “What matters is who can capture the middle ground.”
With a lot crammed into their hour and a half with this candid and engaging press spokesman, the Fellows had a lot to think about as they shook hands and stood for a group picture with Mr. Papaconstantinou. Getting a business card from their host on their way out, many of the Fellows confessed that, at a minimum, if a vote were taken at that moment for best sandwiches provided and coolest temperature in the conference room, PASOK would win hands down!
Making yet another swift shift in subject and scene, the Fellows re-boarded their waiting bus to make a quick visit to…
Filed Under: Day by day with the Fellowship IN ATHENS