- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 12, 2002

ATHENS The Socialist government of Prime Minister Costas Simitis is losing ground to the conservative opposition, despite its recent success in rounding up members of the notorious November 17 terrorist group.
At the core is the surge in prices after the introduction of the euro, the joint currency of 12 European Union members, known as "Euroland."
By the end of the summer, Greece, one of the most popular tourist destinations in the eastern Mediterranean, discovered that it had joined Europe's most expensive countries.
Prices have shot up across the board, with bread up 3.1 percent, doctors' visits 4.8 percent, and prices in bars and cafes 20 percent to 50 percent.
According to the latest opinion polls, if parliamentary elections were held now, the opposition New Democracy Party of Costas Karamanlis would beat the governing Socialist Pan Hellenic Movement by 7.2 percent.
Moreover, most of those polled believe that Mr. Karamanlis, scion of one of Greece's best-known political families, is better qualified to govern than Mr. Simitis.
Antonis Karakousis, a political analyst, believes that the long overdue crackdown on November 17 terrorists "has helped Simitis but not enough."
While some officials charge that pollsters were biased (and possibly even bribed), Theodoros Roussopopoulos, New Democracy's spokesman, said, "The government is alarmed because the findings of this poll, as well as all others in the past two years, are against it."
Government sources said Mr. Simitis was concerned for two reasons: Greece will hold municipal and regional elections in mid-October and that Jan. 1 it takes over the rotating presidency of the European Union.
The elections may set the stage for a further decline for the socialists, while the European Union's presidency puts on Greece the burden of steering the European club at a time of growing strain in its relations with the United States. That burden will mainly rely on the expertise and tact of U.S.-born Foreign Minister George Papandreou.
In recent days a number of officials and commentators have complained of "U.S. unilateralism," of demands for preferential treatment and of political arrogance as the "unmatched political, military and economic superpower."
A typical situation assessment was made by Costas Iordanidas in the Athens daily Kathimerini when he wrote, "Greece should try to avert the prospect of military competition between the EU and the U.S., despite the fact that from a cultural, economic and political perspective it stands closer to the [European] Union than to America."
Referring to growing European fears that the United States is trying to expand the war on terrorism throughout the Middle East, he wrote, "The true initiative is with the United States, while the EU is nothing but a protesting bystander observing the developments on the international arena."
Some Western diplomats here doubt the government's assertion that the roundup of terrorists was the end of the fanatical left-wing November 17 organization, which over nearly three decades killed 23 persons, including four Americans.
The arrests have unquestionably reduced the Greek feeling of vulnerability before the 2004 Olympics and enhanced the stature of Michalis Chrysohoidis, the minister for public order. Some expect him to become the socialists' leader if they lose the next election.


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