A deal has finally been struck. Under asphyxiating pressure from the country’s European creditors, Greece’s two main political parties have been forced to seek common ground. Their two leaders [Prime Minister George Papandreou and Antonis Samaras, who heads the main right-wing opposition party, New Democracy] have set aside their personal ambitions, at least temporarily, to approve an agreement for the formation of a government that will benefit from their combined support.

Faced with multiple political and personal pressures, George Papandreou will be forced to step down from his post as Prime Minister right in the middle of his mandate [he was elected in October 2009] — a choice that will be deplored by many of the members of his government and his party. There is no denying that this decision amounts to a major political and personal “sacrifice".

Austerity measures

At the same time, Antonis Samaras has been forced to make sweeping concessions on most of the conditions that that he has sought to impose, and to accept to share power — a move that implies a significant political cost, which Papandreou’s resignation will not be enough to offset.

Overwhelmed by pressure from Berlin, Paris, Brussels and Washington, and roused by the need for “national responsibility”, the Prime Minister (who will remain in office for the next few hours) has taken action to address the threat represented by national bankruptcy and an exit from the Eurozone.

The solution that has been negotiated will mean that the two major political parties will band together to ratify the 26 October agreement, and the implementation of the most comprehensive set of austerity measures that accompany this accord.

Harsh reality

The fact that we may soon have a “neutral” leader of government who is not a member of a political party does not mean that political parties and their leaders will have no responsibilities. And whereas the burden of responsibility has until now been on Papandreou, it will soon be shared by the right.

This alliance will certainly resolve the immediate problem of relations within in the government and those with Greece’s creditors, who have every reason to be satisfied by this latest development. But it is by no means certain that it will change the situation of the Greek people.

According to current forecasts, the recession, unemployment and pay cuts will be the main items in the news for some time come. This is the harsh reality that a government of national unity will not be able to resolve. So we are witnessing a momentary respite for the political system, but the new government will still face a horizon that is fraught with problems.