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  • Prime Ministers in Greece: The Paradox of Power by Kevin Featherstone and Dimitris Papadimitriou
  • Neovi M. Karakatsanis (bio)
Kevin Featherstone and Dimitris Papadimitriou, Prime Ministers in Greece: The Paradox of Power. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2015. Pp. vii + 270. 21 tables. Cloth $95.

In their coauthored book Prime Ministers in Greece: The Paradox of Power, Kevin Featherstone and Dimitri Papadimitriou explore a challenge faced by executives everywhere: "how to establish a system of operational control and coordination of the (government) administrative machine in order to better achieve the objectives set" (1). By analyzing the main Greek premierships from 1974 to 2009, the authors expose a Greek "paradox": the Greek constitution affords the country's prime ministers exceptional powers and few restraints, yet other forces—including operational structures, processes, and available resources—undermine that power and the ability of each prime minister to manage government. Effective leadership is constrained. The Greek Prime Minister "is an 'emperor without clothes'" (28).

Looking at both structural- and individual-level explanations to account for this paradox, the authors focus on the impact of individual leaders. They use various constructs from leadership literature to explore how individual personalities, leadership styles, and political standing contribute to the control and coordination of government. They also conclude that institutional setting matters, in that it structures elite interests, working relations, and norms. Crafting an argument that draws from both structure and agency, Featherstone and Papadimitriou maintain, on the one hand, that institutional settings (characterized in Greece by a lack of trust and weakly established procedures) privilege certain "rule-based behavior" and "cultural repertoires" (4), but, on the other hand, that actors also "structure" and "are 'structured'" by the setting in which they operate (5). At the end of the day, it is this intermingling and interaction of structure and agency that has led to the paradox of power in Greece. Thus, despite attempts by some prime ministers to bring about increased coordination, a consistent pattern of low coordination and centralization persists. [End Page 580]

Featherstone and Papadimitriou maintain that this phenomenon is based on two constraints that undermine prime ministerial power: first, individual ministers are highly autonomous, and second, prime ministers have few resources at their disposal. Prime ministers of Greece have very small offices—staff and advisors—relative to other comparable states, and the state's "core executive"—the executive branch—is segmented, contributing to a lack of coordination, monitoring, and planning (3). As a result, networks around the prime minister tend to be personalistic and temporary rather than routinized and formal. As Featherstone and Papadimitriou put it, "The 'core executive' in Greece is one of 'segmented government' … with a 'solitary centre'" (36).

Since this is the first in-depth study of Greek prime ministers and their governments in Greece, the authors devote five of nine chapters (chapters 3–7) to a series of case studies of the major premierships since the fall of the Colonels' regime in 1974: Constantinos Karamanlis, Andreas Papandreou, Constantinos Mitsotakis, Costas Simitis, and Costas Karamanlis. Following a common structure in each of these chapters, the authors carefully examine the approaches, performances, and outcomes of each premiership. By focusing on each prime minister's leadership style and approach to management, as well as a number of other variables, the authors are able to construct a relatively complex account of each leader's ability (or inability) to bring about change.

The chapters on Constantinos Karamanlis and Andreas Papandreou—two prime ministers about whom much has been written in scholarly and popular literature—are interesting but offer few fresh insights. The conclusions that Karamanlis created a solitary center according to his own messianic self-image (and other calculations) and that this legacy has had a long-lasting impact upon the Greek core executive are hardly surprising. Equally unsurprising is the authors' conclusion that the control and coordination of government worsened under the premiership of Papandreou, who "saw politics as a struggle with a systematic agenda" and "the exercise of power … [as] a very personal affair" (115), and who faced many political and personal challenges during his tenure as premier, including the deterioration of his health.

By comparison, the remaining case studies offer greater substantive and...


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