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  • Prime Ministers in Greece: The Paradox of Power by Kevin Featherstone and Dimitris Papadimitriou
  • Van Coufoudakis (bio)
Kevin Featherstone and Dimitris Papadimitriou: Prime Ministers in Greece: The Paradox of Power. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2015. 304 pages. ISBN 978-0-19-871717-1. $95.00.

Readers interested in modern Greece are familiar with the work of Kevin Featherstone, E. Venizelos Professor of Contemporary Greek Studies at the London School of Economics' European Institute, and Dimitris Papadimitriou, professor of politics at the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom. Their latest book, Prime Ministers in Greece: The Paradox of Power, is a timely analysis of the problems and challenges that confronted Greek prime ministers of the metapolitefsi (post-Junta Greece) as they attempted to establish operational control and coordination of government machinery to achieve their policy objectives. The volume centers on the five prime ministers who served between 1974 and 2009, before the onset of the financial crisis and the supervision and management of Greek public policy and finance by the so-called troika: the European Commission, the International Monetary Fund, and the European Central Bank.

Chapters 2 through 7 are case studies involving the premierships of Constantinos Karamanlis (1974–80), Andreas Papandreou (1981–89, 1993–96), Constantinos Mitsotakis (1990–93), Costas Simitis (1996–2004), and Costas Karamanlis (2004–9). Chapters 1 and 2 provide the book's theoretical framework, while chapters 8 and 9 are devoted to conclusions, international comparisons, and implications for reform.

This book was of special interest to me, having served during part of Andonis Samaras's prime ministership as president of an independent Greek government agency from August 2012 until October 2014. It confirmed my experiences in the very sensitive and troubled field of higher education and the labyrinth of Greek bureaucracy. The volume is a primer on the pathology of Greek public administration, focusing on operations at the top of the government. A similar study of the pathology of Greek bureaucracy, of the [End Page 130] dysfunctional political parties and parliament, would confirm how widespread and deep the problems identified by Featherstone and Papadimitriou are.

The conclusion, encapsulated in the title of chapter 8, "Plus ca change, plus c'est la même chose," summarizes the sad reality of failed attempts to reform Greek public administration, starting with the core executive. Unfortunately, these problems have continued since 2009, despite the troika's demands for change. The mismanagement of government policy under SYRIZA shows the accentuation of the problems identified by the authors.

The introductory chapter identifies endemic problems that overlie the operations of Greece's administrative machinery; the twin challenge of trust between leader and staff and the problems of clientelism. These factors are manifested in the weak control and coordination from the center, affecting the quality of governance. The book also examines why critical moments did not become key junctures of change. The authors identify factors such as the absence of a sense of community across, and even within, cabinet agencies; the absence of an esprit de corps; the high turnover at the top; centralism; hierarchy; and legalism. Further, clientelism mitigates against the nurturing of technocratic strata of management with expertise and merit built over successive governments.

The exceptional powers granted to a Greek prime minister, compared to his other European counterparts, and the severe systemic constraints on the exercise of these powers is a paradox. An important result is the enduring problem of weak control and coordination at the top of the government machinery. This discrepancy is at the heart of the issue of reform capacity. Despite successive constitutional provisions and amendments in 1975, 1986, 2001, and 2008 defining the powers of the prime minister, the segmented nature of the Greek core executive has resulted in the lack of coordination and monitoring in public policy planning. The contrast between the constitutional myth of a powerful prime minister and the practical reality of intergovernmental constraints in the actual exercise of these powers is the greatest among European cabinet systems. The problem is complicated by the lack of a tradition of interdepartmental committees and the personal and temporary character of administrative networks. Other problems affecting the quality of administration of the core...


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pp. 130-133
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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Archived 2019
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